Legislating yourself out of the game…

An announcement last weekend from Secretary of State for Housing, Sajid Javid that the Government  is putting its weight behind a Private Members Bill (PMB) that aims to hand more power to tenants has increased the chance of the said bill becoming law. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards ) Bill-try saying that after three bacardis-seeks to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985  to require that residential rented accommodation is provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation. MPs voted unanimously to pass the bill earlier this week allowing it to move to the Committee stage where more detailed examination of what it proposes will take place. It has the support of some landlords’ groups including the Residential Landlords’ Association (RLA), whose vice-chairman Douglas Haig said, “..if we look sensibly at things, what it is asking for is what most landlords would already expect to be law”. Quite. I have to ask whether should the bill be passed if this sounds the death knell for Rent Smart Wales as this was created to give tenants greater powers and make more money for the Welsh Assembly..oops, did I actually type that? Despite supporting the bill, Mr Haig did voice concern on behalf of his association members that tenants would be able to enforce things themselves and that it would encourage so called ‘stealth action’ by tenants trying to get compensation from landlords. Before any hand wringers reading this start wittering (and hand wringing whilst looking up the number of their local ambulance-chasing solicitors’ firm), may I suggest that Douglas and the RLA are having their attention diverted away from two very relevant if socially unpalatable points:

  1. Why is there no campaign by an MP to introduce a PMB ‘The Homes (What if the Tenant Pays No Rent and Leaves the Place Unfit for Human Habitation) Bill? The Commons seems remarkably quiet on that one.
  2. What will MP’s or landlord associations do about the sudden rise of call centres ringing up with the “Hello Mr Tenant, have you got damp in your property, has your landlord offered to do anything about it?” Forget PPI and the car that you don’t own and wasn’t driving having been involved in an accident, this will be the next growth industry. Never mind, all the people who were working for Rent Smart Wales can now pop across to the call centre. Just think how much the list of landlords and their properties would be worth; they would be the only person driving to work a shift in a call centre in a brand new Maserati. As you can see, my new years resolution to be less cynical is hitting the buffers and we haven’t even got to the end of January.

We have for a while been in an age of horrible, nasty landlords and big bad letting agents (cue booing and hissing from the audience) and of course, some of this has merit.  Let us remember that most landlords do provide good accommodation and have no control over whether their tenant dries half a ton of washing a week over the radiators and then complains to Environmental Health about the black mold growing on the window that is affecting their (possibly borrowed) baby’s health and now they have to take Kylie-Anne-Chelsea-Kayleigh to the doctor. Nor do the landlords have any recourse to preventing their tenant leaving weeks of fast food cartons stacked outside-or in some cases-inside the property. Cue another call to Environmental Health about rats. Trust me, with some of the properties that I have had to visit over the years, you wouldn’t need the Pied Piper but the entire wind section of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Of course tenants need protection from unscrupulous landlords, but increasing amounts of legislation will only lead to one thing; more costs to the tenant, something that everyone seems to be making a conscious effort to ignore. Single property landlords are now starting to get out of the business leading to a shortage of rental properties. What happens then? The tenants suffer as rents go up. Of course there is no need to panic about the call centres working on a no win, no fee basis for claims about bad housing, we can provide insurance against that. There will be a premium to pay and guess who will pay that and recoup the expenditure? Correct, and the rent will go up.

Finally, speaking of unpalatable truths, it is a year since the inauguration of the most dubious haircut to ever occupy the hot seat in the Oval Office and what is there to show for it other than an increase in the purchase of hair spray and the associated hole in the ozone layer? The lowest level of unemployment since records began, the biggest bull market on Wall Street again, since records began and 3% economic growth that the experts deemed “impossible”. Regardless of the how, why or WTF, he got somewhere that 99.9999% of the population don’t and that doesn’t happen by being a complete mug. Just an observation.

Agent X?

Or Agent Not-at-all, if technology continues its onward march to replace 100% real human beings with 100% manufactured but frighteningly efficient robots. Zenplace Property Management, an American firm said to be backed by many of the same investors that supported the likes of Google, Facebook and Paypal  (to say that they have a decent record would be something of an understatement), claim to already be operating hundreds of tablet-carrying robots across several parts of California, birthplace of Silicon Valley and its multi-billionaires whose technology has revolutionised the world. The cynical (if not accurate in their critique) among us would argue that Cwmbran and the NP4 postcode has-for the first and probably last time in history-beaten California to a world-first; agents in the postcode have been carrying out robotic viewings for years. Boom, boom, watch that tumbleweed go..

