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Strategies for lettings agents to overcome challenges in 2021

About our guest blogger:
Based in Worthing, Lucy studied Economics, Finance and Management before turning her focus towards the property market.  She’s a specialist short/long stay holiday rentals and has written for a number of major industry blogs.

As a result of the global pandemic of 2020, 2021 is a year likely to have its fair share of challenges for many businesses across a host of industries. This is particularly true of lettings agents. COVID-19 has created a lot of uncertainty in the jobs market and the housing market alike. But there are ways that lettings agents can overcome these challenges in the coming year and continue to thrive.

Be prepared to change in the face of the ongoing pandemic

COVID-19 looks certain to remain a huge issue into 2021. But it is possible to have a strategy in place that can deal with a situation that might evolve rapidly. This year has proven that having a strategy that can quickly be adapted is key to success.

Picture of a virus

So, letting agents must factor this type of unpredictability into their plans. Make sure that, going forward, there is a plan B in place that can accommodate the more challenging aspects of the year that might arise.

Rent guarantees could be the answer

Landlords need stability and they need to be able to ensure that their payments will come in each month. After all, they still have their own legal obligations to adhere to, regardless of their tenants’ situations. But with government help drawing to a close, it’s a good idea to ensure that tenants are in a comfortable position financially. Lettings agents need to facilitate conversations between landlords and tenants.

Picture of a rent guarantee Form

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to rental agreements but rent guarantee insurance could be the solution to this type of uncertainty. This type of insurance covers the monthly rental income if tenants don’t pay. Most policies cover at least 50% of rental income for peace of mind. It will not only help lettings businesses but also landlords, so it’s a good idea to educate landlords on the rental guarantee products available to them.

The need for flexibility

No-one knows how COVID-19 will shape the market or what the government will put in place, with regards to the furlough scheme and other funding options. Although overall most rents have so far been paid, tenants may find it harder to pay their rent on time as wider economic challenges continue.

So, letting agents and landlords need to be able to offer flexibility during these unprecedented times. Good tenants are bound to have their shortcomings occasionally, but it’s important to offer a grace period wherever possible.

Pay attention to the rules

The pandemic has meant a change in the rules in numerous ways. So, it’s more important than ever to stay up-to-date with the latest legislation to ensure that you’re following the correct ruling.

It’s also important to remember that not all of the changes in ruling will be COVID-19-related. For example, there are new rules affecting wood burning stoves. 2021 will mean focusing on the details at all times, as they can have a big impact on businesses.

Providing a great service has never been more important

In challenging market conditions, the letting agents that really thrive are the ones that prioritise their customer base. In 2021, businesses need to place a far greater emphasis on the service they are providing and really pay close attention to detail.

It’s these differences that will set successful letting agents apart from the rest of the industry. For example, having a strong local knowledge is vital – customers want to be sure that the agents they are working with truly understand the area. It’s also important to follow up on calls and be accessible to customers.

Final thoughts

2021 looks set to deliver challenges that we haven’t seen before. But the key to overcoming these challenges is to face them head on and to be prepared. Letting agents need to use the lead-up to 2021 reviewing their processes and strategies so that they can identify the areas that can be improved.

It’s only through this difficult analysis that businesses can really find the gaps that will set them apart from the competition. While there will no doubt be businesses that fail to make it through the tougher times, if you can survive, there will likely be a bigger share of the market to take advantage of.

A Rat

How Pest Control Became a Hot Topic for Lettings Agents

About our guest blogger:
Based in Worthing, Lucy studied Economics, Finance and Management before turning her focus towards the property market.  She’s a specialist short/long stay holiday rentals and has written for a number of major industry blogs.

COVID-19 has had an impact on everyone, including lettings agents and the property market as a whole. But one consequence that may have been unexpected is that empty properties have become a haven for pests – something that letting agents are now having to deal with as lockdown measures begin to lift.

Empty properties can be a haven for pests

When pests are allowed free reign over a property, they’ll waste no time in causing havoc – something one student learned to his cost. Oluwageorge Johnson, a student from Nottingham Trent University, left halls at the beginning of March to stay with his parents during lockdown.

