Is the Mayor Right?

Lyme Regis Mayor Owen says in today’s Dorset Echo that “morally behaved” people should be top of the housing list. Is he right?  Whilst some might find his comments outrageous, my views are not dissimilar. Having come across a number of tenants who abused their private rented tenancies in one way or another in a bid to secure social housing, it was becoming increasingly frustrating to watch as they were given homes above those patiently waiting years on the housing register and getting nowhere.

Back in 2010 when I was Chair of West Dorset Landlord Accreditation Scheme I spent a great deal of time drawing up a Tenant Accreditation Scheme.  I met with Housing Officers, Referencing Companies and MP Oliver Letwin who offered his backing. Unfortunately despite a lot of people working on the project, the merger between West Dorset & Weymouth & Portland Housing meant that core people that were involved either took up new posts or left altogether and the West Dorset Accreditation Scheme went on to become the newly formed West Dorset & Weymouth & Portland Landlords Partnership which took a different format.  As a result, the scheme was scrapped but below outlines the principles of my scheme as it was put to everyone back in 2010.

Tenant Accreditation Scheme

 A cost effective scheme to help tenants, landlords and homelessness relief.

Tenants

An Accredited Tenant will have a distinct advantage over other tenants.  Tenants who have proved that they have paid their rent on time, taken good care of a property and not caused a nuisance to their neighbours will receive special recognition that will put them to the top of the permanent Housing List, after they have participated in the scheme for a set number of years.  They will also have the assurance that the property provided to them by an Accredited Landlord will meet the decent home standards.  Accredited Tenants will benefit from the Deposit Bond and Rent in Advance where needed.

Landlords

A Landlord who accepts an Accredited Tenant will benefit from a long term tenant who is responsible, pays their rent on time and looks after their property.  Further incentives for Landlords should include a Rent Guarantee, on-going tenancy support and the assurance that if things go wrong, the tenant will be moved on as quickly as possible without the Landlord having to take legal action.

WDDC

 The proposed Tenant Accreditation Scheme will help with homelessness relief with long term sustainable tenancies through the private sector, without incurring mass expenditure.

WDDC will:

  • Promote both Landlord & Tenant Accreditation Schemes and provide ongoing support.
  • Provide Rent in advance.  Tenants will repay the Rent in Advance on a loan basis, in easy monthly or weekly installments.  Failure to make payment would go against Tenants on their “Tenant Accreditation Record”.
  • Provide a Rent Guarantee to Landlords. Landlords will be allowed to call upon a one month rent guarantee should the tenant fall into arrears.  Any delays in rent will go against Tenants on their record and any arrears must be cleared by the tenant before they can gain a clean tenant record.
  • Provide Deposit Bonds to cover damages.  Again, any damage caused will be marked on the Tenants record and will stay there until the costs of repairs have been recovered.  In terms of “damages”, if a tenant was expected to be part of the Tenant Accreditation Scheme for at least 4 – 5 years, this would minimise the payouts for “damages” as by this time the majority of claims could feasibly be passed as “Fair wear & tear”. Any malicious damage will incur instant dismissal from the scheme.
  • Provide Landlords with adequate backup and the assurance that if the tenant is troublesome, the tenant would be removed from the scheme and the property without the Landlord having to go to court.

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

 Q:        Why have an Accredited Tenant Scheme?

 A:         An Accredited Tenant Scheme will give recognition to good tenants resulting in rewards, provide Landlords with smoother running tenancies whilst helping with homelessness relief.

Q:        Why associate the scheme with the housing register?

 A:         By directly linking the scheme with the housing register, the right tenants are rewarded with permanent housing, provided they have met the criteria of the scheme.  It also prevents unscrupulous tenants abusing the system and queue jumping by deliberately not paying rent, causing damage or becoming a nuisance to gain self inflicted eviction.

 Q:        Why should the minimum period of being part of the scheme be a minimum of 4 to 5 years?

 A:         Landlords will be attracted to good tenants staying longer whilst enabling WDDC longer periods in which to find suitable permanent accommodation and taking better advantage of the private rented sector in the interim.  It will also minimise the number of claims for “damages” under the Deposit Bond as when it comes to general decorating & floor coverings, the majority of claims could be put down to “Fair wear & tear” in most cases.

 Q:        Is the Rent in Advance & Rent Guarantee really necessary?

 A:         It is important that the scheme runs as closely in line with the private rental sector as possible.  A landlord taking part in the scheme should also have the assurance that if the tenant does fall into arrears they have some support to help them get by whilst trying to resolve the issues.

 Q:        Why should the Tenant be moved on as quickly as possible if they are in significant rent arrears, are causing a nuisance or damage?

