Unique Quirks Of Managing Student Accommodation

Student accommodation is a significant aspect of university life and represents a substantial portion of a student’s expenses. From shared buildings and communal halls of residence to private student lets and large houses, the variety of options present a distinct set of challenges and benefits for landlords, estate agents and facility managers.

Beyond attracting tenants and letting properties out, the pressure today as much to provide low-maintenance and secure accommodation so that tenants can study in safe and high-quality environments. Due to a reported student housing shortage and limited choice, most cities have more students than places to fill available. There is a balance to be found when investing in student accommodation to keep on top of maintenance to ensure that the property’s interiors, furnishing and its general state of repairs are up to scratch.

This article is for responsible landlords and property managers with a portfolio of student lets or an agency, and explores the complexities, positives and diverse nature of managing student accommodation.

Understanding the supply and demand of student lets

Students and their parents – ‘the Bank of Mum and Dad’ – are realistic about funding student accommodation. While some might invest in property as part of their long-term wealth management plan, others will agree to pay for rent during term time or throughout the year. In doing so, students and their parents (who are usually the guarantor) expect high standards in the accommodation they are paying for, be that communal, shared or an independent room.

Student accommodation does differ from other types of rentals due to the transient nature of its student occupants. With the UK having too many students and not enough accommodation, finding suitable accommodation can be difficult to find in larger university locations, such as London and in popular university towns. This is the unfortunate reality in Bath and Bristol, where the costs are much higher because supply is so low. In recent reports, students were being urged to look for accommodation in neighbouring areas, such as Cardiff and parts of Wales.

Despite the low stock of accommodation, increasing costs and scarcity of student digs aren’t always the only factors to consider. Rents can vary depending on the location and type of properties available in particular places. For instance, a weekly student rent might cost from £80/week in the north to £120/week in the south east. From a landlord’s perspective, other variables will be the ongoing expense of maintenance, of using a property manager or management company to oversee your shared building and student halls.

Being proactive in the academic year

Each academic year sees a turnover of tenants so being on top of end-of-tenancy agreements and contracts means being proactive. In this way you can ensure consistent occupancy rates, although effective marketing will help to capitalise on term timings and mitigate for empty properties in quieter periods. However, with the shortage of students mentioned, getting students into properties is not the main challenge. Instead, it’s about attracting the right students.

Landlords and agents will feel reassured letting their properties to respectful, sensible and mature students who are more likely to look after that property. In this sense, it might be wise to set up and market a student property to command a higher rent than you might initially think. Likewise, attracting wealthier international students, who are often willing to pay premium rents, presents a great opportunity for landlords to maximise profits. Higher quality expectations: International students often expect higher quality accommodations, presenting opportunities for landlords to invest in and upscale properties.

Students do often have different expectations and lifestyles compared to traditional tenants, so a tailored management approach is still needed. Having said that, in addition to the points mentioned earlier, there are further positives for having student lets, including:

  • Regular and predictable rent: Students typically search for accommodation towards the end of the term and move in at the start of the academic year, providing landlords with a regular income.

  • Low financial risk: Students often have guarantors (usually their parents) and receive subsidies through student loans, reducing the financial risk for landlords.

  • High rental yields: Student properties offer high rental yields, making them financially attractive compared to other rental investments.

  • Profitable Shared Accommodation: Shared accommodation and Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) are common among students, allowing landlords to charge more per room and increase profitability.

Greater flexibility

Unlike long-term leases in residential properties, student accommodation often involves shorter lease terms aligned with the academic calendar. This necessitates flexibility in lease agreements to accommodate varying study durations, holidays and early exits. Landlords and estate agents must navigate these complexities.

There is, however, the potential for long-term tenancies to come as a result of their short-term lease. Some students may require accommodation for the duration of their academic course providing landlords with a greater potential for long-term tenancies.

Safety, maintenance and repairs

Ensuring safety is paramount in student accommodation and implementing robust security measures and emergency protocols is crucial to safeguarding the wellbeing of residents. Keeping the access and locks on doors (and windows) secure in all communal areas will be a key concern if you’re in charge of accessing communal areas. For anyone managing communal student halls and buildings, it’s crucial to ensure that doors open and close properly. Maintaining the locks and organising an easy key tag system to replace keys to flats and student rooms is also an ongoing priority. Students are generally even more prone to misplacing their keys than other tenants!