Student Kitch covered in pideon excrement Student Living Room covered in pigeon excrement

(Source: Mercury Press)

When he returned six months later, he found that pigeons had invaded his flat and destroyed his property, even leaving eggs and a chick in his kitchen sink. This type of event is far from unique however. Many people have returned from lockdown, having socially distanced themselves elsewhere, to find that unchecked properties, both residential and commercial, are now overrun with pests.

The problem is allowed to grow

The government’s decisions throughout lockdown meant a knock-on effect for pest control in properties around the country. With pest control considered an unnecessary service, many people were unable to utilise pest control services when managing properties.

“A lack of foresight in the early days of the pandemic meant the government forced pest control services to close,” says Mark Stanford of Empire Pest Control “this was a huge mistake; if left unchecked, pests can cause a significant amount of damage and the infestation could worsen, making it more difficult to get the situation under control”.

With the issue allowed to develop while the country was in lockdown, it’s now even more severe than if it had been managed over the course of the pandemic.

Who is responsible for dealing with pest problems?

Pest control has become a hot topic recently and it’s raised a few questions as a result. Primarily, who is responsible for dealing with the situation and does COVID-19 change anything in this regard? Citizens Advice state that it’s not a straightforward issue.

Landlords, for example, are responsible for dealing with an infestation if it is stated in the tenancy agreement that they will maintain the property to a hospitable state, or if the infestation was caused by disrepair that the landlord is responsible for such as a broken window or a hole in the wall. They may also take on the problem if the infestation makes the property unsafe to live in, such as causing illness to the tenants. But in other situations, such as neglect from a tenant, landlords may not be liable for the cost of dealing with an infestation.

A Rat

(Source: Pexels)

Different solutions for different pests

The type of infestation can determine who is responsible for dealing with pest issues, as sometimes tenants need to handle the problem and sometimes landlords are responsible. Landlords need to arrange for pest control if the issue is wasp nests, rats or a flea infestation if this becomes present at the start of a tenancy. It’s the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that carpets and upholstery are fumigated, providing that it is not the tenant’s pets that are the cause of the issue.

However, ants or mice are the tenant’s responsibility to remove. Bees are also an issue that the tenant needs to deal with, as these need to be removed by a professional beekeeper as they are protected.

Likewise, if a wasp nest appears mid-way through a tenancy agreement then the tenant will be responsible for paying for the removal. The intricacies of responsibility make the issue of pest control a difficult one to manage but understanding which types of infestations fall under the obligation of landlord or tenant can make it easier to deal with the problem quickly and efficiently from the start.

Final thoughts

Lettings agents have had a lot to contend with as lockdown measures have begun to lift and the property market adjusts to a new normal. But with so many properties left empty for months at a time, it’s unsurprising that pest infestations are now such a prominent issue.

It’s important that those involved, whether as landlords, letting agent professionals or tenants, stay up to date with the latest government guidelines on how to deal with pest control companies safely. It’s also important to maintain properties as safely and hygienically as possible, so as to prevent further infestations from developing.

Holding out hand in "stop" gesture

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.

6 ways to stay in control of keys when working at distance

Most of us are in an extraordinary situation right now, as we try suppress the COVID-19 coronavirus. As we distance ourselves from others, we’re all mindful that we still need to look after our clients, and that still means issuing and tracking keys.

We’ve already helped a number of you adapt to ensure your key processes still operate safely and securely when the office is unattended or on a skeleton staff.

I hope the below list is a helpful reminder of the ways you can use Keyzapp to manage keys and access to buildings/rooms whilst maintaining social distance.

1. Call us if you need anything!

All of us at Keyzapp are here for you as usual, so please do reach out if we can be of any assistance. We’re working mostly from home (so if you call us, please forgive any background child or pet noises!). Do call us anytime if you need help, on +44 (0)3300 88 55 01. Don’t forget the support portal is there if you need it.

The below tips utilise some features that are only available on our professional subscription and above. During the period of the Coronavirus, we are offering these features free to everybody, so if you can’t see the feature you need, please give us a call.

2. Make sure everyone can log in from home or mobile phone

You can make Keyzapp accessible to anyone from anywhere by giving them a username and password. It will work just as it does in the office.