 A:         This appears to be the ultimate kick in the teeth for a Landlord.  They take on a HB tenant, the tenancy goes wrong (usually because the tenant knows if he is evicted for non payment of rent, nuisance or damages they will be given priority housing), then the tenants are advised to stay in situ until the landlord takes them to court – the result being one less landlord that will ever consider taking on a HB tenant again and one less property (or more) on the market.  It also brings the scheme into ill repute.

 Q:        What if a tenant wants to move home during the 4 – 5 year period?

 A:         A Tenant that needs to move during the 4-5 year scheme period because the property is no longer suitable for their needs may do so and use their “Accredited Tenant Record” in lieu of a reference within any of the Accredited Agencies or with any other Accredited Landlord.

 Q:        What about vulnerable tenants.

 A:         There will always be a number of tenants who are not going to be suitable for the scheme.  Tenants with specific disabilities or mental health issues will be dealt with special needs and requirements in mind.  This scheme is aimed to help those tenants who are willing and able to help themselves, to provide them with the support they need and some degree of housing stability until a long term solution is reached.

 Q:        What makes our scheme unique?

 A:         Our scheme is unique in as much as it is a working partnership with WDDC, Private Sector Landlords, Tenants, Agencies and Charities.  It is a complete community project!

Summary

Whilst other authorities have offered free gas certs, EPC’s, agreements etc in order to entice private sector landlords to take tenants on benefits,  the scheme has no need to go this far and costs can easily be kept down.  Ultimately the landlord just wants market value rent, security of a long term tenant, rent paid on time and the reassurance that if something goes wrong he won’t be too out of pocket or left on his own to sort matters out.  This is easily covered by the above points and a little support.

Landlords generally want their tenants to stay long term, they also want hassle free lettings and will go with tenants who pose the lowest risk of presenting them with potential problems.  Therefore it is important that the scheme should try and mirror the private rented sector.  Whilst some authorities expect their landlords “to be responsible for the risk”, any sensible landlord will want to minimise the risk and will feel they will do this best by not accepting tenants on HB in the first place.  Therefore the right incentives need to be in place.

There should be consequences involved for the tenants and, provided they meet all criteria throughout the scheme, they will be rewarded later.  Tenants applying for accommodation through WDDC should become part of the Tenant Accreditation Scheme & asked to take accommodation in the private sector for a certain period of time.  Failure to do this would either prevent them from going on the housing register, or lose them vital points.  Tenants who have been on the scheme for a number of years, have paid their rent on time, looked after the property & not caused a nuisance will gain more points for the longer they remain on the scheme but will know that after a maximum number of years they will be guaranteed some form of permanent housing.  This could be a Housing Association home or perhaps help with deposits for shared ownership properties or similar.

This will enable good tenants to be rewarded for their patience and good management of their tenancy whilst not fast tracking tenants that have behaved badly.  This will also give the landlord the assurance of a long term let, with less troublesome tenants and added incentives.  Once they have had a tenant on the scheme, they are more likely to take more HB tenants in future.  This in turn will inevitably help WDDC with the amount of homes available for the growing number of applicants in need of suitable housing.

The WDDC Tenant Accreditation Scheme would be an innovative solution to some of the local housing issues.  It’s unique community partnership brings all sectors together, gets tenants taking some responsibility for themselves, provides rewards where rewards are due whilst keeping everyday running costs to a minimum.  It will change the way that landlords and the general public view tenants on Housing Benefit & those who need a little extra support.  With a bit of hard work, imagination and some forward thinking the pioneering WDDC Tenant Accreditation Scheme could become the envy of other Local Authorities.

 

 

 

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Cheap Fees Could Cost You Dearly

I have a poster stuck to the wall of my back office, it’s an old favourite and it says:

We offer three kinds of service, Good, Cheap, Fast – you may pick any two:

  • Good Service Cheap – Won’t be Fast
  • Good Service Fast – Won’t be Cheap
  • Fast Service Cheap – Won’t be Good

Not only does it make me smile, it also makes me re-evaluate my own self worth when it comes to business.  With numerous other letting agencies popping up all over the place advertising cheap fees and fast service I have no intentions of competing on this level.  Years of experience has taught me that accuracy and quality of service is not something that can be sped up in order to make a quick pound or two.

When it comes to letting your property, attention to detail is paramount. Preparation is everything and if you compromise on any stage of the process don’t expect to be in for a smooth ride!

When choosing an agent, the first questions you should ask should not be how much, but what’s included within the service and do I need it?  You cannot possibly compare fees without first establishing exactly what is included within the service and the importance of each individual item contained within it.

