By Craig Smith

Green Deal

Earlier this year a new initiative was introduced by the Government called the Green Deal which is designed to help households make energy saving improvements to their home and pay the cost in monthly instalments.

In case you haven’t heard much about this before, don’t panic. The basic idea is that a survey is carried out on the property, you can agree to have works done (such as having insulation installed or a new energy saving boiler) and the cost is included in your monthly electricity bills. If someone else should move in before the amount is paid off, the new occupier takes up the repayments. As a letting agent managing more than 300 properties, and around 150 where we act in finding tenants only, we can honestly say that not a single tenant or Landlord has asked us about it!

When the offer of free insulation was still around, there were households queuing up to try and get some, which is understandable. Late last year we were trying to work with a company who could offer free cavity wall & loft insulation on some properties but funding for this has now been ceased. There are only some people who are now eligible for this depending on what type of benefits they may receive and their overall household income.

The Green Deal is the new scheme now but not many people seem to have taken notice. I’m starting to wonder just how many people have actually looked into it nationwide or if it is just something that nobody is interested in. It doesn’t appear to have been advertised very much in the national press, more so around the property professionals who might be affected by it.

From 1st October 2008, most rental properties will require an Energy Performance Certificate before being able to be let by law. (There are certain exemptions such as room shares.) This was really the start of the energy saving regulations coming into the rental sector and, looking to the future, it will certainly have further implications in the industry. For example, it is almost certain that as of 2018 a property with an energy rating of E or lower will not be able to be let at all.

Whether or not you agree with the energy saving measures is another talking point, but the time to start thinking of potential improvements and planning for the future is now, before it is too late!

By Steve Roulstone

Tenants deposits

I have had cause on behalf of a member of my Family, to review an agreement on his behalf, just so he was aware of any areas that could cause problems for one of his children, due to rent a property outside of my area. Of course I am happy to do so and have over the past few years looked at several agreements on behalf of friends and Family. The agreement was clearly a standard one prepared by what appeared to be a Property owning organisation, as Landlords. The property itself was being advertised through a National Letting Agent who had been instructed to find a Tenant.

Having read the agreement I can best describe my reaction as raised eyebrows!

Firstly, notice was written as being two months. Now, my own Company once asked for the same notice, but many years ago (2005?) it was confirmed through the courts that notice only had to be one month from Tenant to Landlord and two months from Landlord to Tenant. To state that two months is required is therefore wrong and any Agent should be aware of this basic requirement.

Secondly, all deposits now have to be protected through a Government approved scheme; in this case the agreement confirms which scheme the money will be protected by. But it then goes on to state that the deposit is subject to the Landlords wishes, requirements and demands! Well this is as far away from the intent of the legislation as to be in another country.

Furthermore, it goes on to state that the deposit, at the Landlords discretion, may be used DURING the Tenancy and then the Tenant would have to replace what the Landlord saw fit to ‘appropriate’!

At the end of the day, this could just be a Landlord who has not received good advice. Advice it would seem they are in need of. But what struck me loud and clear was how a National organisation allows an agreement like this to be used, on a property they had marketed and with a Tenant that they sourced?

I find this kind of situation very depressing, even more so when you consider the call for professionalism in our industry that is currently being discussed at Government level and the manner in which organisations such as this one, which if their own publicity is to be believed are amongst the fastest growing in the Country, appear to be trading. Of course there could be a simple explanation, but it will be interesting to see what answers my relative receives to the questions they went away to ask!

I was taught right at the beginning of my training that we have a duty of care to any Tenants we deal with and in my opinion, to allow an agreement to be used which contains clauses which are just not enforceable or are just plain wrong is out of order.

There have been occasions when I have refused business because I could not accept the principles or methodology involved. At times, to remain professional, we all need to apply the same ethics. If we do not, then we can have no complaints about the weight of legislation that will fall upon our shoulders (and let’s not forget on Landlords as well) because fall it surely will if professional Agents continue to turn a blind eye to the Tenants in their hands.

By Craig Smith

5 Higher Rents 140613

Members of the London Assembly are calling on Boris Johnson to introduce tougher regulations for Landlords in the private rented sector in London.