  • Existing users just need to go to https://www.keyzapp.com/login and enter their username and password to gain access.
  • This works just as well from a mobile as from a laptop or tablet

Once logged in it’s a good idea save a shortcut to your phone’s home screen or desktop, so you can get back quickly.

Useful links:
Add new users | Create a Desktop Shortcut

3. Find, issue and check what’s going on with your keys, wherever you’re working

Once you’re logged in, it’s easy to see what’s going on and help others take keys and return keys- even if you’re not there to help them in person.

  • You can use Keyzapp’s search from any location to see which keys are available right now (or if they’re not in the office, who has them)
  • You can tell people by phone which keys they need to get and can remotely sign the keys in and out to them without having to physically scan the key.
  • Keep an eye on the activity within the office even if you’re not there in person

Useful links:
Search | Sign Keys In and Out | View Reports

4. Use reservations when you know a key is going to be needed

Keyzapp allows you to add a reservation note against a key if you know someone is going to need it. This not only helps stop others taking the key when someone is on their way to get it, but the reservations are recorded, so you can see who was supposed to get a key at a certain time, and check if they did.

Useful links:
Reserve Keys

5. Give your trusted contractors an account to look up keys themselves

You might want your more trusted contractors to have a degree of self-sufficiency during these difficult times, so that they are not directly reliant on you. You can choose to give them some limited access to Keyzapp to find and sign out their own keys. Here are two options:

Option 1: Key Holder

The Key Holder account is very limited, giving people access only to the keys that they are currently holding. They can sign the keys out by scanning the tag on their mobile phone, but cannot sign them back in again – this needs confirmation from you. They also cannot search for keys, so they’ll need to be told exactly which key number to collect.

Option 2: Key Holder Plus (Recommended)

This type of user account is great for trusted contractors, as they can search for properties to find the keys they need, then sign them in and out themselves. It doesn’t provide any personal data beyond the name of the person who holds a key (so is GDPR compliant), nor will let let them see the activity history or download reports of your properties.

6. Set up any computer in the office as a self-service kiosk

With more people working outside of the office, you may have a free computer you can use as a dedicated terminal for looking up keys. It’s secure, and is as easy to use as a Supermarket Self-Service checkout. Here’s how it works:

  1. Give everyone an ID fob (if you don’t have any to hand, give us a call and we’ll sort you out!)
  2. When a user scans their ID on the designated computer, they are instantly logged in (no need for a password as the physical tag provides the security)
  3. They can search and sign out keys according to their permissions
  4. When finished, the Kiosk goes back to a blank screen, ready for the next user.

Check out Phillip’s introduction here:

To set up a kiosk, you’ll need to create a special “Kiosk” user and log it in, on the computer you choose. There are a few other things we can do to really optimise the experience for you, so give us a call and we’ll gladly talk you through it

Useful links:
In this Case Study, Amthal Fire & Security are using a computer in kiosk mode

Please take care of yourselves and contact us if we can help

Here’s our number again, and as always we’re glad to help you out wherever we can.

  • Call on +44(0) 3300 88 55 01
  • Email us at support@keyzapp.com

My property software already does key management; Why would I need a dedicated system?

If you’ve already got a module in your existing software that manages keys, do you really need another?

This is a really valid question that I hear a lot, so here’s my comprehensive answer.  If you’re a letting agent, the existing software that manages keys is usually your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) System, where you do most of your property management.

The short answer:

If you have a key book system in your CRM and it works fine (i.e. you never hear “Who has the keys” in your office, never spend time looking for keys that aren’t where they were expected to be, and you have 100% confidence that you can prove who had a key at any given time) then of course there’s no need to invest in a dedicated tool to help you.

But if this isn’t always the case, or you’re not sure, then read on….

Many people areusing dedicated Key software, in spite of their CRM’s keybook

About 75%-85% of our lettings clients come to us despite having tried their CRM’s key book function. Many have even gone back to pen and paper for some or all of their key processes, because they couldn’t get on with the way the CRM works.

Most CRMs have some sort of key management functionality, ranging from a simple input box where you can store a key number, through to more advanced functionality, that matches or even improves what you might find in a paper log book. All CRMs are different, and some are of course better than others, so please forgive some generalisations in what follows, but here are my top 10 reasons why you still might need a dedicated system:

1. Ease of use

Computer Screen Showing Keyzapp's Search
Keyzapp is often described as “Google for Keys”. Can you see the resemblance?