I go to so many appointments whereby landlords are astounded by the amount of information we provide and what we insist on if we are going to fully manage a property whilst other agents have not even approached certain topics. They are unaware of the importance of thorough referencing, the need for comprehensive tenancy agreements, inventories and schedule of condition. Others have not spoken about health & safety aspects, overseas tax implications and what you can and cannot do as a landlord.

New Landlords investing for the first time are often caught out by the attraction of an agent quoting a higher rental value accompanied by management fees at half the price and some have even purchased the investment on the ill advice of an agent who was just keen to shift a property and would have quoted anything to achieve a sale.

Of course you can see why they are drawn to these agents, who doesn’t want to save money, but the wrong advice can be very costly in the long run.  We recently had a landlord that was told she could achieve £850-£900 for a two bedroom apartment in the area.  It wasn’t top of the range, it didn’t have an en-suite, garage or other facilities that other properties at that time had that were being marketed for less.  She asked my opinion and I gave her a very polite, honest answer backed up with significant comparable evidence that the maximum rental figure she could realistically expect was £800pcm.  However, I did say that we could certainly try our best to achieve a higher figure but if the property hadn’t generated much interest in the first 7 – 10 days, she should consider reducing to the £800pcm as she would be losing out. She also wanted a significant reduction in our commission fees and when this wasn’t forthcoming I didn’t gain her business or her trust and it was obvious she left my office very disappointed and thinking I was very bad at my job.

The property came on the market at £895pcm (I always feel this is a stupid figure, it’s a very outdated way of marketing and doesn’t make the most of the property portals, which of course is one of our most important marketing tools!) and needless to say it sat there, for weeks…and weeks!  A second agent was instructed, then a third and finally after over 4 months of being on the market with all three agents it let.  We cannot be sure if she achieved the full amount of rent, but if she did, would she be £95pcm better off, have an extra £760 in her pocket at the end of the year?  Of course she wouldn’t, she was already out of pocket by £3,200 for the 4 months the property remained empty! Even if the tenant remains in the property for a year or two she has already lost what she was trying to gain by following the advice of the other agent.

In a second recent incident, some tenants visited the office as they had been given notice to leave a property.  They were told by the landlord they had 2 months to get out (despite the fact they were still in a fixed term tenancy) and I asked to see their contract so I could give them the best advice. What I discovered about the contract was beyond belief!  Again, a cheap agent who prides themselves on “bringing down the costs of Estate Agency” had drawn up a contract that wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. Goodness knows what the landlord had paid for it but it was quite honestly the worst tenancy agreement I had ever seen.

The contract was left undated, the dates inside were inconsistent, the deposit clauses referred to two different deposit schemes where they hadn’t adapted it properly to suit and as such there was no Prescribed Information and the tenants had never received any details of the relevant scheme they were in fact registered to. There were numerous other mistakes and the agent had written themselves into all sorts of clauses within the agreement however, the worst bit was reading that they had written my own agency into the contract stating WE were holding the deposit as stakeholder!!!  I was outraged!

It was purely by chance that I came across this, but I’m pretty certain that this wouldn’t be the only contract they produced in the same manner “cheaper than other agents”.

Value for money?  Well I suppose that would depend on whether the landlord needs to rely on it in court! There’s an old saying that if something looks too good to be true, then generally it is and this definitely applies to the majority of cheap and unregulated agents that can be found in any area.

We’re not the most expensive agent in the town, we are certainly not the cheapest but we do like to think that we offer a very thorough service and value for money.  We aim to let properties efficiently, maximising landlord’s investments and making sure that the tenancy is as fail safe as we can possibly make it.  This is my 23rd year in the industry, I have only ever had one court case and this was fully covered by Rent Guarantee insurance meaning the landlord carried on receiving rent payments and all their legal costs were covered, I feel this is a pretty good record which is a result of years of experience, training, diligence and high customer service standards – some things are worth paying a little bit extra for upfront rather than paying dearly at a later stage!

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Social Media… What’s the point?

There seems to be a lot of controversy of late about the use of Social Media and the #ZPP100 between agents.

 According to Zoopla’s own website the #ZPP100 is a “A leader board for UK Estate Agents in Social Media as scored by Klout.” “The social networks that influence a user’s Klout Score are Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, Foursquare, Wikipedia and Klout itself”.

 Kemp & Co are on all of these except for Wikipedia. I don’t think that as a small independent estate agent from West Dorset there is any likelihood in getting an entry on their page any time soon!

 There’s been a lot of disgruntlement among some agents as to the content of tweets or associated social media accounts that it is not relevant to property and therefore should not be considered when it comes to the #ZPP100 scoring. In fact it’s got so bad that I’ve actually started tweeting less for fear of being social on social media being viewed as being anti-social media and all because of a list!

