How To Support Homebuyers During Lockdown 3.0

Following the government’s decision to enter into a third and hopefully final lockdown, house sales have, unfortunately, been hit hard yet again.

About our guest blogger:
Dakota Murphey has experience in property management with her portfolio of properties expanding in the South of England. Her passion for renovation and home improvement projects is shared through her writing to help educate and inspire others.

Not only are home viewings becoming more and more difficult to arrange, but also with more people now needing to stay at home to avoid infection, there are a reduced number of interested parties as well.

What’s more, for homebuyers who had agreed to purchase prior to the lockdown, there is now predicted to be significant delays to the sale process, largely thanks to surveys, contractors, conveyancing searches and more becoming difficult to organise within the government’s restrictions.

Therefore, it’s important for you – their estate agent – to support and reassure these homebuyers fully throughout this uncertain time, regardless of where they might currently be in the sales process.

So, with this in mind, we thought we’d compile a quick guide on how to do exactly that, helping you to put the homebuyer’s mind at ease prior to their date of completion.

Keep In Regular Contact

Whether your homebuyer is a first-time buyer or has bought hundreds of houses before, it’s important to keep in regular contact with them to ensure everything is still in order.

Put yourself in their shoes, for instance. They are investing hundreds of thousands of pounds into a process that you are encouraging them to follow through on.

As such, you need to keep them updated along the way and make sure any questions or queries they have are answered as quickly as possible.

Whether it be an enquiry over a survey-related matter, like how carbon-friendly the property is, or something a lot more general, like how long the entire process is likely to take, don’t allow weeks to go by without contacting them. Otherwise, they could start to fret and eventually pull out of the sale, which wouldn’t be good for either of you.

Keep COVID-Secure

If your buyer wants to revisit the property they’re interested in buying but are nervous about how COVID-secure it will be, try to put their mind at ease.

Whether it be the property they’re buying, the estate agency you work for, or the removals company you recommend, it’s important to remember that the coronavirus pandemic is at the front and centre of everyone’s minds right now.

Therefore, you need to help reassure them that each aspect of the move you involve yourself with is kept COVID-secure, to keep the risk of infection as low as possible.

Maintain Social Distancing

While on the topic of keeping viewings, surveys and some of the more physical aspects of the home move COVID-secure, maintaining social distancing is imperative.

It may be perfectly natural to want to follow the buyer around answering any questions they might have but, without sticking to the social distancing guidelines, you could end up putting both you and them at risk.

The last thing you want, after all, is for either you or them to be out of action due to infection. Therefore, it’s imperative to do all you can to avoid contact where possible; you could even simply provide them with a sanitised key to access the property themselves.

Stay Organised

As you should well know, there are a lot of hoops to jump through when it comes to moving house so keeping organised throughout is vital.

Therefore, while it may sound obvious, make sure you are doing all of the basic productivity traits to keep on top of everything.

Make lists, use a diary, write down notes, set reminders – in essence, the more you can do to stay organised, the easier the entire process will be to handle along the way, and the more at ease both your buyer and vendor will feel as a result.

Final Thoughts…

From minimising the spread of infection to ensuring home purchases go off without a hitch, there’s no denying that the coronavirus pandemic has brought with it a number of issues for estate agencies to address – especially in terms of keeping homebuyers onside.

However, by utilising the tips listed above, you can put your estate agency in the best possible position. Helping ensure that you will not only see the sale through to completion, but you will also put the mind of the buyer at ease in doing so.

Should you be worried about ‘No DSS’ lawsuits?

Finding a new home is a stressful task at the best of times, but for those receiving benefits, the process can be even more difficult. Irrespective of a tenant’s renting record, some letting agents have found themselves in hot water in the past over the refusal of tenants on benefits. In recent years, there have been various court cases that have made headlines relating to renters who took action against letting agents who wouldn’t show them properties on the basis of them receiving benefits.

About our guest blogger:
Dakota Murphey has experience in property management with her portfolio of properties expanding in the South of England. Her passion for renovation and home improvement projects is shared through her writing to help educate and inspire others.

The government has made statements against agencies barring tenancy applications on this basis, known as ‘No DSS’, and several mortgage lenders have also spoken out to end discrimination. But what do letting agents need to know about these types of lawsuits, and how might it impact tenants moving forward?

Recent cases

At the start of 2020, two single mothers won out-of-court settlements on the basis of indirect discrimination from letting agencies they were dealing with because of No DSS policies. Even though one of the women offered to pay up to a year’s rent upfront, she was still told that she would not be able to find a rental property due to receiving housing benefit. Similarly, in 2019, a high-profile lawsuit led to the government announcing impending changes to the law surrounding rental properties being advertised with ‘No DSS’ inclusions in order to protect potential tenants. ‘No DSS’ policies make it difficult for families to find housing, particularly given the chronic shortage of social housing in the UK. Several property portals, including Zoopla and Rightmove, have made it clear that ‘No DSS’ statements are banned from their listings.