This one is a bit of a “catch-all”, but it’s probably the most important. It’s that overall feel of getting what you want, when you need it. Almost everyone coming to Keyzapp from a CRM comments on how easy to use it feels.

If it isn’t simple and immediately obvious what to do, then people won’t use it. An early client described Keyzapp as “Google for keys”, which we’re pretty proud of – It’s always clear what you need to do next, and you get the right information at the right time.

Here are a just 3 things that make a dedicated Key Management system easier to use:

  1. Guided processes that are tailored to you – Everyone manages keys slightly differently, but a good dedicated system will fit to the way you want to work in your office, asking only for information that you need, and making it clear what to do next.
    Keyzapp's Sign Out Guided Process
  2. Physical Scanning – More on this later, but in the context of ease of use, scanning a key tag makes signing keys in and out faster and more accurate.
    Consider this scenario: You come back to your desk and find someone has dropped back a set of keys. With your CRM system, you have to first open your CRM app, move away from what you were doing, look at the keys to identify them in some way, by looking up the number or figuring out the address and searching, often then clicking through to the key module, before signing the key back in. With Keyzapp, by contrast, you just take the key and scan it (in most cases you don’t even need to open the app), and check it back in.
  3. Clarity of experience – With a dedicated system, you’re there for one job only, to look up keys and your whole experience is tailored to that task. An example of this might be colour coding key statuses, or flagging reservations so you can see at a glance if there are any issues you need to take care of.

Because CRM systems have to do hundreds of different tasks, they generally can’t provide same clarity and ease of use as a dedicated system.

2. Scanning keys for quick identification and proof of presence

Adding scanning to key tags means that you can interact with them much easier. As I’ve shown above, it makes processes like issuing and returning keys much faster and simpler. But there’s more than just this…

It also adds a high degree of accuracy – I’ve seen many occasions where people mistakenly hand out the wrong key to a team member or contractor, only for them to visit the property and return because they can’t get in. This round trip wastes everybody’s time (45-60 minutes or more isn’t uncommon) and can also make you look pretty silly if you’ve turned up to a viewing with the wrong keys. If you scan the keys as you hand them out, you get a visual confirmation that those are the right keys for the right job. You can even have a confirmation sent to the person receiving the key to validate that they have indeed been given the right key.

A third, very powerful advantage of modern smart fobs, is that they work on mobile phones, meaning that you can track keys outside of the office. If Jenny meets Sanjay at the property and gives him the keys, a simple scan will log that the keys have changed ownership and Sanjay is now responsible. These are the sorts of things that are very hard to track using a traditional CRM, and they are exactly the sort of scenarios that lead to arguments back at base about who did what and when.

3. Clear auditing of who’s done what

This is a big one. Being able to know, with a high degree of accuracy, who did what and when will make everyone more accountable in your business. CRMs really struggle with this when it comes to key management.

The classic scenario is that someone looks up a property in your CRM to find the key number. They then go to your key cabinet to get the key and rush out of the door, forgetting to sign the key out. Now you have no record of who has that key and you’re out of compliance with just about every property code of conduct out there.

A properly set-up dedicated key system will help you avoid this. The very fact that someone searches for a key is logged, so you can see immediately if a key was looked up but not signed out, and who did it. You can then train that specific team member. If a key is missing, you know who the last person to look for it was. Our clients are often amazed by the difference this makes to the way their staff take care of keys.

When you factor in that the dedicated system is generally much easier to use, those looking up the key are far more likely to sign out the key correctly, because it is so trivial to do.
This can be enhanced further if you choose to add a dedicated key computer or “kiosk” right next to the cabinet, so people can lookup and sign out keys, at the same place, at the same time.

4. Tracking the right information

This one’s a bit of a bugbear of mine, as I’m actually surprised by how many CRMs don’t even track the right information to let you manage your keys effectively. In my mind there are 3 key pieces of information you need to track, besides the key itself:

  1. Who has it (Some CRMs only track “In” or “Out” – Useless!)
  2. Who gave it to them, and when (Always good for understanding context, and a second person to call on if something goes wrong)
  3. When it is due back – An absolute must, but for reasons that escape me, a large number CRMs ignore it. If you know when a key is overdue, you can take action. If you don’t, you probably won’t.