When looking at our Klout score, a lot of our klout comes from twitter, a small proportion from Facebook, LinkedIn & Google+, practically nothing from Foursquare (I always forget to log in & often wonder if my target audience really gives a hoot about if I’m having a coffee somewhere!) and a lot of our scoring comes from Instagram! We also invest a lot of time in Pinterest, which has no relevance on our klout score whatsoever but is important to our local followers, the following is growing and our pins have been re-pinned and used on social media sites elsewhere. One was even used for a media campaign of a nationally recognised company based in Dorset and viewed by thousands. I’ve seen other agents adopt local boards similar to “Our we love Dorset ” board on Pinterest & Facebook and after recently launching a new product, we were inundated with direct messages from other agents wanting to find out more  – is this not being “influential” in social media?

So what has Instagram got to do with property you might ask? Well very little you might think but when it comes to Social Media, each of these accounts works very differently from the others and you have to calculate what works and what doesn’t!  Posting pictures of properties for sale will not work, posting random pictures that are not your own will not work, but what is working is selling the Dorset lifestyle!  We spend as much time on Instagram talking about the local area, giving people hints and tips on where to stay when booking their holidays and engaging in general chit chat with locals on Instagram as we do posting property related topics on Twitter or having serious discussions on LinkedIn (which I’m still getting to grips with!) If people are looking for property they will look on major property portals, not on Twitter or Instagram – you have to find other content that works for your own local market. So if my tweets or photos are not appealing to an agent in Birmingham then I’m sorry, but at the end of the day it’s MY local market that counts and the quality and quantity of our local followers have increased immensely since we grasped this concept.

 At the end of the day the #ZPP100 has since become a bi-product of our social media use.  List or no list, I would not change anything now in the way in which we use social media because for us it’s working!  We are bringing in regular business through our accounts as well as helping people miles away with property related issues through direct messaging and emails. I’m not about to apologise for engaging in conversation with my local followers through the likes of Dorset Hour, or to other agents, who I learn from on a daily basis.

Social Media is about engagement. People invest in people, in their personalities, they like the fact they can get to know you. Business is not always instant and it’s not always direct, but get it right and you WILL see it grow. It’s about networking, it’s about supporting other local businesses, acquaintances, connections and YES it’s about making friends!!! If you’re not getting this satisfaction out of the time you are putting into your social media accounts, then surely you must ask yourself what is it I am achieving? 

 

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Once upon a time there was a landlord who did not reference his tenant…

In fact there were two.  A few years ago a distraught landlord came to my offices literally begging for help. He had recently lost his father who lived next door to him, and was unsure as to what to do with the property. Whilst walking past the village post office he spotted a postcard advert in the window which read “Genuine quiet retired Christian couple seeking long term home to rent, willing to undertake maintenance”.

He rang the mobile number and a meeting was set up and an “elderly retired charming couple” moved in not long after. The couple had indicated they were coming into some inheritance and would actually like to buy the property, and as a result, the landlord offered a discounted rent and took no deposit as the rental was to be so short term. They had provided the landlord with glowing written references, could not be more friendly and everything appeared to have worked out well. The tenants made friends with the landlord’s family, were putting little notes through the door to say how happy they were and paid their rent on time every month in cash, despite

the landlord asking for it to be paid direct into his account. Furthermore they drew up a list of items they would like to purchase from the landlord that were left in the property together with the prices they were prepared to pay for each.

Within a couple of months the tenants had reported there was a leak at the property and that there was no gas safety certificate, the boiler was falling off the wall and that the electrics were not safe. The landlord was somewhat surprised by this, he promptly gave them a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate, went to look at the leak and also instructed an electrician to call at the property.

The relationship between the landlord and tenants then rapidly began to decline. The tenants were assured that the boiler was safe and that there was, and always had been, a gas safety certificate, that there was no mandatory requirement for an electrical safety certificate but as a precaution one would be carried out and the leak was repaired, albeit exceptionally minor and not in the main part of the dwelling, but in an external lean-to area to the back of the cottage. Upon carrying out the repairs the landlord had spotted that the tenant had made significant alterations to the property including some D.I.Y electrical work and some very dodgy tiling – words were exchanged.

Everything went downhill from there. The following morning the landlords woke to find notes stuck to their windows. They were relentless in their letter writing which got completely out of hand, dozens a day, some through the letterbox, others stuck to doors, windows, cars to the extent that the police became involved. The landlord also made an audio recording of the tenant admitting threatening behaviour and shouting verbal abuse through his letter box.

