A recent investigation by consumer watchdog ‘Which?‘ has served as a damning indictment of the current state of the UK’s letting agents. Their report details cases of letting agents showing tenants around properties that are clearly affected by damp. There were also instances where agents failed to inform tenants about important safety-related details.

Undercover researchers working on behalf of the consumer group went on a number of property viewings for properties located across England and Scotland. Their goal was twofold: to carry out an inspection of the property, while also making sure to ask a series of questions. In doing so, they were aiming to uncover whether letting agents were disclosing important information.

Growing Competition

Competition, particularly from the tech industry, is changing the way that people think of renting a room in London. Many of those who would previously have opted for flat-sharing London arrangements are instead looking to rent rooms in London. And those who have room to let in London are no longer dependent upon letting agents.

For example, those who are looking for a room to rent in London, and those who have a room in London to let, can now turn to a business such as London Shared. London Shared rent properties from their owners, and then rent out spare rooms in London to individual tenants. By removing letting agents from the equation entirely, they are appealing to consumers looking for a spare room in London who are increasingly distrusting of agents. You can read these FAQs for more information about how London Shared works.

There are a growing number of rooms to let in London which are no longer being let through estate agents. Those looking for London rooms to rent are, therefore, increasingly getting used to not using agents.

Changing Landscape

Services like Airbnb have already forced us to reconsider the way that we think about the relationship between property owners and the rental market. While Airbnb is aimed at short-term rentals, it has demonstrated the viability of a business model whereby homeowners are able to offer space in their homes free of charge.

Clearly, technology does present a serious threat to the traditional letting market, especially as consumers’ initial wariness of these technologies dissipates. But the reality is, the remaining distrust that some people feel towards these new apps and services is not as strong as the distrust that many feel towards traditional letting agents.

Lack of Information

The ‘Which?’ report highlighted several instances where tenants raised issues with agents while in the properties. Agents were reported to make verbal promises that issues would be fixed before tenants moved in, or that landlords would deal with it. However, these verbal agreements are inadequate, and no substitute for a formal, written commitment.

Half of the agents that the researchers interacted with were unable to provide them with even basic information about the property. For example, many didn’t know where the boilers were located, or what type they were. Only a third of the agents were rated good on their knowledge of the property’s carbon monoxide alarms, indicating that they could explain why they were needed, and their location. Many were also unaware if the alarms had been tested.

The government proposed this week to increase the minimum length of tenancies, from six months to three years. The move is being made to provide renters with more security and will put further pressure on the letting industry to improve its practices.

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