Going beyond the basics, there are other things many CRMs ignore – for example, does it ensure that you can properly contact the actual person who has your keys? It’s all very well to check out keys to “British Gas”, but British Gas is a big company- how do you hope to chase it if you don’t know who you gave it to?

5. Chasing Keys Back

Many CRMs have some basic Text/Email/Alerting capability, but few, if any, extend this to their key system. A good dedicated key system will handle the chasing of keys automatically. Most people think it’s much nicer to have an apologetic contractor turning up with their late keys, than to have to remember to chase them. Evidence suggests that a good chasing system will work on around 80% of your contractors, leaving you with only the handful of “usual suspects” to chase. Knowing who isn’t following your process, is also pretty handy when making decisions about which contractors to use….

6. Organising your keys: Key codes and key storage

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last 5-or-so years focusing on nothing but key management, it’s that almost everyone has a slightly different way of organising their keys. Sometimes, this is borne out of necessity (e.g. If you manage a lot of HMOs you’ll have different needs than if you focus on let-only single lets). Other times, it’s just because different people think and work in different ways (we’re all different after all!).

Every CRM I’ve seen will do one of two things:

  • EITHER it will enforce its own draconian numbering system on you, which is totally inflexible and forces people to “work around” its foibles
  • OR it’s way too permissive, giving you just a simple box to fill out for “Key Reference”, leading to every member of staff filling it in slightly differently, and resulting in long-term inconsistency and confusion. Customers using this type of CRM regularly find themselves with 2 properties having been given the exact same key code

A good dedicated key system understands both how you store and how you code your keys, making it extremely easy to add new keys without introducing problems. Not only does this mean that you get the labelling system that makes most sense for your business, and that everything is done consistently, it comes with added benefits, for example:

  • Suggesting which hooks on your key wall are free, when you add a new property
  • Noticing that when you add a second set of keys for the same property, that they should probably hang on the same hook as the first (if this is indeed what you want)

Some CRM systems don’t even allow for you having 2 sets of keys for the same property and that these sets might be slightly different. How many of us have a basic set for a tenant, and then a management set which has extra shed keys, window keys and such like? Shouldn’t we be able to track when each type of set is given out, and to whom?

7. Managing all the nuances of real-life key management

Most people look at managing keys and think, “How hard can it be”? “It’s either in, or it’s out, right?”. As agents we know that it’s never quite that simple! However, your poor CRM provider needs to give you the tools to manage all aspects of your business, and they rarely have time to delve right into the nitty gritty.

With keys, the devil is in the detail – it’s in the nitty gritty where things most often go wrong. Most CRMs understandably can’t go down to this level. Here are a couple of examples:
• Tenant Keys need to be managed completely differently to the keys that are in the office. We need to record what the tenant has, and when we gave them out, but we don’t keep track of them day to day. While keys are with tenants, we don’t want them leaving an unused empty hook in our cabinet, but we do want to know that they are out. At the end of the tenancy those keys come back into our position, and we might need to give them out temporarily to a whole host of people; staff for viewings, cleaners, inspectors etc.
• Transfers between people Not all situations are as simple as a key being signed out or in, sometimes it moves between people, and as I’ve already mentioned, this is a prime opportunity for us to lose track, if our system can’t cope with it
• Master, Suited and Communal Keys. Sometimes one set opens multiple doors in a building. Other times, you can’t enter the property unless have the communal gate key AND the property. This sort of thing is particularly common when managing large blocks or HMOs.
• Reserving Keys There is nothing more frustrating when someone turns up for a pre-arranged visit (e.g. Gas inspection) only to find that you gave out the key 5 minutes ago, to someone who has just gone across town. A good dedicated system will allow you to reserve keys and stop them going out.

8. Moving keys between offices or departments

If you have more than one office in your agency, then you may well see the scenario where people pick up the keys from office A, only to return them to office B. This is you offering great customer service, but what a nightmare to keep track of! Your staff might mark the key as signed-in in the CRM, but actually it’s in a completely different place. Your dedicated Key Management system will ensure that it’s very clear exactly where that key is now stored, even if it’s only on a temporary basis.