The majority of the letters received were not in relation to the tenancy itself but were of a far more personal nature, involving the landlord’s family, including his deceased father, brother and abhorrent and unfounded claims of child abuse. The letters caused untold upset to the landlord and his family, causing great rifts.

Furthermore the tenants wrote to anyone and everyone who they thought could have any influence over the tenancy including Housing Advice, Environmental Health, the CAB, MPs and the like informing them of their version of events only. The responses then gave the impression that the tenants had the full backing of these influential people and that action must be taken/compensation must be given by the landlord or else. The sum of £5,000 was demanded.

I stepped in as Managing Agent when the Landlords were at breaking point and could take no more. I then started receiving letters from the tenant, telling a very different side of the story, and to the contrary to the letters they had sent to the landlords. They implied that the property was not safe and in disrepair, that the Landlord was harassing them and that he had even forced them to buy junk furniture that they did not want and had been conned out of hundreds of pounds!

I served a Section(21)(4)(a) Notice to bring the tenancy to an end but the tenants made contact to say you would be gone within the week. I then drew up a Deed of Surrender in order to end the tenancy early, which they failed to sign but put back through the office door with keys, along with another note, but with no forwarding address.

As far as both myself and the Landlord were concerned, this was the end of it … or was it?

Far from it!

Less than a year later, I had a visit from the police at my offices. They were having numerous complaints from neighbours about troublesome tenants and asked if I could help. It turned out that when the tenants had fled the first property, another landlord a few miles away who had also read an advert for a “genuine retired Christian couple”, had taken them on in exactly the same manner.

Again, the tenants had stated that they were coming into a lump sum of money and would like to purchase the property. Again the landlord took no deposit, took less than the market value rent and this time the contract was only verbal. Again the landlords received notes to say how happy they were and insisted on paying in cash.

At first, despite the complaints that had been made to the police and the landlords direct, the landlords felt that the tenants were being victimised. Eventually the police arranged a meeting with the landlords and myself who talked them through what had happened at the previous property and the problems it had caused and even then the landlords were reluctant to believe that this “frail old couple” could be the cause of such deceit and unrest.

In the meantime, the tenants continued with their hate campaign amongst the quiet close they were living in. They would write to neighbours, pretending to be other neighbours so that the whole community was at war with each other. If neighbours had pets, they were reported for abuse to the RSPCA, if they had children to social services, if they were self employed to the Inland Revenue and so on. Neighbours would wake to find quotes from the bible stuck to their windows or through their doors and the tenants by this time had put up cameras pointing directly into neighbours properties.

The police were called time and again but the cameras were fake and the tenant was treading just the right side of the law that the police could not specifically arrest the tenants, although they were given behaviour warnings… as were the neighbours!

The police appealed to the landlords once more and at a further meeting were shown the ridiculous number of files and piles of paper that had been generated as a result of their tenants. At this point the landlords finally decided they would serve notice on their tenants in order to restore peace in the area and indeed their own lives. Again I was instructed to help.

Due to the fact there was no written confirmation of the terms of the tenancy, solicitors decided the best course of action would be that the notice date would run from the first of the month from when the tenants had been making their rental payments, providing them with 3 months clear notice instead of the usual 2 and adding a saving clause.

However, after serving the Section 21(4)(a) Notice, it was pushed back through the Landlords door stating “Not Applicable, Not Legal”. It then transpires that the landlords had received a scrawled copy of what the tenants claimed was the tenancy agreement. The landlords denied having ever seen or signed the document. Furthermore the document stated that the tenancy was for a period of 3 years! The burden of proof fell on the landlords to confirm otherwise.

The tenants then persisted in making the lives of the landlord a complete and utter misery with relentless letters and phone calls. They even went to the landlord’s building society to inform them that the landlords were renting out the property without their consent. They were so convincing in what they told them, and also sought advice from the CAB claiming that the property was going to be repossessed by the lender, that the Building Society wrote the landlords a reprimanding letter before actually checking the facts. The landlords had a Buy to Let mortgage in place, and were fully up to date with payments and the Building Society have since apologised for their actions. However the apology does not compensate for the huge amount of stress and the time off work the landlords had to take in order to put matters straight, nor did it explain how the tenants had access to the information they had given to the CAB and Building Society.

The landlords then started receiving letters from the tenant saying if the landlord paid compensation they would go. They demanded £5,000 and stated it would be cheaper to pay them off then to be dragged through the courts saying it was no skin off their nose as they would be entitled to Legal Aid.

Further letters and phone messages were left by the tenants including a very distressing one whereby the tenant is screaming down the phone that his wife has collapsed on the floor and is dying with the stress! (you’d have thought he would have called an ambulance not his landlord!)

