LonRes Guest Blog: Lettings – Avoid The Fools Gold

30 August 2018 | Andy Halstead

By Andy Halstead, CEO of specialist letting insurance provider Let Alliance

The letting agency market place is facing unprecedented change, the perfect storm is brewing and 2019 promises to be the year of significant winners and substantial losers. Letting agents across the UK are faced with risks to their business and risks to their customers.

New firms are popping up almost on a weekly basis, promising to solve all our problems – I am a letting agent myself - but what are they ‘really’ promising? Once you cut through the smoke and mirrors, the self-styled ‘PropTech’ often fall short on delivery and fail to understand the actual needs of agents and their customers. There seem to be so many solutions looking for a problem to solve.

Take tenant referencing – offers to provide free refences or complete references for say £5 are just not real. Having spent 15 years either managing or owning the markets leading tenant referencing businesses, I know for a fact that this is not possible. Attached to such promises are ‘do-it-yourself’ style platforms or contacts to procure other services and products that more than fund the cost of a reference. 

The tenant fee ban, due to become effective from April 2019, makes cheap offers and opportunities to cut costs look very attractive. But at what risk? In an environment where margins are squeezed and both agents and landlords are under pressure, the worst possible scenario is a tenant occupying a property, failing to pay rent and refusing to vacate. The potential losses to both agents and landlords are significant. Even worse if the agent has no recourse from the reference provider, the landlord will certainly want to know what due diligence the agent carried out.

Unpaid rent is on the increase and rents are at a UK all-time high; relatively minor changes in tenants’ circumstances can result in rent being unpaid. For an insignificant sum, in the context of investing in a residential property and receiving the appropriate yield, professional letting agents can remove this risk from their business and from their landlords. Rent Guarantee, provided by the UK’s leading support firms to letting agents, is high value to landlords, a risk management product for agents and a serious income generator to letting agents’ businesses. Rent Guarantees with excesses create chaos for letting agents; landlords are almost always disappointed that they did not receive all the rent lost and this often results in agents losing the landlord customer. Rent Guarantee on a nil excess basis, with claims paid from day 1 of arrears is the only way forward.

Replacement deposit schemes are the new trendy product, with several credible players entering the market. These schemes are unproven and whilst very attractive to certain tenants, we are yet to see the claims experience at the end of tenancies. Standalone replacement deposits represent the greatest risk to both the agent and the provider. I believe that the best chance of delivering a sustainable replacement deposit scheme is to do so on a fully integrated basis. The key is to benefit from the whole package of tenant referencing, nil deposit, Rent Guarantee, tenants’ liability insurance, tenants’ contents insurance and tenants’ income protection. The combined earnings for agents is much greater, the protection for tenants is complete and the chances of the replacement deposit scheme being sustainable are far higher. Time will tell.

The changing market requires agents to treat tenants as valued customers. Tenants are consumers with a propensity to buy value add products at the time of moving home. From the application stage through to the move-in day, the opportunity to provide tenants with the right products and services is huge. They want the property and they are open minded about the things that will help them through the whole process. They also want to reduce the risk of high costs either during or at the end of the tenancy. It becomes difficult if not impossible to sell tenants products the day after they move in when their whole focus and mind set changes. We need to the seize the moment.

There are two lettings markets in the UK; London and the rest of the country. London has specific challenges and risks that must be managed. London also has fantastic opportunities for agents - the average rents make the rest of the country look very poor indeed. Tenant fraud in London is the most serious risk followed by tenant affordability. We have seen an increase in organised crime in London, often unknowingly facilitated by Airbnb. Applicants in London need to be assessed differently to the rest of the country and agents in London need to share more data. This is exactly what the LonRes Let Alliance proposition for London delivers, along with all the other value add products and services mentioned. 

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About the author

Andy Halstead

Chief Executive and Founder of Let Alliance, letting agent business owner and an industry expert with more than 30 years’ experience, leading the fastest growing specialist provider of tenant referencing, nil deposit, rent guarantee and specialist rental insurance solutions in the UK.

I am the founder & CEO of Let Alliance, the fastest growing specialist provider of tenant referencing and rent guarantee in the UK. I have over 25 years of management experience within the retail financial services and residential property investment market, overseeing growth and acquisitions across several companies.

Previously I was Business Development Director at Towergate Partnership and Sales & Marketing Director of Towergate’s subsidiary Paymentshield. Prior to this, I was Chief Executive of Erinaceous Insurance Services (now Barbon) and Group Sales & Marketing Director of Erinaceous Group Plc

Andy Halstead, CEO of Let Alliance