What will future intervention look like?

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected many people’s finances and will continue to do so for some time. This unprecedented period could cause an increase in the number of people claiming benefits, which could also mean a spike in ‘No DSS’ lawsuits if agencies continue to ignore government advice. The pandemic has meant that many agencies need to change how they operate in order to survive.

“It has been a challenging time in the industry”, says Callaways, a professional letting agency based in Brighton, “we are in the process of carrying out our contingency plans and hope that our services will remain uninterrupted through the pandemic, but others have not been able to cope as well. The idea of having to pay out compensation during this difficult time could be very daunting to letting agents”.

While the government has stated its intention to outlaw bans on tenants receiving benefits, the immediate impact of Covid-19 could mean that these changes could be on hold for the foreseeable future. ‘No DSS’ will remain a crucial issue for housing charities and politicians and there will undoubtedly be many more high-profile lawsuits to come in order to raise awareness of the issue.

What letting agencies need to consider

Recent cases have shown that the cost to agencies can be high if they are found to be discriminatory to those receiving benefits. Of the two previously mentioned court cases from February this year, one woman was paid £3,000 in compensation and £10,000 in legal costs, while the other case resulted in £3,500 in compensation and £2,500 towards legal fees. In fact, some insurance providers have warned that premiums need to be increased to cover the frequency and cost of court pay-outs. These increases would not only impact agencies found guilty of discrimination but also those complying with the rules.

However, despite the changes in ruling and the risks for agencies, many are still including ‘No DSS’ or similar phrases in their listings. Likewise, surveys have shown that landlords are largely unaware of the law and many do not currently let to housing benefit tenants, believing it to be lawful to do so. In order to comply with the law and protect themselves from harmful lawsuits, it’s vital that letting agencies update their ‘No DSS’ wording and educate landlords and staff on the myths surrounding tenants receiving benefits. Letting agencies and mortgage providers need to now follow in the footsteps of those who have already ended their discrimination of such tenants and as the campaign continues to gain traction, hopefully, ‘No DSS’ will soon come to an end.

How To Maintain Social Distancing At Your Lettings Agency

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, maintaining social distancing is now absolutely imperative – regardless of the industry you work in.

About our guest blogger:
Dakota Murphey has experience in property management with her portfolio of properties expanding in the South of England. Her passion for renovation and home improvement projects is shared through her writing to help educate and inspire others.

However, within the property sphere, it is especially important to ensure that correct practice is followed, due to the largely client-facing nature of the role.

From showing potential renters around homes in-person to signing any required paperwork in the office itself, there are a number of changes your agency will need to consider when trying to keep employees safe from COVID-19.

Whether it be managing how employees or customers arrive in and out of the office, implementing changes to ensure safe desk work, or sourcing new ways to interact with customers, there are many areas you’ll need to think about.

Join us as we run through some of the best ways to ensure your agency not only maintains its social distancing measures effectively but also helps keep the deadly COVID-19 virus at bay.

  1. Wash Your Hands. Provide hand-washing facilities and hand sanitiser at all of your office entrances and exits. Also, make sure to wash your hands after any home viewings you take.

  2. Stagger Employees. To reduce everyone coming into the workplace at the same time, stagger your employees’ arrival and departure times.

  3. Take Care During Viewings. While it may be difficult to arrange flat viewings right now, if the property is empty then it should be OK for potential renters to see. However, during these viewings take the necessary steps to ensure both your agents’ and customers’ safety. De-sanitise any rooms they visit or handles they touch – from the living room to the garage – and ensure they’re kept as safe as possible for future viewings.

  4. Add Markings. Introduce a one-way flow system in and around your workplace. Provide floor markings and signage where appropriate to help your staff and visitors navigate it correctly.

  5. Regulate Traffic. If you have any particularly high-traffic areas of the office, such as corridors, lifts, turnstiles or walkways, manage their use to prevent congestion from occurring.

  6. Reposition Desks. In order to adhere to social distancing rules, reposition your desks to ensure your staff are at least two metres apart. If this isn’t possible, consider whether they’re required in the office or not and offer working from home as a potential alternative.

  7. Discourage Face-To-Face. Reposition desks so that your employees aren’t working face-to-face. Instead, encourage them to work side-by-side or in a way that faces away from one another.

  8. Use Screens. By adding a Perspex screen to each desk, you can help create a physical barrier between people – whether that be employees or customers coming in and out of the workplace.

  9. Meetings. Avoid holding in-person meetings if you can, and opt for a remote alternative instead. However, if you can’t avoid in-person meetings, then try to ensure social distancing measures during them, maintaining a two-metre separation between attendees. Also, host them either outdoors or in a well-ventilated room while providing a range of hand sanitising options.