It’s also not uncommon for keys to move around during the lifecycle of a property. When you first take on the property, your front office team need all the keys. Once let, your management office takes over. This sort of thing is second nature in the dedicated system, but how many hoops do you need to jump through to make sure your CRM knows what’s happened?

9. A key log that’s really usable

So you’re capturing all that data about your keys, but how easy is it to properly put that data to use? CRMs can traditionally only provide you with fairly limited reporting on your keys (and of course some are better than others). Others provide you the information, but you’ve got to delve in report builders to get it. Worse, they might export a static PDF document, that runs to many pages and is hopeless for finding information quickly.

A dedicated system should provide you everything you need when you need it, organised in the most logical way. Consider these questions and think about how well your CRM can answer them:

  • What keys are out of the office right now?
  • What keys should have been returned by now?
  • What keys do I have right now?
  • Who’s had the keys to 25 London Road in the last 3 weeks?
  • How long did the cleaner spent with the keys on 14th August?

We’ve seen examples where contractors have been caught over-charging, because they actually held keys for fewer hours than were billed. We also had a client who sold a property, only for it to be broken into with no sign of forced entry, just days after the sale. In one click, that client could provide the authorities with a full list of everyone who had had access to any set of keys for that property over the previous month.

10. Enhance your overall client experience

We all know that poorly managed keys can lead to embarrassing mistakes that impact on your brand’s hard-won credibility. We’ve also seen that few CRMs give you everything you need to stay fully in control. A last thing that a dedicated system can do for you is help recover lost keys a lot more easily. This type of service is especially popular for those who deal in student and professional lets.

If your dedicated system provides you with a fob that can be uniquely identified, it is trivial for an exact key to be traced, if someone finds it in the street. Some, like Keyzapp, provide a self-service option, where all someone needs to do is scan the tag on their own phone (no app required) to report a lost key.

Others still like using the phone to call us or the agency direct. In a matter of seconds, you’ll know what key has been lost, who lost it, and can provide instructions for getting it back. This saves your tenants the risk of high admin fees for replacement keys.

Some agents will hand out custom-branded fobs to clients following a sale or let-only completion. The recoverability of the key incentivises the person to carry your brand around with them wherever they go, and ensure that you stay front of mind. All food for thought in this competitive market….

Conclusion: CRM vs Dedicated System, or both together?
My main purpose in writing this article is not to slate your CRM’s key management capabilities, though hopefully I’ve shown how difficult it is for CRMs to cover all the bases that make Key Management truly successful. That said, surely the answer is to combine the best of both worlds?

This is best achieved when all the nitty-gritty of key management is handled by the dedicated system, but the right information is visible in the CRM. The very best CRMs offer a superb management experience, particularly for property managers, branch managers and directors who need to see everything that’s going on with a property in one place. By contrast the overall strength of the dedicated key system is the simplicity it provides to the frontline worker, making many of the complexities I’ve described above feel natural and seamless.

Bringing everything together in an intelligent way means that you work in the right place at the right time, without the need to input data separately into each system. At Keyzapp we wholeheartedly believe in a wide eco system, where the agent can pick the best tools to suit them. As such, we’re committed to integration with other systems and can already report events like overdue keys to any system that can receive them, as well as bring in shared property data from systems like Rezi and SME Professional.

How does your CRM measure up for managing keys? What have I missed about dedicated systems? Get in touch and let me know your thoughts.

Are Letting Agents’​ Standards up to Scratch?

Even with increased legislation, are letting agent standards up to scratch?

 

Nothing like a bit of controversy to brighten up your week is there? But in fact, I don’t think ‘standards’ is a topic discussed well enough within the lettings industry

Whether you work in an agency, are a landlord or a tenant, we all have different expectations of agents, and the standards on which they operate espanolviagra.net.

 

 

What Standards should we expect?

 

So what is the right expectation? Good question – and one that you should be able to answer, but right you can’t. Most businesses in England & Wales operate under English Common Law. This is basically ‘unwritten law’ passed by the interpretation of judges, not legislature and therefore not a law until it becomes a law. Part and parcel of that ethos is unregulated industries and for decades the lettings industry has arguably been under-regulated.