Letters to the neighbours became incredibly derogatory and upsetting, to the point where they make it clear they are pleased about the ill health of two of the neighbours. One neighbour is involved in an accident and another suffers a major heart attack, the tenants say they have prayed for this and God has listened!

After seeking further legal advice regarding the “tenancy agreement”, solicitors cannot guarantee that the courts would dismiss it as a fake. It is therefore decided a Section 8 Notice, Grounds 14 & 17 is served instead and thankfully neighbours had kept diaries which we were able to use as evidence. Police could not part with information to assist in the serving of the Section 8; they could only do so once it got to Court.

Once the notice was served there was a short period of unrest whereby neighbours, the landlords and myself were in the firing line of the tenants. I went to work daily to find hate mail and unnerving notes saying things like “God will strike you down” and “You will be removed from Gods earth today” – Charming!

The police stepped in and arrested the tenants for suspected fraud in relation to the tenancy agreement and other paperwork found at the property, harassment and something along the lines of “procuring an advantage” where they had received a significant discount in the rent based on lies. The tenants surrendered the lease and disappeared… over the border into Hampshire where another landlord answered an advert in a local shop for a quiet, retired, Christian couple looking for a long term let. My files have yet again been taken away by police and more than a year on we’re still waiting to hear of the outcome.

In both cases the landlords left themselves wide open. The references that were provided had no dates, no references to past tenancies, how much rent they paid, if they had paid on time, if they had looked after the property etc. They merely said what a nice couple they were. There were no addresses, no telephone numbers or email contact, so there was no way of actually checking the facts with anyone.

The tenants were on full Local Housing Allowance, although did not declare this to the landlords, they were basically having their rent paid then after a period of time demanding compensation back from the Landlords to the tune of £5,000. The police now suspect that they have done this many times before, so basically they are on a nice little earner!

Neither landlord had a decent tenancy agreement drawn up, and of course one did not have a contract at all and neither landlord took a deposit on the basis that the tenants “were so nice!”

The second tenancy took nearly 2 years to come to a head. The police have no legal powers to insist that a landlord serve notice on his tenants but of course there is a strong moral issue here. In all the time they were living at the second property, the neighbours lived a most miserable existence and the tenants almost took the life of one of the neighbours through the stress and trauma that was inflicted.

The case cost thousands to bring to an end and even though the Section 8 did not get to Court, the landlord was vastly out of pocket through solicitor fees, even though my time collating everything and liaising between parties was given for free. They also had to take time off work and there was significant damage at the property (one example being the tenant had artexed all the walls very badly and glossed them purple and orange before he left!)

When the police accompanied myself and the landlords to the property when the keys had been returned, the property was full of letters intended for us and the neighbours. Each one had been torn into bits and we had to piece them back together like a puzzle to receive our “message”.

The front garden wall had been dismantled at one end which was puzzling, until we found a large hole with a full sized bin buried in it. We think he used to hide in the bin to spy on the neighbours, the wall was probably removed as we think it blocked his line of vision from the hole!

The first landlord is still not speaking to various members of his family and now opts for a fully managed service, despite living right next door. The second landlords were so distressed by events they sold the property and have no intentions of ever being landlords again.

Both cases would have been avoided if the landlords had carried out proper set up procedures. Who are your tenants? You might well be lucky or you might just pick up a money launderer, a terrorist or a “genuine, quiet, retired Christian couple. The moral of this story is clear – ALWAYS REFERENCE YOUR TENANTS! If not, you might just not get a “happy ever after”ending!

The End.

 

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Bungalows? … Not a High Priority!

Whilst most people worry about climbing onto the property ladder, at the other end of the market there are numerous home owners who are desperate to climb back down. Whilst there is many a debate with reference to people struggling to find homes, raising the plight of some of our more senior population trying to get rid of theirs must seem like an odd topic to address!

However in my home town of Dorchester in West Dorset, downsizing is not such a straightforward process as one would think. Finding a bungalow is as rare as hen’s teeth, the alternative is apartment living but many have been built without lifts.

According to a recent study by Prudential (as recently reported in the Dorset Echo), West Dorset has the eighth highest proportion of retired people in the country with 27% of residents being retired, the national average being about 16% according to the same survey.

Having lived in the area, brought up families which have grown up and are now living their own lives, some older residents in the town are finding themselves with properties that no longer suit their needs. They are often too big, gardens and general maintenance can become an issue and bills can become unnecessarily high for a home that no longer meets their requirements. The obvious solution is to sell up and to find somewhere more appropriate to lay ones hat, but herein lies the problem – there’s often nowhere for them to go!

