It’s easy to blame only one part of the sector, in particular online agents,
for the underlying issues associated with the lettings industry, such as
a lack of regulation, legislation and accountability.
Regrettably, such a lack of regulation has been part and parcel of the lettings industry for decades and applies both to online and high street agents.
This is one of the reasons why, after experiencing the lettings industry from both a
tenant and landlord perspective, I chose to launch a responsible online sales and lettings agency, Urban.co.uk
The truth is that there is no requirement for any letting agent, whether online or high street, to be a member of the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) or to belong to the National Approved Letting Scheme, and many are not.
I strongly believe we should all operate under the same rules and therefore share the same moral responsibilities to deliver a reliable and well-informed service to clients. Urban long ago identified the need for more awareness amongst landlords and letting agents alike, on emerging legislation. This is what prompted us in our mission to educate and improve the industry as a whole.
We conducted a mystery shop of 400 letting agents back in March, reviewing both high street and online businesses. We weren’t necessarily surprised at the shocking lack of knowledge from both sides, particularly around Right to Buy checks that had already been made mandatory in February. Incidentally, procedures at Urban had been in place for months beforehand, following our direct consultation with David Cox, the managing director of ARLA.
When both online and high street agents were questioned around their understanding of UK residents and Right to Rent checks, we were met with blank expressions.
We are about to launch ‘Landlord University’, an interactive hub of information for
landlords, letting agents and tenants, which will also complement our management
offering of being accessible and transparent throughout the year. I strongly feel that online agents can offer a hugely personal and responsive service. For
example, we’re able to offer landlords and tenants 24/7 support, 365 days a year, with experienced local (and therefore knowledgeable) representatives.
If you prefer verbal communication, we have a seven days a week telephone support service. Alternatively, if you do prefer email or online chat communication, we’re definitely able to assist. It’s all about individual preference and recognising the needs of a changing market.
Rather than debate the integrity and reliance of online versus high street agents, let us instead focus on addressing and meeting individual client preferences. It is about selecting a reputable letting agent that knows what it is doing and is a good fit for your individual requirements – regardless as to whether their desk is located in a shop window or somewhere else.
I do agree that transparency is paramount in our industry. When a landlord contracts someone to look after their most prized asset when signing an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST), they need to pick the right tenant.
This is where a letting agency can add real value and ensure that the necessary checks are in place. The first tenant to bag the agent commission will not always be the best.
Meeting that tenant, knowing exactly how many people have enquired, how much interest your advertising is creating and discussing this with a team of experts whose job it is to help you, is vital.
Let’s use the emergence of online agents as a reason to improve service and regulation within the industry and not squabble over the physical location of an office. Time spent pointing fingers can be better spent serving customers and adjusting business models to be more progressive.
With this in mind, it is worth asking yourself – whether you are a tenant or landlord:
“How many times have I actually set foot inside my letting agent’s office, and more to the point, was it really necessary?”
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