Typically, students let furnished units with essential amenities such as high-speed internet, laundry facilities and other mod cons. In some cases, having ensuite bathrooms in student halls and communal areas are highly sought after in university towns and cities. Due to their student rooms or houses being furnished, there is a higher rate of wear and tear (and therefore upkeep) compared to conventional rental properties.

Regular maintenance checks and prompt repairs are important throughout the academic year to help your property retain its value and to prevent more serious (and costly) problems occurring further down the line. Facility managers play a vital role in coordinating maintenance schedules, managing services and ensuring student accommodations are always in compliance with current health and safety regulations.

Compliance with regulations

Student accommodation management necessitates a greater adherence to specific regulations and standards governing rental properties. Fire safety regulations to HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) licensing requirements, landlords and estate agents must stay abreast of legal obligations to avoid potential penalties and liabilities. While universities might communicate their fire hazard and safety rules and advice to keep students’ safe, it’s good to circulate and emphasise these as often as possible. Regular inspections and compliance audits are essential to ensure the property meets regulatory standards.

Managing student accommodation presents a distinct set of challenges along with positive opportunities for landlords, estate agents and managers. By understanding the unique dynamics of student lets and prioritising their welfare, property professionals can ensure the long-term maintenance and profitability of their investments.

Proactive management practices are also key. With knowledge on managing different types of properties and with management assistance, you can help to minimise problems, prevent potential safety breaches and ward off costly repair jobs.

Tips For Promoting Your Buy-To-Let To Prospective Tenants

Owning a buy-to-let property and renting it out can be a great way to generate additional income. However, in order to find and retain quality tenants, landlords need to put effort into making their rental property as appealing as possible.

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.

As a buy-to-let landlord, it’s important to understand how to best promote your property so you can fill vacancies faster and keep tenants satisfied. Consider the following suggestions to help set your buy-to-let up for success and make the process of finding responsible tenants much smoother.

Whether you’re renting out a studio flat or a spacious house, these promotion strategies are key for any new landlord getting started in the buy-to-let market.

Choosing the right property

When searching for an investment property to rent out, location is key. Look for properties near public transportation lines, restaurants, parks and other conveniences that tenants will find desirable. The more amenities and attractions nearby, the more likely you are to attract tenant interest.

Evaluate the layout and size of the property as well. Studios and one-bedroom units often rent quickly, providing a steady tenant flow. Expand your search to include both flats as well as single-family homes. Pet-friendly properties with outdoor spaces also appeal to a wide pool of potential tenants, so permit pets if possible. Choosing the right buy-to-let property that offers features tenants want will give your rental an advantage over the competition.

Getting the word out

To maximise exposure for your buy-to-let property, utilise both digital and traditional marketing tactics. First, list the property on major property platforms like Rightmove and Zoopla or look for online estate agents in your area. These sites attract millions of monthly visitors searching for their next rental.

You also want to promote the listing on your social media accounts, especially if you have local follower bases, and share posts showcasing listing photos and encourage shares among friends and followers.

One of the most influential ways you can showcase your properties is with landing pages, which can include images, videos and trust signals. These are signs that validate your business as reputable, such as testimonials, logo accreditations or reviews. Where possible, factor in location too, by using local geo-tagged hashtags to connect with local renters browsing on social media.

Work with nearby rental agents, as they may have clients looking for properties just like yours. Offering a referral fee incentive can motivate agents to recommend your property. Leveraging both digital and personal connections will get your buy-to-let in front of the most prospective tenants.

Offering virtual tours

Virtual tours have become an expectation for today’s renters. Offering digital walkthroughs of your buy-to-let property will improve the tenant experience and your listing’s exposure.

A videographer can record a tour while walking through the rental, capturing each room in detail. This allows out-of-town prospects to fully tour the property without travelling on-site first. You can also use rental tour apps that allow prospects to take their own virtual tour using a mobile device. Apps sync images of the property into an interactive digital display.

