Read the small print…

This week seemingly got worse for Foxtons estate agents-or at least their positive publicity machine took a bit of battering.  This followed the previous week’s outraged reporting of how they had charged a landlord £616, “to change a light fitting”, when the actual contractor had ‘only’ charged £412.50-a mark up of 49%.  Personally I would be more outraged that a contractor could charge just short of a monkey for changing a light fitting.  It must be said though, that there was no mention of what the work actually entailed-if the light fitting was the artisan work of maidens gluing pearls to a base hand-crafted by a remote tribe in the Pacific Islands, then maybe it was worth the money. If it was an ubiquitous, off-the-shelf number from a well-known DIY store, then they were having the tenant’s pants down. The standard bearer for the indignant and injured parties was none other than the doyen of television consumer programmes, John Stapleton.  According to his fellow reporters, Mr Stapleton uses Foxtons as his letting agents and when one of his South London properties had a problem with a leaky shower, he requested a fully detailed quote for the work required.  Foxtons obliged and provided a quote that came in in the region of a rather eye-watering £2000.  Mr Stapleton said thank you, but no thank you, found his own plumber and had the work carried out to his satisfaction for a substantially lower price.  Mr Stapleton and his equally aggrieved wife, Lynn Faulds Wood were appalled that the Foxtons had tried to charge them £2000.  The key word here is ‘tried’.  Foxtons chanced it and the odds on certainty got nailed by the handicap hot shot.  £2000 is exorbitant, but the fact that Foxtons tried to charge that amount, would imply that they have been successful in charging similar amounts on previous occasions and people have paid without discussion.  Welcome to the world of market forces.  If I tried that here in the NP44 demographic I would be told where on my person to put my quote.  All good letting agents should have a clause included in their contract that allows the agent to act up to a certain fiscal value without calling the landlord.  At Cheshire & Co it is £70, although some of our landlords have given us written permission for this figure to be raised to £200.  This protects all parties; the landlord, the tenant and the agent.  We do not charge a commission-some agents do-and this is written into the small print of the contract with the landlord.  I would be surprised that a behemoth such as Foxtons that will undoubtedly have its own in-house legal team does not have it written -admittedly well ‘hidden’ at the bottom of the penultimate page when most people have lost the will to live reading through it-that allows them through their terms and conditions an added percentage of fees and/or commission.  As Mr Stapleton and his wife have advised us on innumerable airings of Watchdog and its ilk, read a contract thoroughly-down to the smallest detail.

In a differing area of the press, Foxtons again got a mention when the city analysts opined that the likes of Foxtons and other big agents will start to feel the pressure-in the area where it really hurts-their share price, as the plethora of online, low fee charging agents continues to increase in size.  In another part of the business news, I read how Connells, the recent purchaser of our fellow Welsh estate agents, Peter Alan are now, “ramping up their acquisitions programme” and are buying up medium sized office-based estate agencies all over the UK.  What will be interesting to see is how each strategy performs; whilst we have long stated that the business model for office-based agencies must adapt, we-as clearly the boys with their hands on the piggy bank at Connells agree-are firmly of the opinion that there is still very much a place for them in the property world.