We’ve already said ourselves that further regulation of Landlords and agents would be a good thing. If every Landlord or agent had to be registered under a specific scheme it would mean that they would have to agree to certain rules. If these were to be breached they could end up out of pocket or struck off from the register, depending on exactly how the scheme would work. This might sound like harsh punishments but it would help to reduce the amount of improperly trained agents making a mess of things!

There is currently no statutory regulation of lettings agents, only voluntary schemes. This means that anyone could set up their own letting agency but might not have the proper training & know-how to run it properly. I believe that the scheme would need to be fair & properly thought through if introduced by the government. We’ve seen so many times the government has back-tracked on certain things but this needs to be fair, clear & concise in order for it to work effectively.

The assembly also calls for tougher rules on rentals to stop rent amounts from reaching unaffordable amounts. Their figures show that the average rent amount in Londonincreased by around 9% last year which is a large amount given the already higher costs in the capital. Of course, London is generally more expensive as it attracts higher earners and is a much busier environment than smaller towns and villages but if the reforms do come in it could have a knock-on effect for the rest of the country.

Schemes such as this are often trialled in certain areas, a bit like the congestion charges, then spread to other areas later on. It would be interesting to see how this would work and the effect it would have on Landlords.

The publication also states that more should be done to help homeless households. Many Landlords offer a 6 or 12 month tenancy to begin with so that if any issues should arise then neither party is tied in for a longer period of time. It suggests that homeless households should be given 24 month tenancies if they are placed in a privately rented home. This might sound like helping the needy but lets not forget that the Landlord could end up suffering here too! There is always a reason for a family being left homeless, it could be due to the loss of their current rental property or having their home repossessed but if they don’t look after their new property in the correct manner, the Landlord could be stuck with a bad tenant for 2 years.

There are still many items up for discussion surrounding all of this but it will be interesting to see how all of this unfolds. Could this prove to be just the thing that the industry needs or will it be endless red tape for all involved?

By Craig Smith

Utility Companies

Over the past few years we have seen an increased amount of people who have some form of poor credit. It doesn’t seem unusual these days for someone to have a CCJ or a repayment plan with a debt management company but it sometimes the lesser known about forms of debt management that can have a knock-on effect for other people.

For instance, most gas & electricity suppliers will install pre-payment meters if a customer is constantly late with their payments or doesn’t pay at all. This might seem like a fair form of punishment for non-payment but it is the Landlord and even the next tenant who are left to pick up the pieces.

One property that we manage was fitted with pre-payment meters for that reason and this was only found out when the tenants moved out. (The utility companies have no dealings with the agent or Landlord once the tenant is responsible.) The Landlord ended up having to top up the meter once the tenants had left as it had still been left in debt and to ensure it was kept topped up to keep the heating etc ticking over. Then, when the new tenant moved in, the energy company stated that the new tenant should pay on time for the next 12 months before they would even consider changing the meters back again!

There is one certain company that ask for a deposit of £100 each for gas & electricity supplies otherwise they will take further action. Just a few weeks ago we had a property come empty that was supplied by Utility Warehouse and they requested such a deposit. They informed us that the deposit would only be waived under 3 circumstances. The first was to setup a monthly direct debit for the payments which is unnecessary as the property would only be empty for a few weeks. The second was to have prepayment meters installed which would cause yet more disruption to the Landlord and the property. So, we opted for the third option which was to change to another supplier.

All this is just so much hassle considering only a small amount of energy is used during an empty period, and given the fact that we always take move in & move out meter readings for each tenancy there should be no incorrect billing whatsoever!

Going back to my first point here, how does any of this help somebody who has had financial difficulty to get back on track?! Some of these utility companies seem determined to make life difficult and don’t seem to be able to make a reasonable decision for the right circumstances!

By Steve Roulstone


Government scale down legality checks.

 In another climb down the Government took a massive step backwards last weekend from asking Landlords to ensure all Tenants are legally present in the Country. It is being reported that concerns over the risks surrounding too much red tape being introduced are responsible and that it will only be introduced in areas that can be highlighted as currently causing concern, such as some boroughs of West London.