Virtual tours create excitement and help prospects feel connected to the property before even seeing it in person. Top virtual tour platforms make it easy for prospects to share the tour link with others too. Consider adding a 3D floor plan created as well, which gives prospective tenants an immersive experience touring your property digitally.

Compelling listing descriptions

The listing description for your buy-to-let is another critical marketing component. Craft copy that sells the property’s amenities and location. Open with an attention-grabbing first sentence highlighting the property’s best feature. For example, lead with the recently updated kitchen or prime location just steps from the train station.

You can use search engine optimisation (SEO) best practices in your description too. Incorporate relevant keywords like the neighbourhood name, “near the park,” or “newly renovated” throughout the copy. Optimising for local SEO helps listings rank higher in localised searches and attracts people in the area who are looking for a property.

Be sure to list all of the property’s amenities and updates to convey value. Include the year appliances were replaced, heating and cooling systems, parking options and any storage or outdoor spaces. It’s also worth discussing the proximity to transportation lines, restaurants, shops and parks. Busy professionals want rentals close to conveniences.

Provide welcome packs

Make a great first impression and welcome prospective tenants with a thoughtful welcome pack. This is a useful tool for establishing a positive landlord-tenant relationship before they’ve signed on to the property, and establishes your reputation early on.

The welcome pack should include essential documents like the lease agreement and an inventory checklist. Providing these upfront ensures the tenant understands their rental contract obligations and the property’s condition at move-in.

It’s also worth sharing information to help new tenants settle into the area, such as guides on local attractions, restaurants, public transit maps, waste collection schedules and other local services. Features such as these can make or break a property for tenants, so knowing the information up front helps you find the right people for your property.

Follow up with tenants shortly after their viewing to ask if they have any additional questions. Being proactive and helpful sets the stage for smooth ongoing relations, especially if they’re looking to move in quickly. Investing time into furnishing new tenants with a robust and thorough welcome pack pays dividends through improved satisfaction and retention, and may even swing the vote in your favour if they’re deciding between several properties.

It is clear from the points above that rental success comes from targeted marketing that grabs prospective tenants’ attention in a crowded market. If you’re looking for a reputable agent who can do this for you and help to ensure that your listing stands out from the competition, the Best Estate Agent Guide is a great place to start. Proactive marketing will attract qualified tenants faster which naturally results in generating rental income sooner.

Property Management Priorities: Key Checks In The Colder Months

As the weather turns colder, property managers, agents and landlords in charge of their buildings’ upkeep will shift their focus to a winter maintenance checklist. The colder temperatures can often bring unique challenges that require attention and professional services.

Making sure managed properties are in good condition will go a long way to keeping tenants and residents safe and comfortable. Preventing any problems with heating or mould build-up, for example, will help you to avoid getting embroiled in a dispute with tenants or with anyone occupying a poorly kept building. From servicing boilers and bleeding radiators to fire-safety regulations and chimney sweeps, there are key tasks to consider before the freezing temperatures hit home.

This article will outline the main maintenance concerns to tick off to ensure managed properties stay in tip top condition throughout winter.

Organise a checklist and call in contractors

Staying on top of property maintenance during the coldest season of the year is important because freezing weather can create a unique set of issues, such as a propensity for mould, damp or cracks in wooden frames. Naturally the heating is ramped up and fires are lit, so it’s good to have a thorough checklist of issues and possible repairs to be aware of.

If you’re managing the property as a landlord or letting agent yourself, look out for the usual and not so common issues that can help to prevent needless work further down the line. This will save you money and hassle in the long term. If need be, you can contract the checks to a property management service who will draft in fitters, electricians and site supervisors to tackle essential repairs quickly and efficiently.

Inspect boilers, radiators and heaters

As colder weather moves in, optimised functioning heating systems are essential for keeping properties sustainable, sufficiently warm and preventing disruptive and costly breakdowns. Booking in your annual boiler service and giving any HVAC equipment the once over is a recommendation. Engineers can thoroughly inspect components for wear and efficiency, undertaking preventative repairs and adjustments to ensure reliable operation throughout winter.

