The news that a London letting agent had charged a landlord £616 ‘to change a light bulb’ provided an irresistible opportunity for comedians, cartoonists and critics to take the mickey out of the property management industry.
As it happens the charge was not to change a bulb but to install a security light at the property. Hey-ho, why let the facts get in the way of a great headline – and I would not for a moment defend the agent’s invoice even if there was slightly more to the job than swopping a bulb. Six hundred quid to install a security light sounds a crazy amount of money, even in London.
The story has also inevitably raised questions about the cost and value of landlords handing over the management of property to agents.
Here I might just take a moment to explain the range of services which long standing reputable agencies, including mine, actually offer landlords. It runs from a basic tenant finder service, through more involved packages to full management agreements, which means the property owner can leave pretty much the whole thing to us.
That top of the range service from DDM Residential includes everything: finding the tenants marketing the property, handling viewings, professional credit checking, rent guarantees and the like. Once a tenant has been found we then move on to inventories, checking in at the property, rent collection, debt recovery and keeping up with new legislation and compliance. Legal and technical requirements include safety checks and certification, deposit protection etc. There will be ongoing contact with tenants during their occupation of properties and the team will handle the various issues connected with the end of tenancies including check-out and final inventory check.
A full management service also means that, in consultation with the landlord if necessary, we will handle any problems that arise during the tenancy, anything from the boiler packing up . . . right through to the need to fit a security light! To sort those problems, decent professional managing agents have a team of tradesmen on which they can call round the clock.
In our case, we have built up strong contacts with reliable local contractors and tradesmen over many years. At DDM Residential we do not receive any 'kick-backs' or commissions from our contractors and because we put so much work their way they are prepared to give us very competitive rates that . . . surprisingly in the light of the lurid news from London . . . we pass on to the landlords.
There are some agents in the industry who wish to squeeze every penny they can out of their clients. I would rather we have a good relationship with ours, whether they are landlords or tenants. If something goes wrong with a property then the job needs to be sorted quickly, professionally – and at a competitive cost.
Ironically, this furore has broken out at just the time when new legislation has come into force that makes the industry more open about their charges than ever before. The Consumer Bill Act means that letting agents are now obliged to display all their fees (including landlord fees broken down by service type), to disclose whether or not they are members of the Client Money Protection Scheme and also to which redress scheme they belong. Unfortunately many agents in our region still do not follow this new legislation but for the record we are an open book and we are perfectly comfortable and adhere fully with the new rules.
The light bulb controversy brought all sorts of complaints out of the woodwork including one story that does reinforce a point we have repeatedly made in these columns about the importance of good property inventories: A landlord was dismayed to find that the paintwork of his fully redecorated flat had been trashed by incense-burning tenants. When he raised the issue with his agents the response was that they could not take sides and suggested he go half and half with the tenants to redecorate.
How amateurish is that? The so-called inventory was not even good enough to record the condition of the decoration of the flat when it was handed over at the start of the tenancy. I think the landlord had every reason to be furious. My advice would be to do your homework and get a decent agent. Always speak directly with the Lettings Manager of an agency and request their Guide to Letting.
One last thing, just a quick mention that the DDM Property Auction is only a few weeks away on 28th July 2015 at Forest Pines. To register or download a catalogue or download your free Guide To Letting visit www.ddmresidential.co.uk, visit your local office or call 0845 4 599 499.
Graham Wilson, Managing Director