 Once again I have to point out that the debate about the requirement and what the impact of asking Landlords to be responsible misses out upon, is that professional referencing already supply confirmation through the provision of a National Insurance Number and specific right to work permits. This tells me quite clearly that Landlords that would wish to know before allowing occupation already have the ability to do so.

 It would therefore be correct in my opinion to ensure those who already carry out such checks should not be drawn in too yet another hoop to jump through, because work and income would already be confirmed. Therefore those who do not check rely upon income from other sources, such as benefit payments or the black market.

 Whilst I would agree that such Landlords are taking advantage of ‘street’ circumstances, it strikes me that the authorities need to turn their attention to the very areas (Benefit fraud and the Black economy) where methods of policing and prosecuting miscreants’ already exist. Certainly when set against piling yet more requirements upon the Rental Industry, where no policing exists for either these schemes or indeed for much of the myriad of legislation that has already been introduced over the last few years, such as HMO’s and Tenants Deposit schemes.

 So legislation is discussed, promised, withdrawn (and according to some reports been the cause of the Prime Minister turning “puce” when advised of the withdrawal) without involving the industry or the specialists who administer the professional bodies. It seems that lessons are just never learnt that the people who know best how the industry works are the very ones who administer it from within. All that has to happen is for somebody to ask!

By Steve Roulstone


I have just read an article in one of the Industry magazines as part of my Monday ‘what is happening’ hour and frankly could not believe my eyes. It is in a section called Outsourcing in Mays issue of The Negotiator, so falls half way between an advert and an article, but is based upon the words of two gentlemen from the industry, one being an Agent and one being a facility provider for the industry and it is clear that one has an invested interest in selling his services, but I just find it hard to believe that an Agent would place in writing what has been repeated in the article!

 Matter of opinion.

 Let me say from the off here, that what I am stating is my opinion or ‘take’ on the subject, so some of what I comment on I do so agreeing that it is a matter of opinion, but I would never admit in writing that as a Company we could not offer our Landlords such an important part of the service needed in Managing property on their behalf. Because the representative of the Agents involved is openly stating that they are unable to provide professional quality inventories for the Landlords they serve!

 Inventories are us!

 Firstly, the skill set needed to be able to supply top class inventories can be learnt by one man as well as the next, so I cannot agree that Letting Agents cannot carry out the task on their Landlords behalf. All they need to do is learn how! But secondly and again in my opinion more importantly, how can any agent pass on such a vastly important part of the job to somebody else?

 Legal responsibility.

  Far more importantly for me is the legal responsibility we have with our Landlords under the contract all Agents should supply their Landlords. Good inventories are such an important part of the service now that to charge for a job and only do half of it in my opinion cannot be called ‘Full Management’ services.

 Argument against.

The reasons given for encouraging outsourcing inventories, is that Agents are too close to the position and risk Tenants stating the inventory is one sided. Well if what we claim for is correct, then where is the problem? Done correctly, Tenants have as much input as we do in the document and as we are contractually bound to work for the Landlord then that is what we do. They go on to say that there is then an inherent risk that the Agents inventory could fail in any claim because it was raised by the Landlords Agent. Well in our experience, that is just wrong!

 Facts speak louder than words.

The facts are that after three years with our current system, where disputes are dealt with by independent arbitrators, as a Company after ensuring we have Landlord agreement we have won every case that has gone through arbitration. So our experience would suggest exactly the opposite than what is claimed in this article. So the facts support that Agents should know what to do and how. I would also suggest, that a third party inventory, has far more chance of having their claim challenged by a Tenant who can easily prove that they were not involved during the Tenancy and are therefore not aware of matters which could have a far greater bearing on the outcome of any claim.


 Sub contracting major parts of the role of Property Management is not and never should be the way forward and our industry is not alone in being able to challenge the principal. The inventory is such an integral part of being able to offer the services of Property Management to Landlords that I would challenge any Companies ability to call themselves’ Letting Agents if they openly state they are unable to fulfil the role themselves. What else? Rent Collection? Property Visits? The agreement?  Better to be able to say yes, we do that!

By Steve Roulstone

New portal

Reports over the weekend confirm a story I heard not two months ago, that a serious contender to Rightmove and in a lesser way Zoopla, is about to be launched on the market. Recent price increases on the amount charged for portals have been discussed at length within the Industry and have mainly been as the result of Rightmoves belief that as the leading market provider, they can increase costs at will. I may be wrong, but see no increased level of services for increasing levels of invoices?


