Much has been written – and spoken about the effect of this legislation on lettings agencies’ income. Those agents who relied very heavily on tenant fees to bolster their income will, no doubt, be the most hard hit.
One area is the property inventory. Since tenants will no longer have to contribute towards the preparation, check-in or checkout, including the inventory, some agents may ‘cut corners’ and take this in-house. The suggestion is that if this happens inventories will no longer be as accurate as if done by an independent company.
One step forwards…
This is a major backwards step. I am fully aware that times have changed; technology has overtaken the written word when it comes to inventories (as in many other processes) and there is a raft of companies out there, offering their services to agents saying that they are the best – and maybe they are.
The fact, however, that there is deposit protection legislation with free dispute resolution services available to tenants does not make the inventory any more important than it always has been. Prior to this, deposit disputes were dealt with through the County Court and inventory evidence was as vital then as it is today.
A comprehensive inventory always has been and always will be an integral part of letting a property.
When I first started my lettings business in the mid-1970s(!) there were no such things as inventory companies. I therefore employed my own Inventory Clerks, thoroughly trained them, provided them with the latest equipment – a smart clip board, paper and pens (!) and cameras with rolls of film. They also had an anorak and wellington boots as they had to go outside to complete the inventory, whatever the weather. No expense spared by the traditional caring business.
Times changed and as our company grew we invested in technology but still had well trained in-house Inventory Clerks. I will never be persuaded that an outside company would have done a better job.
If companies take the matter in-house simply to save costs without ensuring that the staff are truly competent to do the job then, of course, they will land themselves in a ton of trouble. One would probably now expect that the inventory associated costs would be charged to the landlord but some companies may find and realise that they will also lose business if they pile too many costs onto the landlord.
Technology can help here of course. Many tech companies offer the software to carry out this work in-house. An investment such as this would be well worthwhile. Also, members of staff should be made to attend external training courses so that they can fully understand what is required in today’s world – and gain qualifications.
Another accusation often levied at in-house Inventory Clerks is that they are biased towards the landlord and are anti-tenant. I would totally refute this. My Inventory Clerks had a dual role; they also carried out the house visits and therefore they got to know the tenants in their homes. They often never even met the landlord as by the time they were preparing the inventory the landlord had left the property ready for letting.
It could be argued that my Inventory Clerks were more biased towards the tenants but I do not believe that to be the case either. I believe that their training meant that they remained completely impartial, simply carrying out their duties as required.
A comprehensive inventory always has been and always will be an integral part of letting a property. Without it there is no proof of the condition of the property nor what was included with the let.
Fees, monies and worries
I am sure that that inventory companies will continue to thrive; they may need to offer added value to agencies but that will be the case for the agencies with the landlords too. If fees increase to landlords, they will expect more for their money.
The knock-on effect of the tenant fees ban could also be that landlords decide to let and manage their own properties. This is a scary thought that I will consider further in a future article.
Frances Burkinshaw is an experienced independent trainer available nationally for in-house or group training. 01892 783961 or 07887 714341 or [email protected]