Your new business pipeline is crucial. It should be bristling with potential, but cultivating new contacts and starting conversations takes time – something agents don’t always have.
One of the most time consuming chores in lettings is utilities management. Drawing a line under old accounts, informing suppliers about new tenants and that tricky bit during voids can become an administration nightmare.
Cue a frustrating paper trail and a vicious circle of calls.
If you need more time to concentrate on core tasks or simply want to off load the hassle of managing utilities, there’s good news. A whole utilities management industry exists and the help is offered free of charge.
TIME TO SAVE
Tenant Shop has hit the timesaving nail on the head by developing its own software specifically for the lettings industry. It automates the utilities tasks usually performed manually by an agent by integrating with property management software.
“Our service means letting agents may never have to speak to utility suppliers and councils again,” says Tenant Shop’s Glenn Seddington. Instead of repeating the same details over and over to various suppliers, Glenn says the information it needs takes no more than 60 seconds to supply, after which Tenant Shop notifies all the utilities and the local council on the agent’s behalf.
Ittria has also developed software that seamlessly works with an agent’s property management system. Similarly, its service notifies utilities automatically when a tenant is moving out, when the new tenant is moving in, and also verifies data including address and meter numbers.
The potential time and money savings are astounding, especially given how resource-zapping the task appears to be,
“I discovered a management agent had one full time and one part time employee devoted to sorting out utility issues attached to its 1,200 managed properties,” says Ittria’s Managing Director, Caroline Harrison.
There is a trade off for using a complimentary management service. They want referrals in return – access to tenants so they can push their switch facility and tariffs to keep their own new business pipelines healthy. The sweetener is commission – agents generally earn for every switch they originate plus there are financial benefits on the uptake of other products, if offered by the partner.
“We share switch commission with all our agent partners,” adds Caroline. “Using the hypothetical example of an agent with 500 managed properties, the commission earned would equate to, on average, £9,000 per annum. An extra £10,000 per annum could be earned if that agent sold on our rent guarantee insurance products to landlords.” Sums not to be sniffed at.
CHEAPER DEALS TO ATTRACT TENANTS
While delegating utilities management is an obvious time and money saving measure, agents can use their utility partnerships to give their business a competitive edge.
Spark Energy was founded by lettings experts especially for the rental market and is a step up from comparison and switching services. Spark serves over 400,000 customer accounts and their competitive tariffs allow them to offer gas, electricity, mobile phone, landline, broadband and Sky TV bundles to tenants via its letting agent partnerships.
Switching utilities is an onerous, manual process and as we are former property professionals, we know what a drain on man hours it can be. Chris Davis, Spark Energy.
“Switching utilities is an onerous, manual process and as former property professionals, we know what a drain on man hours it can be,” says the company’s Chris Davis, Head of Sales. “Our aim is to try and stop agents being the middle man, freeing them from a very repetitive task. As well as saving time (via automatic data feeds) and offering agents financial sign up incentives and milestone rewards, we can save tenants money too.”
“The Spark team is constantly monitoring competitors so our move-in tariffs are always cheaper than the average of the Big Six’s equivalent. The saving requires no effort on the part of the tenant or the agent, and it’s a great selling point when advertising rentals,” adds Chris. A heavy investment in digital technology will also ensure that Spark Energy grows in the near future, with council tax and water accounts set to be included in its offering. Additionally, the company has become the newest member of the Energy Switch Guarantee – an industry initiative designed to make switching simple and quicker for customers – added reassurance for letting agents when selling the service on to tenants.
OTHER BENEFITS TOO
What if you could also keep landlords happy? Like others including Tenant Shop, The Lettings Hub’s utility management service features a neat void period perk that agents can flag up to landlords. “We have negotiated to waive energy bills if a rental property is going to be void for a period between tenancies – landlords won’t have to pay a void period bill of £10 or less, subject to terms and conditions,” says The Letting Hub’s CEO, Heidi Shackell.
“As well as our void benefit and referral commission, we can advise if an agent can integrate more income-generating products into their processes.”
Perhaps your new business pipeline isn’t the only place where big money lies, as those buried underground can actually earn you a decent income. One company says agents are actively plugging financial gaps with utility-related commission.
I know of agents with hundreds of managed properties that have replaced the expected revenue loss from the tenant fee ban by offering our product. Chris Dawson, One Utility Bill.
“I know of agents with hundreds of managed properties who have completely replaced the expected revenue loss from the tenant fee ban by offering our product,” says Chris Dawson, CEO at One Utility Bill. The product Chris is referring to is the ‘Bills Inclusive’ deal. As well as offering its Notify management service, which it claims saves agents anywhere from 30 minutes upwards per property and pays £10 commission per property submitted – Bills Inclusive allows agents to determine their own commission margins by creating bespoke utility bundles and marking them up.
The premise is simple. All utility bills, including gas, electricity, media, water and TV licence, are consolidated into one monthly payment – a system that has already proven popular in HMOs and but could potentially appeal to all tenants. One Utility Bill even offers agents marketing support so they can promote Bills Inclusive to the widest audience, scaling up the number of referral fees. Although the tenant pays a small subscription fee for the single-bill bundle, One Utility Bill’s comparison service means the overall monthly charge will still be lower than if the tenant was using a Big Six supplier.
While earning extra income and passing on cost savings is appealing, some utility partners offer additional specialist help during billing nightmares. One of those is Utilitell. While it offers conventional utilities management and a fully Ofgem-accredited, impartial comparison service, it prides itself on stepping up when things go wrong, especially with issues stemming from meter readings.
Eileen Rutschmann, Founder and CEO of Utilitell, says meters are a very ‘messy’ aspect of utilities, “The key to successful switching is understanding meters – both the type and the relationship of the meter to the address. The small detail of Flat A also being known as Flat 1 can cause problems that keep lettings agents occupied for ages – think inaccurate or unprocessed bills. Some of our partner agents have told us they have saved the equivalent of a half to a full-time employee over the year by working with us, allowing that employee to do more value-related tasks.”
Eileen says Utilitell has stepped in to have court summons reversed and negated the need for bailiffs, “Local authorities are very quick to issue a summons if a notification is delayed or a bill sent to the wrong address. Through our relationships with utility partners, we can rectify these problems with a single phone call.”
CLOSER TO HOME
Don’t forget, utilities management can be applied to your own premises and not just to the homes of tenants. Switching your office utility suppliers is more complicated than residential but it’s not impossible, especially with help. uSwitchforBusiness at MakeItCheaper can manage the process for you. “Business energy contracts are more restrictive but there are certain aspects that allow you to make alterations,” says the company’s Keavy Larkin.
“If you’re renting a commercial premise, it’s highly likely you’ll be responsible for the utilities; that means understanding business tariffs and identifying your limited ‘switching window’.” If you’re offloading the hassle of client utility management, it makes sense to do this for your own supply too. uSwitchforBusiness will source the best deals for you, act within your switching window and conduct the switch on your behalf.
A review of your own office ’phone contracts could save you 40% in the first 12 months comparing our service against an existing supplier. James Routledge, Globa l4 Communications.
Telecommunications shouldn’t be overlooked either, as the cost savings are substantial. “We know property management is very demanding and as a result, evaluating your own office telephone contracts often falls to the bottom of the pile,” comments James Routledge at Global 4 Communications. “But undertaking a review could save you an average of 40 per cent in the first 12 months, when comparing our service against an existing supplier. Our smart technology also allows negotiators to be more mobile whilst using their own devices and incoming callers will never get an engaged tone again. Plus all your calls to UK landlines and mobiles will be free.”