This has always been a concern looking at the housing market in Dorchester, with even my own parents pleading on a weekly basis “if you could just find us a little bungalow” which unfortunately we have been unable to do.  Bungalows that have come on to the market have done so at a premium and those wishing to downsize often end up paying more than their own property is worth in order to secure one. So unless pensioners have significant savings (which of course have also suffered due to interest rates) to bridge the difference, this also adds to the problem when on the rare occasion a bungalow comes up for sale. 

Without the availability of bungalows our more mature residents have limited options of finding a home laid out on one level, these include moving into an apartment or moving area altogether, but this in itself brings other issues. My asthmatic mother would never manage the stairs in a block of flats with no lift, nor would my father, having had three heart operations already. They would also not cope with moving out of the area, even by a short distance, as their whole support network from family, friends to doctors and other medical practitioners they have come to rely on, all live close by. My parents are only in their early 70s and they also remain an integral part of my own support network, as I should imagine do many grandparents who are relied upon for support, be that hands on or as invaluable mentors – the emotional upheaval becoming just as traumatic as the physical move itself.

The other side to all this of course is that without people downsizing, there is little available for people to upsize to, without people upsizing there are no starter homes for first time buyers to get onto the property ladder, so as I see it, it’s all relevant. When housing developments are approved locally, where are the bungalows? Even more horrifying is seeing bungalows that have come onto the market being bought up and then turned into two storey family homes. These rare little gems of single storey dwellings within our town should be a protected species, architecture in danger of extinction, but somehow I don’t think they will become listed buildings any time soon.

Some older residents are really struggling being “property rich, cash poor” in homes they can no longer afford to heat or run, wanting to move but also wanting to stay in an area where most were born – they’re all just waiting for their ideal home to come onto the market, a bungalow in Dorchester! If you know of any, do let me know – I have a growing applicant list of mature clients waiting to snap them up!  In the meantime, I think I might set up a “Save the Dorchester Bungalows” campaign group. Who wants to join? Just me? Oh well, it’s a start.

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Setting up a Tenancy

(Part Three  – Thinking of Buying to Let? Common Mistakes & How to Avoid Them)

Different agencies will have different ways in which they set up a tenancy. Quite often how a tenancy is set up will depend on the service you choose and the fees you are willing to pay.

At Kemp & Co we strongly believe that the secret to a smooth running tenancy is all in the set up and preparation, get this right, and you will eliminate a good number of potential issues that could crop up at a later date. This is why, regardless of what service you choose with Kemp & Co, ALL tenancies are set up in the same manner to ensure we provide clients with the best possible start to their tenancy.

Referencing the Tenant – Gone are the days when you simply ask the tenant to provide the name of a person to vouch for their good character (or at least we hope they are!) Thorough referencing of a tenant is vital. You need to establish that the person applying for the tenancy is who they say they are, that there has been no previous issues with past tenancies or credit history and that the potential tenant is able to afford the rent and associated living costs. We outsource our referencing to an external company who generally work on a ratio of a tenant earning or receiving income of approximately 2.5 x the annual rent. A shortfall does not necessarily mean that the tenancy cannot go ahead, but it does give the opportunity to look for further protection such as a Guarantor by way of back up. (Of course, Guarantors will also need to be referenced).

Rent Guarantee Insurance – All Landlords should consider obtaining Rent Guarantee Insurance. When you weigh up the cost of a policy compared to the potential costs of missed rents, court proceedings and damages if things go horribly wrong, it is certainly worth the outlay. In fact, at Kemp & Co we consider this to be such an important part of setting up a tenancy that we provide all our landlords with Rent Guarantee Insurance for FREE! Once the tenants have been referenced and the tenancy commences, you never know quite what the future holds. What if the tenant loses their job? What if there’s a relationship breakdown and one tenant walks out mid tenancy and the remaining tenant cannot afford the rent on their own? What if they just simply refuse to pay after moving in?  Most Rent Guarantee Insurances will cover the rent until vacant possession and can include cover for court costs and expenses, providing certain criteria has been met and followed from the outset of the tenancy. If you have a mortgage on the property and have to pay additional mortgage payments or rent on another property elsewhere, could you cope with the loss of income and the additional expenses? Rent Guarantee Insurance is not something you can purchase after things start to go wrong, it’s better to have it from the outset than wish you had it in hindsight.