Right to reply.

This is a course of action that rightly in my opinion generates responses and in this case we seem to have had a response, which, if successful, will severely dent Rightmoves position as market leader. I will not comment on the scheme in general because we have very little detail as yet and until we do I would prefer to keep my powder dry.



What is worthy of comment and the detail that caught my eye when reading a report on the plans on a property press web site was the initial statement that Agents joining the site would be asked to do so by only utilising the services of one other portal. It seems strange that having stated detail would follow, that such a major requirement should be the only rule released? Unless of course it was released to test the water!


Expected reaction.

If that is the case, the reaction seems to be as expected, that people like to choose for themselves who they do or do not wish to run with. If not, then hopefully notice will be taken of the reaction received because it flies in the face of one of the very principals the new site would be battling against in clearly setting itself up as a competitor with Rightmove.


Visit the reasons.

Please take on board Agents Mutual that you have set yourselves up as an alternative to Rightmove, not only because of prices, but also because of the manner in which they treat their customers. The feeling that we are dictated to by Rightmove, as a customer of theirs, has increased on many levels over the last few years and is in my opinion, a major influence on our perception of them as a Company.


Right to choose.

This is why, when given the right to choose a viable alternative, a large sector of the industry may well do just that. But by telling us in effect, who we can and cannot trade with, is acting in a manner no different to Rightmove in the first place. It is very clear as to why the need for such a rule to be in place is felt to be important to its success. But I would ask those involved to re-consider? Surely a better motivation to potential customers can be found than one that tells its customers how to go about their business?


Landlords that matter.

It must not be forgotten that we exist to provide a service to our Landlords, in doing so we should give best advice at all times. It cannot be in the Landlords interest for Agents to withdraw services from a provider because of a principal of business which may in the long run serve to improve what we offer, but will change little from our customer’s perception. Better the providers work on offering a better service which we need to follow, the principal remains the same, but Landlords do not suffer along the way!

By Craig Smith

3 Agents Fees 290513

The big talking point in the lettings industry at the moment is something I wrote about just a short while ago. Due to the increase in the amount of rental properties at the moment, there seems to be a lot of ‘have a go’ agents popping up. As there is no compulsory regulatory body for letting agents, there are more and more stories of rogue agents leaving their clients out of pocket.

Hidden Extras

There are tales of agents disappearing and their clients having no clue about where their money is. But the other big concern is agents who don’t show a transparent fee structure to their clients which results in a lot of hidden costs.

Naturally, you would expect to pay a higher cost if a higher amount of work is needed. For example, you can buy yourself a pizza but if you want extra toppings you would be charged extra. The same principle applies to lettings, a Landlord taking a tenant find only service would pay extra for additional services such as an inventory. Although charging for additional services is fine some agents will hide the charges from clients in order to try and gain extra business.

I would just like to point out at this stage that Castle Estates have never hidden any fees. Tenants are asked to sign a terms & conditions leaflet before applying for any property which contain a set of possible fees, not just for the application but for almost every eventuality throughout the tenancy. Likewise, our agreements with Landlords contain a list of any fees that may be necessary throughout the tenancy.

Lack of Experience

The problem isn’t just with the rogues of the business out to make an early retirement, it is also down to the amount of agents who aren’t properly trained or have the support they need to know exactly what they need to do. Running an agency isn’t about sitting back and waiting for the money to come in, far from it! There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes that not everybody knows about to make sure a tenancy is properly managed & above board.

The BBC have likened the letting industry to the wild west which isn’t entirely true. Yes, there are some bad guys out there but for each one I bet there are 10 times more good agents. But without a compulsory regulatory body, there is often little or no comeback for those who have been affected by the bad guys.

Avoid the Sting

There are ways that Landlords and tenants can avoid being left out of pocket. You should always look for the agents who do belong to a professional body. Although it doesn’t guarantee a perfect service, it does mean there are better routes to go down in the event of a complaint.