During essential winter checks can be a good time to invest in renewable energies, taking advantage of the government’s zero tax incentives and Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS). Consider upgrading to more energy-efficient heating equipment by switching from fossil-fuelled heating systems to low carbon solutions.

On a practical level, radiators prone to irregular heat distribution can be bled to eliminate trapped air restricting flow. Simply bleeding all radiator valves can also help improve circulation efficiency ahead of sub-zero temperatures. Likewise, inspecting exposed water pipes and tanks to confirm adequate insulation remains in place helps guard against freezing and burst pipes.

Testing thermostatic radiator valves and smart timers for accuracy is worth doing to optimise heating levels indoors. Engineers can recalibrate thermostats during your annual service appointment if particular rooms feel colder than the settings might suggest. During the current cost-of-living crisis, getting heating controls right in people’s properties will be a priority for everyone concerned.

Read up on regulations

Paying attention to winter property checks is a key part of your annual property-maintenance routine. Being conscientious is not only professional, it demonstrates your duty of care to anyone residing in the properties you manage.

Part of the UK Government’s Fitness for Human Habitation (FFHH) standards state properties with tenants must be in a good condition. Maintaining even these standards are important so property managers, agents and landlords must evaluate and address some major points, including:

  • Properties must be well-maintained and not allowed to become dilapidated. Structural stability and freedom from dampness are also assessed.

  • The positioning of amenities and rooms must be safe for inhabitants.

  • Lighting and ventilation – Indoor spaces must have adequate natural light and air flow.

  • Adequate hot and cold water supplies must be provisioned and wastewater drainage via properly functioning pipes and sanitary conveniences.

Check windows and doors

Preventing heat loss through poorly insulated windows and doors is not eco-friendly and will not help residents keep their energy bills down when they most need to. It can make a significant difference in tenant comfort and energy efficiency. Carefully checking around all frames for gaps, cracks, or deterioration of existing sealant is advised. Ensure all entrance doors close and lock securely which is crucial for anyone who manages access to communal areas.

Doors or windows letting in draughts should have rubber seals replaced and gaps re-caulked to limit air infiltration. Applying supplementary insulation, especially to older timber framed windows lacking modern double or triple glazing will also help reduce condensation during very cold spells. For frequently used external doors, brush or draught excluder seals fitted along the bottom edge can hamper cold air entering whilst still enabling ease of access.

Prioritise fire safety

With fire safety being a priority in everyone’s homes, the risk of fires is statistically higher in the UK winter which is why extra caution is needed. According to government statistics, three fires a day are caused by heaters and an average 3,800 chimney fires occur every year. Therefore, you need to ensure your property has a robust set of fire safety safeguards in place this winter.

Make sure that your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are correctly positioned and working well and that any fire extinguishers, both communal and within flats are ok. Emergency exits and stairwells should also be cleared. During the festive period reports of fires go up with the prevalence attributed to four main factors: Christmas decorations, candles, heating equipment and cooking, so being extra vigilant is key.

Sweep chimneys and improve ventilation

If the property you manage or let has a chimney, it’s a good idea to have it swept ahead of winter. Accumulated soot and debris poses a considerable fire hazard and risk of poisonous fumes entering living spaces. Be sure to employ a qualified chimney sweep to fully clean flues, spot any damage or nest obstructions. They can also service any wood burning stoves that have been out of use for a while.

Ventilation units will likewise need checking, especially extractor fans in kitchens and bathrooms that might be prone to mould growth from poorly circulated air. Wall/ceiling vents should be cleared of dust and any broken covers or ducting repaired. Improving ventilation in a property during winter is a main method of preventing condensation. With the health hazard of mould in people’s living spaces making headlines in recent years, it’s vital to prevent mould growth early on for property managers and people renting or occupying your buildings.

As a property manager it can be hard to guarantee a problem-free winter, but with advanced preparation or professional management assistance, you can certainly help to minimise complaints from tenants, prevent potential health hazards and ward off costly emergencies.

