[Ben Reeve Lewis remembers jubilees of yore ..]
Of Omelettes and Eggs
Its Jubilee weekend and I thought I would try to write a piece that keyed into the national vibe but I couldn’t find an angle.
I doubt that the Queen is that bothered by everyday housing issues, the rise in homelessness, rent arrears cases increasing by the day, the inability of first time buyers to get together a deposit for the tiniest studio flat. Buck House provides a certain distance I imagine.
I remember the last Jubilee. I was a rail-thin punk with pillar-box red spiky hair and I recall being arrested with a friend who had gone skinny dipping in the river on the edge of Winchester.
Back at the station I denounced him and thought it would be funny to make up a string of imaginary and lurid criminal convictions for him.
The Police took my allegations seriously and we both spent the weekend in the cells while they checked out the would-be pervert. I got a black eye for wasting their time. No sense of humour, Plod.
But Phil and I giggled all the way home on the train each time we caught each other’s eye, despite being a tad sore.
Where was her majesty when her subject needed her then eh?????????
Anyway, to business.
Shelter on Scotland
Shelter and I have a strange relationship, I’m still on their books as a trainer, I agree with 90% of their work and campaigns, but have often been openly critical in my witterings about the rogue landlord one. I still think its misplaced but I am intrigued by what they are doing in Scotland and Wales.
They seem to have made a decision to go on the all-out attack against letting agent’s fees.
In Scotland they have picked up on the fact that Scottish law prohibits charging tenants unlawful fees involved in renting a property, despite the law being around for 30 years. Not content with writing an article they have actually taken to the road to let the public know.
According to their website feea that are unlawful in Scotland are:-
- Credit checks
- Reference checks
- Inventory fees
- Renewal fees
- Holding fees
- Copies of the lease
- Transfer fees
- Overpriced furniture
The issue revolves around misunderstanding a statute, section 82 of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984 on which Shelter Scotland’s Graeme Brown said:-
“Some letting agents – established and new – are routinely ripping off tenants by charging extortionate and unjustified upfront fees is shocking and quite simply exploitative”.
Interestingly he points out that:-
“They are also undermining the work of good letting agents who offer a fair deal to tenants”.
Indicating that not all Scottish agents are doing it. Sounds like dodgy agents are even more of a problem north of the border that in my own fair capital where there aren’t any laws. 600 tenants joined the campaign on the first day alone.
In my book, Letting agents should be regulated.
I continue to be astonished that they aren’t required to be. Many are so bad they really give the PRS a bad name.
Very few people have any sympathy with them because their staff are often quite arrogant and unpleasant, certainly to tenants who they don’t view as their serious paying customers and they regularly come top of the charts of untrustworthy trades.
No smoke without fire I’m afraid and even the great agents are aware that they aren’t everyone’s favourite people. Reading blog responses online you quickly realise that the only thing that unites landlords and tenants is their distrust of agents.
But I have been in housing too long to take a black and white view of things. I know some crappy agents in my area, 70% of them to be honest, who still have some decent individuals working there trying their best and I know some seemingly reliable national chain ones who have appalling staff with very little knowledge and dreadful attitudes. It’s a mixed bag really.
Writing on the Shelter Scotland’s campaign Property 118 pointed out that many agents could go bust, including the decent ones. If people start claiming back fees and they don’t have the cash available to meet the claims.
Agents in Wales
Flushed by early success in Scotland, Shelter have now turned to Wales. Shelter Cymru have been doing a bit of Mystery Shopping in agent land. The website ‘Rentman’ covered the story reporting that although Wales doesn’t have the same legal restrictions as Scotland un-transparent practices on fees is still a major problem.
Shelter Cymru’s John Puzey said:-
“This lack of transparency traps people into paying additional fees as it is almost impossible for them to make an informed choice when they start the process of renting a home,”
Where are Shelter going with this? Is the strategic aim to move away from a stubbornly resistant Westminster, bring the agents of Wales and Scotland to heel, to then bring pressure to bear on Government to do the same in England?
I am actually a trained Shiatsu masseur. I gave it up simply because I can’t stand being around the sick and the needy, I’m shallow like that but one thing you learn is that if a person has a pain in their right shoulder you work anywhere BUT the right shoulder. You work what is called “Distal” to it. Are Shelter adopting the same treatment? It makes sense.
I think it is important to acknowledge that although people commonly mistrust, even dislike letting agents, they do have a valid and useful service to offer. But if certain fees are unlawful in Scotland and agents have been flouting them for 30 years, then it is appropriate to bring that situation to an end.
If the Welsh campaign is highlighting the fact that agents are not acting transparently and are getting away with financial murder, then that also needs to be stopped and if that then influences the ridiculous situation in England of total hands-off agent behaviour, bring it on.
As the campaign moves forward there will, as P118 points out, be casualties.
New online letting agents
The Glamorous ladies of Royals of Rent ran a story about Open Rent a new online letting agent where everything is done digitally and they only charge landlords and tenants £20 each for the full Monty. Check them out here.
Renter Girl told me of a similar service called Rent Lord here OK you wont get the hands on stuff like viewings but in a report I read a few weeks back something like 80% of tenants prefer to be shown around the property by their landlord, not their agent.
With Shelter clearly targeting agent fees in the Celtic lands to undermine Westminster’s line and new online services looking to undercut traditional methods, are we merely seeing future developments or the start of the death of letting agents as we know them?
If I was a letting agent I would seriously start reading the writing that is going onto the wall. I think Property 118’s prophecy that there are going to be casualties in these agent wars is a correct one.
It will be a shame that many good agents will be affected by this, or may even go down as a result but what is the alternative? Let bad agents continue unchecked?
My guess is that to stay in business, agents are going to have to seriously raise their game. There may end up being fewer of them but at least people might follow the advice of the poster in my local branch of Eric Walker’s excellent Bushells chain, which reads “Hug an estate agent”………it could happen!
Ben Reeve Lewis
Ben’s runs Home Saving Expert, where he shares his secrets on defending people’s homes from mortgage repossession Visit his blog and get some help and advice on mortgage difficulties, catch up with him on Twitter and check out his free report “An Encouraging note on Dealing with your Mortgage Lender” and have it sent right to your inbox.
Picture : jubilee