By Craig Smith

2 Property Insurance 240513

In our local newspaper this week there was a story of a family who had been awoken in the early morning hours by a fire that had started in their kitchen. Thankfully, everyone escaped unhurt and it was the kitchen that suffered most of the damage. The story itself highlights two important issues not just for homeowners but also to those in rental properties as well.


The first is that the lady in question did not have any insurance to cover the damage caused by the fire. There are a lot of people tightening their purse strings due to the way the economy is at the moment but we cant be sure whether this is the reason in this instance. The costs of food, fuel and energy have all increased no end over the last few years so it is no wonder some people look to cut costs elsewhere.

Insurance is never an area we would recommend scrimping on as, like it has here, it can backfire dramatically. The kitchen will probably need ripping out and a complete new one going in, which is most likely to be a cost of four figures at least! Compare this to the cost of the insurance and it is easy to make a decision as to whether the insurance is worth it.

It is easy to find the right policy you need especially with the help of internet comparison sites and brokers. It is usually the responsibility of the owner or Landlord to ensure the building is covered and the tenant to cover any accidental damage.

Electrical Safety

The fire itself was started by an electric can opener that had been left switched on at the plug. This highlights the second issue of the day.

Although it may be more convenient to leave electrical goods left turned on, the fire brigade and other safety experts recommend turning them off to prevent the likelihood of fires such as this. It is also a reminder that appliances, plugs and leads should be checked for any wear, frayed edges of potential hazards. Again, we don’t know the reason why the can opener had become faulty but couple an unsafe item with lack of insurance and it could spell disaster!

Other Important Safety Factors

Lets not forget that each property should have a working smoke alarm. We still hear of so many people who have the viewpoint that it will never happen to them but it could happen to anyone! Just last year there was a fire in a property that we manage, caused by a faulty kettle of all things! It was only the fact that the smoke alarms were working correctly that the tenant was alerted so quickly, preventing the fire from getting out of hand and keeping the damage to a minimum.

By Steve Roulstone


Many have commented on the Queens speech and it will come as no surprise that it is the element included in the forthcoming immigration bill that I now make the subject of my latest Blog.


Much has been said about the lack of detail contained within the speech and most will see this as a hastily included promise, aimed mainly at the ears of those who chose to support UKIP at the recent local elections. I believe they would probably be correct to do so! I do not wish to comment on the political rights or wrongs of this situation, but there is no doubt the clamour to make political gain from the lack of detail have themselves repeated the same lack of detail in what they have written.


Rather, what detail is known, confirms that anybody writing without including how the current checking systems work in our Industry are showing themselves to be short on knowledge and it would appear, purely intent on causing embarrassment to the Government or making some kind of gain themselves. The best report and summary of where we actually are with what has been suggested against how the Industry deals with references now, comes from A R L A who have summarised very simply the reality of what is being suggested.

In the know!

What happens within the vast majority of Agencies in the UK is that professional referencing is carried out by professional referencing agencies, which include taking the potential Tenants National Security Number which assists in confirming identity and employment records. In effect, we are already able to confirm very easily the status of all applicants, meaning the check is already being carried out and is therefore available for any Landlord who wishes to avail themselves of the services most Letting Agents offer.

In the know but not known!

It is the Landlords who take advantage of the system to accept Tenants without ensuring such checks are carried out that are being addressed by this potential legislation. This point is missed by nearly all reports as the writers pursue their own cause through print. It is therefore hardly a blind leap, to see just how easy it would be too introduce the same tests carried out for others, to the few who have created the apparent need for action to be taken.

Sensible reaction.

Mine is a small point but relevant none the less and I just hope that the promise not to introduce yet another hurdle for the vast majority of honest good Landlords to jump, is upheld, especially when all Landlords who utilise our system for example are in effect already complying. Now for those who read my ramblings regularly, I am reaching for the cupboard and reaching for the drum!


What I do not agree with, is yet again it seems the clear and once and for all legislation required to turn the industry into a professional service is being sidestepped. Whether it is via licensed Agents or registered Landlords, the solution lies with the Government that has the strength to research and legislate in an organised and industry sponsored manner. Every professional body would work alongside a Government to produce what would deal with all of these side issues in one step and give the public the comfort and trust all professional Agents and Landlords justifiably feel they already deserve.