How did tenant fees escalate?

Over the years, companies have implemented policies such as tenant fees because nobody told them they couldn’t. Granted, there are industry bodies such as ARLA who try to impose and enforce higher standards – but these are all run by letting agents for letting agents and your average tenant might think that’s actually quite biased. When things do get out of hand, the government step in and enforce legislation – which is what happened with the tenant fee bill.

Instead of internally regulating the industry, companies charged whatever they liked to the tenant. For some, it was a couple of hundred quid and for others (more so in London) was up to and well over a grand! Is that fair? Some might say that the cost of living is higher in the South, and others would suggest you earnt that back in your management fees. Either way, it seems fees didn’t have a ceiling and continued going up and up.

 

The Crackdown

So the government (following strong and effective lobbying from Shelter and other groups) have said enough is enough and instead of capping tenant fees, banned them all together. It was enough to force the industry into panic mode!

Now would that have happened if higher standards were put in place in the first place? If the focus was more towards the client, rather than the business owner’s pockets? If ARLA and other bodies had a unilaterally capped their members’ fees, would there even have been a fee ban?

Personally, I think fees would still be around and it makes you wonder what else agencies could do to be better and ward off future shocks.

 

How can we manage things differently in future?

Could they be more tenant orientated? Could they be more co-operative with their landlords and could they makes their staff’s lives easier? Without a shadow of a doubt in my opinion. There is so much that can be tidied up, from the front-facing part of the business all the way through to the back office operations, which ultimately dictate the quality of service. From helping tenants move in, to helping staff out with tedious tasks– the list goes on.

If you’ve managed to get to the end of this article. I can imagine there’s a mix of emotions. Good or bad, I’d love to hear your honest feedback. Do you think industry standards still need improvement? What legislation is going to hit the lettings industry next?

 

 

Agent Rainmaker Live – No Ordinary Event

High energy, high impact and highly rewarding… and I’m not even an agent!

Like comparing chalk with cheese, I can promise you that Sally Lawson’s ‘Agent Rainmaker Live’ is an event like no other in the industry. It’s raw, charged, highly emotional and surprisingly human!

While most conferences focus on the legislation and politics involved within UK lettings & estate agencies, ARL makes it all about business owners and their staff. It’s funny how we sometimes forget that businesses are made up of people – don’t you agree?

 

There’s a touch of the U.S.A about ARL…and in a good way too! Last year the event spanned two days and was presented in a Tony Robbins-esque display. People chanted, people cried, people danced (…and some of us almost died for over-indulgence at the bar…)

It was loaded with industry speakers, legislation, self-help, an awards ceremony and even an exercise class (which I hope we don’t have to do again this year. I don’t think my legs could take it again after the night before!)

There was plenty in the way of storytelling last year, and you could see from other’s reactions that they identified with what was shared. It was hard hitting and heart-breaking at times and I think plenty took comfort knowing they weren’t alone.

For me, there was nothing more genuine than the story which was shared by a fed-up mum & her son. Now this was no ordinary mum – she was like your mum, a grafter, and relatable in so many ways. She’d been in the industry for a while and once had several offices spread over Wales. Over the years, legislation, poor staff, a grumpy husband and rubbish tenants had left her feeling fed-up and out-of-pocket. She wanted to close down the business and say enough was enough! Her son however didn’t give up on his mum or the business and invested in Sally & her team. A few months later a £60,000 turnover quadrupled to £240,000! It was really touching and left me wondering what my highlight will be this time round.

A flash awards & dinner ceremony also ensued at ARL 2018, rounding off the first night. It was a fabulous yet humbling experience that left you hungry for the same success – It’s not often that you hear of people adding £1million to their profits.

The real cherry on cake, however, came a little later at the charity fundraiser. Now… do you know what happens when you get 250+ agents coming together for one evening of giving? A donation of £30k – that’s what! It was overwhelming and I feel so proud to have been a part of it. It also makes you wonder – what else could be achieved when agents come together? In my opinion, the industry needs collaboration.

What’s more, 2019’s Agent Rainmaker Live is set to span three days, and promises to be even bigger and better.

You can get your tickets by clicking here.