Inventory/Schedule of Condition – A full and proper inventory is vital. There is little point in taking a security deposit in respect of damages if you do not produce a properly documented overview of the property, as it was, at the commencement of the tenancy. So many times we hear “It’s empty, I don’t need an inventory” … YES YOU DO! An inventory and schedule of condition can be a very lengthy and very time consuming to compile but the “Burden of Proof” lies with the Landlord, and without an inventory it would be very hard to fight your case, should there be damages at the end of the tenancy and you wish to be compensated from the security deposit. A good inventory will number every item, will document not only any items within the property but also the condition and colour of walls, flooring, ceilings etc. It should be produced at the check in and both the Landlord and the Tenant should initial each page and sign the document to protect both parties at a later date. Photographic evidence is always helpful alongside the written document. We also include meter readings for utilities as well as details of the keys issued.  If you are not sure what should be contained within the inventory, or are not confident in compiling one yourself, it is always worth employing an Agent or a specific Inventory Provider to do this on your behalf, look out for APIP logos (Association of Property Inventory Providers). Again, inventories are provided as standard with all Kemp & Co Lettings services, or as a standalone service.

Contracts & Paperwork – It is possible to buy Tenancy Agreements off the shelf or download them from various sources, but with such an important document, unless you are completely up to speed with the ever changing legal aspects, it’s better to employ a competent agent or solicitor to draw up the paperwork. Tailor making a tenancy agreement is always best, what type of tenancy agreement do you need? Are there any specific clauses that need to be included such as restrictive covenants under a head lease or block management rules that the tenant may be expected to abide by? At Kemp & Co our tenancy agreements are very individual, we not only include the main terms of agreement but we also include schedules within the agreement to cover the Deposit Protection Rules & Regulations, Prescribed Information, as well as unique clauses to the property itself. Failure to produce the correct paperwork where deposits are concerned can cause all sorts of problems including preventing the courts granting possession using a Section 21 and the Landlord being liable to compensate the tenant three times the deposit amount for not complying with legislation. Contract cannot overrule statute and terms within an agreement must be fair.

The above just touches on some of the many things you will need to consider when setting up a tenancy.  However, it does not mention actually preparing your property for the tenancy such as safety legislation, presentation, what to provide and how to maintain your investment, we will cover this in the final blog in this series.

In the meantime, should you wish to discuss any of the points raised, give us a call! 01305 251800.

 

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How to choose a Letting Agent to Look after your Property Investment

(Part Two  – Thinking of Buying to Let? Common Mistakes & How to Avoid Them)

Every landlord is different, some landlords have plenty of time, live near to their properties and are confident with procedures, others may live some distance away, may not wish to be directly involved with their tenants and maintenance issues or are unsure of how to set up and run a tenancy – these landlords may choose to use a Letting Agent instead.

So how do you pick an agent with so many to choose from? A lot of Landlords will start by asking how much the fees are, there’s nothing wrong with this, providing the next question asked is about what is included within the service! A landlord cannot possibly compare agency fees without first comparing the service they will receive in return, so really the first questions to ask should be as follows:

Is the agency a member of a recognised redress scheme?

How do they keep themselves updated with the ever changing legislation?

Do they have Client Money Protection?

What industry qualifications, if any, do employees hold?

What services do they offer, will they tailor make a service to suit your individual needs?

Are there any hidden fees or costs not mentioned within the core service structure?

Will they provide a discount for multiple properties? If you are thinking of investing in more than one property, the agent may negotiate on fees as your portfolio grows.

Where do they advertise?

How do they reference tenants?

What happens with out of hours maintenance issues?

How often will the agent visit the property?

And these are just the initial enquiries.  An agent who charges the same percentage rate of commission as another agent may not necessarily offer the same service, and more often than not, doesn’t! Choose two or three agents and take the time to interview each. Visit their offices, what impression does it project, are the staff friendly? How long have they conducted business in the area? This will also give an indication of how well they know the area. Ask as many questions as you need to and make judgment on how confidently and competently they answer each. Ask to see examples of tenancy agreements and inventories and have them explain how they go about finding you a tenant and how they will maintain and look after the tenancy and your property thereafter. A good agent will take the time to talk through the whole process start to finish, including speaking to you about how to prepare your property for let, EPCs, Insurance, Health & Safety (including gas & electrical safety, potential hazards etc), they will ask to see proof that you are the owner, consents to let the property from the lender if there is a mortgage on the property and under the head lease where the property is leasehold. Ask them to take you through their terms & conditions and get them to explain clearly any clauses you are unsure of.

Cheap Agents who ask few questions do not necessarily pay off in the long run, in fact you could find yourself not only seriously out of pocket if things go wrong, but also on the wrong side of the law!

Look out for Industry logos such as ARLA Licensed agents, ARLA Member Agents, RICS, NAEA & SafeAgents and if the agent you call is not a member of any of these, ask them why not!

In the next blog we will cover setting up the tenancy. For further help or advice in the meantime, call 01305 251800 and speak to an ARLA Licensed, SafeAgent.

 

 

 

 

 

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