How To Safeguard The Contents Of A Holiday Rental

Staying in holiday rentals is the preferred choice for many keen travellers. Staying in a beautiful property located in a desirable spot can make a holiday much more special, providing travellers with the freedom to spread out and enjoy the home away from home experience to the fullest. Embedding themselves into a new locale is much easier if they are staying somewhere with full amenities and optimum comfort.

Having said that, holiday-goers cannot afford to overlook security and safety when choosing rental properties. Unlike hotels, private rentals don’t have front desk staff working around the clock, keeping tabs on everyone who comes and goes within the vicinity. Safeguards like alarm systems, cameras, and other technologies aren’t always guaranteed when staying in an overseas holiday rental, no matter how exotic or tranquil it might be. This is why you must rely on your own common sense and due diligence of holiday rental portals and the property manager or owner.

While it’s likely that most holiday rentals are perfectly safe and offer sufficient protection, it’s always wise to take precautions to ensure your belongings are protected during your stay, as well as your own peace of mind. Follow these tips to ensure that your next overseas excursion is safe and stress-free.

Verify your host and listing

Whether you’re booking your accommodation through a reputable local estate agent, which is normal in countries like Spain or via a trusted property portal, it’s always crucial to ensure that your rental property’s host and/or owner is legitimate.

While all reliable providers will take steps to ensure that all listings are authentic and not misleading, some scams or fraudulent listings do slip through the cracks. Therefore, you should check the property’s reviews and listings carefully and methodically before placing your booking.

Here are some other things to look out for and verify:

  • Look for verified accounts; established hosts with plenty of good reviews are less likely to be running a scam. Platforms like Airbnb have badges for seasoned, reputable hosts.

  • Check all the intricate listing details. Do photos seem professional? Are amenities, house rules, and other details fully outlined? Scam listings tend to have sparse info and seem quite sales-y and desperate in their prose.

  • Search listing addresses. Run the address through a search to see if it’s a known rental property. Fake listings may use fabricated or non-residential addresses, while others may be in rough areas with minimal security.

  • Communicate through the platform to confirm all details. Don’t go off-platform to email or text with a host, keep all exchanges on the official rental site, and go through the vendor if any alarm bells ring.

  • Use secure payment methods. Pay only through the rental platform, never via wire transfer or cash. Legitimate, trusted owners won’t ask you to pay outside the site or application.

Taking a few minutes to vet listings and hosts can help you avoid bogus listings and ensure you’re dealing with a real rental owner.

Research the neighbourhood

Once you’ve booked your accommodation, familiarise yourself with the surrounding area before and during your stay. This will help you make more informed decisions and understand the real-world risks at play.

  • Learn and comply with local laws. Some Airbnb properties may have strict curfews or regulations to adhere to, while areas themselves may have to keep noise to a minimum after a certain time. Ensure that you’re capable of meeting these expectations.

  • Popular tourist or attraction locations often draw more thieves and scammers. Rentals on their outskirts may be safer. Even if it means you have to venture slightly further afield, you could be making yourselves inherently safer.

  • Ask the host for tips. Your host can offer guidance on safe areas, neighbourhoods to avoid, and other local insights. Ultimately, if they care about your custom, they will want to ensure you are comfortable and safe.

Arriving clued into all neighbourhood conditions allows you to make smart, situation-appropriate choices for a safe stay.

Secure entrances and access points

Entryways are a common vulnerability for vacation rentals. Secure all possible access points as much as possible to prevent intrusions and unwarranted trespassing:

  • Lock windows and doors. Check that all ground-floor windows have locking mechanisms. Close curtains or blinds at night and definitely don’t leave doors unlocked, even when you’re there.

  • Check for hidden or spare keys; these may be concealed under fake rocks, planters, or other innocuous ornaments. If necessary, liaise with the host about their whereabouts or remove them if not needed.

  • Remember passcodes. If using a keypad lock with an access code, make sure codes are memorable but not easily guessable like ‘1234’. Don’t share codes publicly. Property managers should ensure that passwords are changed for each booking.

  • Limit copies of physical keys. If you use traditional keyed locks, there should be minimal duplicate copies to prevent misuse. Have a rekeying policy for lost keys.

