I’ve spent many years dealing with end of tenancy disputes and delivering training sessions on negotiation, early resolution and adjudication, and what constitutes good evidence. So when I was invited to spend time at LiFE Residential offices, exploring each stage of the lettings process and understanding how it works right from the start, I jumped at the chance.

In our very technological world, we expect processes to flow easily with a click of a button, often forgetting that some businesses are very customer focused and not all tasks can, or should, be done by computer.

Aristotle once said “Nature creates nothing without a purpose”.

While technology is not ‘nature’ I believe a good lettings business recognises that its organic purpose is to provide a quality service to its customers. This can only be done by communicating with ‘people’ at every stage of the tenancy process in which ever way they prefer; be it by phone, in person, as well as by text and email.

What I really noticed was the level of skills needed to deal with customers in a professional and an appropriately informal way.

The front office teams’ ability to negotiate with a landlord and prospective tenant, making sure they are a good match for the property; maybe even at the initial call stage, discovering they’re unsuited to the property, not yet in a position to rent a property or conversely, in a desperate hurry to rent.

The apparently seamless negotiation and consultations when taking a new instruction, visiting the property to measure up, which I was fortunate to experience, and generating leads on property portals, re-letting a property, as well as making sure all the legalities and check-in inspections are in place when the tenancy starts, is definitely not as simple as it look, with detailed checklists for every stage.

My experience included listening to phone calls with a landlord who wanted to use his own tenancy agreement, and his refusal to understand the potentially unfair clauses; a landlord who chose to do his own cleaning at the end of the tenancy, but then did not, which left the agent in a difficult position with the next tenant. I also went to a new property instruction to measure up and that in itself is art form all on its own! Where to measure from and what parts of the property to include, certainly more than just whacking out the tape measure!

During the tenancy, landlords who choose the fully managed service can be assured that their property is being looked after with mid-term property inspections; which I was lucky to experience. These are so important for spotting problems that may get worse if left till the tenancy ends, most commonly damage as a result of a small leak or condensation left unattended.

At the end of the tenancy the property management team need to be resilient with both landlords and tenants who need to agree on the distribution of any deposit and settle any costs for cleaning or damage. The ability to communicate with confidence and reach a compromise is a special skill, with the aim of avoiding a formal dispute. The issues can be complex and while most are standard, some will be more individual; take the tenant who said he didn’t hear the bell and refuses to pay the aborted call out fee or the damage only found under a carefully positioned desk after the check-out inspection had been done.

Finally let’s not forget the accounts team who have to reconcile their books after dealing with deposits, rent, dilapidations, contractor payments, and in the case of fully managed properties, management fees, service charges and ground rents. Knowing a client account from a revenue accounts is a big responsibility and making sure landlords get their rent on time is an essential part of the service. The consequences are unimaginable for a customer who misses a mortgage payment just because the tenant is late paying! All this before the onerous task of chasing late payments and rent arrears!

So what did I learn?

That using an accredited and skilled agent who will manage your property is something to really consider. A professional agent with robust processes in place, a great team of people with the experience and training to stay calm in all situations, with skills to listen, ask relevant questions and negotiate.

As you can see from the number of technical competencies required, and laws and regulations to juggle, it is still surprising that in todays’ market today it is not compulsory for all agents to be qualified.

Landlords get what they pay for. A good agent is worth their weight in gold and those paying the cheapest fees are often short changed. A good management agreement will specify the services an agent promises to deliver and if the fee they charge appears to be too good to be true then it probably is.

Ultimately in todays’ world, no business can succeed without technology but equally important to the success is the nature and nurture of your customer. Property is a people business and landlords and tenants will really value great service and staff who care, communicate and consider their needs.

I’d like to say many thanks to the teams for taking the time out and allowing me to shadow them. It was a great and enjoyable experience.

Suzy Hershman. Head of Dispute Resolution – MyDeposits

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