  10. Stagger Breaks. To reduce the pressure on your break room, stagger your employee’s break times. Create other safe areas around the office for your staff to eat and encourage them to spend their break time outside if required as well, in order to keep them a safe distance apart.

  11. Safe Appointments Only. Enable customers to visit your agency on an appointment-only basis. Try to discourage in-person appointments where possible and, instead, prioritise conversations that could alternatively take place over the phone or via a remote means. If in-person appointments can’t be avoided though, try to minimise any contact between yourself and the customer. Also, provide your customer with clear guidance on your agency’s social distancing and hygiene procedures prior to arrival, encouraging them to use any signage and visual aids you have set up around the workplace.

  12. Limit Your Customers. Define how many customers you can realistically expect to home within your work while adhering to the two-metre social distancing guidelines and procedures you’ve set up in advance. Limit this number down to ‘one customer at a time’ if required.

  13. Suspend Unneeded Services. If you have any services that cannot currently be offered or undertaken without contravening social distancing guidelines, suspend them until the government’s guidelines tell you otherwise.

  14. Change Your Transactions. If you need to conduct any transactions in the office then consider using contactless payments only, rather than cash. However, if cash or pin-entry card payment is absolutely essential, make sure to wear gloves during handling. Also, use hand sanitiser and de-sanitise any equipment that could potentially harness any harmful viruses or bacteria on them.

The landlord’s guide to living with lockdown

Everyone across the county is facing a completely changed economic landscape due to the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown. Landlords can certainly count themselves amongst this number as if you are a landlord with tenants, just as with everyone else, you must deal with uncertain conditions across the market.

Things aren’t easy, so here we have provided a simple guide for landlords. What is expected of during lockdown? What has changed? And what are you still required to do? We provide the answers to these questions and more.

Should landlords stop taking rent?

About our guest blogger:
Dakota Murphey has experience in property management with her portfolio of properties expanding in the South of England. Her passion for renovation and home improvement projects is shared through her writing to help educate and inspire others.

It has been set out by the government that landlords are not expected at any time to stop taking rent from tenants. Whilst many tenants are facing pressures and may be looking for support, the government has set out a range of measures to try to ensure that as many people as possible are able to pay their rent as normal, in spite of any Covid-19 related difficulties.

The Job Retention Scheme and the Self Employed Income Support Scheme are designed to offer financial support to those employed or self-employed people, and this money should be used to cover normal expenses, including rent. As such they should not be any need for landlords to stop taking rent from tenants.

Cleaning and decontaminating properties

Landlords are expected to continue with their duty to keep a property in which tenants are living in good condition. Therefore if you are a landlord who has a duty to clean and maintain communal areas within a property, these duties remain in place in spite of the challenges regarding lockdown.

Additionally, landlords should look to implement measures, where possible to minimise the spread of Covid-19 in their properties. If you are responsible for a building with multiple properties and tenants, and one of those tenants becomes infected with Covid-19, you should arrange for thorough deep-cleaning and decontamination services to deal with the communal areas. Decontamination is considered to be a crucial part of stopping the spread of the virus.

Payment holidays

If you are struggling with your mortgage repayments for any reason during the Covid-19 crisis then you are eligible to take a ‘payment holiday’ from your lender. During this payment holiday, you will not be expected to make your usual mortgage repayments. However, it is important to note that the interested that would be have been accrued due to these payments will be passed onto your overall mortgage cost and will need to eventually be paid further down the line.

This is something that could be beneficial to many landlords, however, you should seek financial advice regarding your situation first, as it may be the case that an alternative option is actually better suited to you.

Repairs and maintenance

With regard to the general repairs and maintenance of a property by a landlord, the Covid-19 crisis is not considered to affect your duties as a landlord. Your obligations to provide tenants with a decent, warm and safe place to live remain the same. Therefore you should deal with any urgent repairs as you would normally.

You should also stick to agreed maintenance procedures wherever possible, and continue to keep the building in good condition, whilst maintaining safe practice. In many cases, this is completely achievable.

Possession notices

As of 27 March 2020, all possession court action including enforcement through bailiffs is suspended for 90 days. The government has specifically requested that no new possession notices are to be served.

This is in accordance with the fact that the government has asked everyone across the country from moving home wherever possible. Where it is possible, landlords should look for alternative options and push back plans.

Be flexible and open-minded

It is important during these unprecedented times to be flexible and open-minded with your tenants. Everyone is facing challenges as the Covid-19 crisis has affected people in a huge variety of different ways.