The robots are actually movable video monitors (but ‘robot’ sounds so much sexier and cutting edge). The technology works by allowing prospective tenants/purchasers who see a vacant property that they like the look of to text Zenplace. They are then prompted to send a photo or means of ID through their smartphone to initiate a back ground check Er, AML regulations anyone? If passing the searching questioning of K.I.T (I don’t care how much you may want to play the cool card now, you have to admit it, we all loved Knight Rider and The Hoff), the prospective tenant is sent a unique code that allows them to enter the property via a “smartlock”. Having entered the property, the robot agent is activated.  A real, live letting agent welcomes them in, verifying that they are the person on the submitted ID and then takes them on a tour of the property, fully interacting with them to establish if the property is for them or if they are the sort of tenant that the agency wishes to have on their books.

Speaking of which, those betting on this year’s winner of the Booker Prize will be able to get any price on the oeuvre launched last week called, “For Sale: Sex, Drugs and Property”. Purportedly written by Agent X who works for a large organisation in the world of estate agency, it reveals in salacious detail the shenanigans of  corporate estate agents. Yawn, been there, got the t-shirt, seen various middle managers doing the walk of the shame down the corridor of the Travelodge /Premier Inn/budget hotel the morning after the night before at some training conference. The author chooses not to mention his name as, “I don’t want to be sued and they still employ me”. If correctly identified, the fledgling Dickens may need to use the past tense as regards his employment status. Elsewhere he (although it could be a she), admits that, “if you read the industry press, it may be blindingly obvious which company I work for”. I refer you to my earlier comment. The online Estate Agent Today reports how it was sent an email (with a link to the book’s site on Amazon), from someone who is convinced that the people in the book are his work colleagues. From the little that I read, they could have been the work colleagues of any one of us who has worked in corporate estate agency. The author alleges that coke is a major problem in the industry. I wholly agree; it is terrible for your teeth and last week I was mightily aggrieved when I rushed to collect some and came back with the crappy cherry flavour…

For a price, they could have The Chesh…

Following last week’s blog on property price predictions including those of the pulchritudinous Sarah Beeney and her online agency Tepilo, we were told this week that the aforementioned agency is to change its fee structure not that it is under revised ownership. Revised ownership? They kept that one well hidden under a bushel (no cheap jokes please). What was not announced was whether the revised fees resulting from the revised ownership (following Beeney’s departure as director last month) would be revised up or down.

Tepilo is believed-well is it or isn’t it- to now be controlled by Northern and Shell Ventures, a division of publishing group Northern and Shell, which says that it focuses on, “young and innovative companies that have already reached a certain level of market maturity and are in an ideal position to benefit from enhanced media exposure”…. and the 2018 Award for Obfuscation and Bollocks goes to (fill in as appropriate). The agency began life as a ‘for sale by owner’ service and then five years ago switched to the online model, offering three options to vendors. The ‘Essential’ option costs £645 including VAT for the typical online basic service along with what the agency calls, “a Sarah Beeney For Sale board”.  Can we spot the obvious problem now? The ‘Classic’ option has the basics plus professional photography and floor plans and the ‘Premium’ includes listings on Rightmove, Zoopla and Prime Location and costs £1295. Virtual tours and EPC’s attract additional costs. Of course they do.

In my mind, the first two options are worth the square root of f45k all as neither offers a listing on Rightmove. In fact I had to read it twice, but 83% of the agency’s listings do not  appear on the daddy of property portals. As much of the agency’s virtual and social media presence makes extensive use of Ms B’s name and image, I am wondering how they plan their future branding-repeating that she is still a shareholder will I believe only get them so far-particularly as she hasn’t chosen to stick around as a director. She will we are told, continue to be its public face. Hmm, for the right price they could have The Chesh, they would save a fortune in paying a hairdresser for the styling for publicity shots.

In recent months several online agencies have revised their pricing plans including eMoov who launched a no sale, no fee payment plan. The irony will not be lost on those old enough to remember when I needed the services of a hairdresser; as we traditional agents have had to up our performance in terms of our online presence and use of all things technical, so the bright young things on the property scene have come to realise that using a no sale, no fee package is not so archaic and outdated a concept. Strangely enough, people are not that sold on the upfront non-refundable fee that frequently still leaves them with a house unsold.