The government advises that in a situation where a tenant is struggling to pay rent or is worried about other terms of their tenancy, a frank and open discussion should be had between the two parties in order to come to an agreement that benefits everyone. Landlords must take this time to be as reasonable as possible and do what they can to help tenants – and tenants must equally be willing to work with landlords to come to a reasonable solution to any problems that arise

How to set up a smart home in rented accommodation

In today’s day and age of continual technological advances, the world is becoming more interconnected than ever before. Whether it be because of the rise of the internet, the impact of smartphones, or the influence of social media, there are so many ways in which technology has continually advanced as time has moved on.

About our guest blogger:
Dakota Murphey has experience in property management with her portfolio of properties expanding in the South of England. Her passion for renovation and home improvement projects is shared through her writing to help educate and inspire others.

One particular area where advances are frequently being honed is smart technology. ‘Smart’ devices, like those powered by Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant, utilise artificial intelligence (AI) to connect consumers with the latest news and goings on without even needing to press a button. The interconnectivity of these devices has, in turn, led to the introduction of smart homes – houses capable of controlling lighting, heating and electronics remotely using only a smartphone.Not only has this added a certain ‘cool’ factor to properties, but it has also helped homeowners save money and have better control over their energy usage. This, in turn, has enabled them to save on energy bills, while helping preventing climate change. Talk about a win-win.But, while it may be all well and good creating a smart home when you actually own the property, what if you rent? Often landlords will have rules in place which restrict how much a tenant can alter within the home, so is it possible for tenants to set up smart homes of their own? And, if so, how?

Well, the good news is yes, you can. There are many smart devices available out there which won’t alter the property in any way, but will give you more control over how the house is run. Join us as we take a look at some of the best devices to think about investing in if you live in rented accommodation.

1. Hub & Smart Speaker.

First things first, you’re going to need some sort of smart hub to control everything. Before you go charging off and buy the first one you come across though, you need to think about your choice carefully.  Ask yourself, for instance, are you a big Apple user, or do you prefer the devices that Google or Amazon produce? Generally speaking, it’s a good idea for the smart hub you buy to compliment the smartphone or external devices you plan on using it with.

The HomePod speaker from Apple, for instance, is designed to work seamlessly with iPhones and other Apple-based products. That being said, it’s also technically inferior than both the Amazon Echo and Google Home smart hubs, which can also be controlled using Apple-based devices.

Collage of people using voice assistants and smart speakers

The system you choose to control your home with isn’t as simple as just picking the cheapest option either. If you choose an Amazon Echo at this point, that means there’d be no point investing in a Google smart speaker down the line, since they both use different virtual assistants.

Put simply, you need to decide whether you want your smart home to be controlled using Siri (Apple), Alexa (Amazon), Google Assistant (Google) or Samsung, then buy the relevant system to fit.

2. Smart Lighting.

A phone-controlled smart lamp

Once you have decided on your smart hub and smart speaker system, now the real fun can begin.

One of the first things you should think about buying to utilise this system is smart lighting. Products like Phillips Hue and C by GE are already incredibly popular additions in homes throughout the UK, providing users with the ability to control their lighting with their voice or smartphone.

However, before you head down to your local electrical supply store, you’re going to need to check what sort of light fittings you have available in your rented property. While it’s usually fairly straightforward to change these yourself, some landlords don’t allow you this luxury, so it’s important to check first.

Once you know which fittings your property has available, then you can buy the relevant bulbs required. Whether it be a large screw bulb, small screw bulb or a bayonet fitting, the bulbs you choose will then connect to a Wi-Fi bridge, controlled using either your voice (via the smart hub) or smartphone.

3. Smart Plugs.

Utilising Wi-fi-controlled plugs around your home is one of the best ways of making the property smart without causing any permanent damage. Not only are they cheap to buy and easy to use, they can also be taken with you when it comes to moving out.

To use a smart plug, you simply need to plug it into the wall outlet and turn it on. Once the plug has been connected up to your Wi-fi network and smart hub, you can then control it using either your voice, app or set a schedule for it to be turned on or off whenever required.

However, it’s important to bear in mind that not all devices will fully power on when switched on using the smart plug. Many TVs, for instance, will only enter standby mode when powered on, but will turn off on command.

4. Security Cameras.A Google Nest secuirty Camera

Whether you are cautious about your home’s security, or are looking for an effective way of keeping an eye on your dog or baby, smart security cameras can make your life a whole lot easier. All you need to use one is a wall plug socket and a Wi-fi network – while you can fit them to the wall, if you’re not allowed to do this at your property, they also come available on a stand.
However, it’s important to bear in mind the privacy of others when it comes to installing security cameras. If you live in a communal space, for instance, your flatmates may feel it’s a breach of their privacy if they think they’re being spied on. Therefore, make sure you have everyone’s blessing before you go ahead and set up your smart security camera system.

About our guest blogger:
Dakota Murphey has experience in property management with her portfolio of properties expanding in the South of England. Her passion for renovation and home improvement projects is shared through her writing to help educate and inspire others.