For owners, securing a holiday home doesn’t need to cost much either. The most important point is to control and limit entry access points to keep your rental and belongings secure against intrusions.

Ask about security systems

Confirm any of the property’s built-in security technology with your host. Does the rental have security cameras, alarms, or other systems that enhance safety?

Ask your host about existing features or options to add:

  • Outdoor cameras. Exterior cameras covering entryways can deter and record trespassers. Make sure they are not unnecessarily invasive and easy to use.

  • Interior cameras. Indoor cameras provide further monitoring but may make some guests uncomfortable, so confirm whether you are at liberty to turn them off once you are inside.

  • Burglar alarms. Monitored systems can automatically alert authorities of a break-in. Ensure the host explains how to operate it.

  • Motion detectors. These systems turn on lights and send alerts when they detect activity, helping deter potential thieves.

  • Safe boxes. Provide a secure place to store valuables like passports, jewellery, and electronics.

Ask your host upfront what measures are in place to ensure that the property’s security fits your comfort level.

Use your common sense

Your own habits also help keep a holiday rental secure:

  • Whether you’re there or not, keep entryways locked at all times and never prop open doors.

  • Don’t post your location. Be cautious about posting travel photos publicly while away that reveal your location.

  • Conceal valuables. Keep cash, electronics, jewellery, and travel documents out of sight in bags, drawers, or safe boxes.

  • Vary routines. Don’t stick to the same patterns of coming and going from the premises or leaving at the same time every day.

Staying alert helps avoid making yourself an easy target while travelling.

Overseas holiday rentals can be welcoming and alluring accommodations for many keen travellers. They provide more space, flexibility and amenities than hotels or hostels, even if they come at a slightly higher price on average. By vetting all listings and asking the right questions ahead of your stay, you can stay vigilant and create unforgettable travel memories while being as safe as possible.

The Pros And Cons Of Smart Locks For Home Security

With smart homes growing in number each year and smart technology becoming more widely available, it’s clear that the UK property market is experiencing a blossoming trend for homes that centre around technology and automation.

As smart technology often adds to a property’s value and appeal, it’s important for estate agents to offer practical advice on whether their clients stand to benefit by integrating smart tech into their properties. For instance, will installing smart locks add more value to a property up for sale or appeal to renters if home security tops their wish list?

Smart technology in general exists to not only give homeowners more control of their energy usage but also to make their lives more convenient and their homes more secure. Smart lock systems, meanwhile, are a modern home feature that has gained popularity in recent years, also providing added convenience for homeowners and tenants of rental properties.

When it comes to analysing the benefits of smart door locks, convenience should never come at a cost to our security and safety. This is why estate agents and landlords need to understand the inherent security risks associated in order to make fully-informed decisions about adopting smart door locks in favour of tried-and-tested, traditional keyed locks.

This article will look at the benefits, risks and best practices of installing a smart lock system in your property, as well as common security vulnerabilities to be mindful of.

Possible benefits of smart door locks

Smart door and window locks provide some advantages for homeowners, landlords, and tenants.

Secure and seamless entry

Smart locks eliminate the need for residents to hold and fumble around for sets of keys, which can be handy when arriving at the property with your hands full. By allowing immediate and easy access through key fobs, PIN codes, smartphone scanning software or biometric data like fingerprints, residents can gain access to their property in plenty of convenient and non-invasive ways.

Integration with the smart home

Some smart locks pair easily with existing systems, such as alarms, security and surveillance cameras, and other smart home devices like lights. This can create a futuristic feel for a property which appeals to a certain kind of buyer or tenant.

Control and visibility

Some smart locks use apps to remotely lock or unlock doors, grant temporary access and monitor ‌activity from anywhere in the world. This can particularly helpful if you live far away or spend large periods away from home, providing you with a convenient solution to keep an eye on your estate without worrying.

Many smart door lock solutions come with additional features such as real-time notifications and alerts to give homeowners full visibility over who enters and when. Time-stamped activity logs also provide them with additional insights and control. If something doesn’t look right, homeowners can grant (or refuse) access to anybody who they deem necessary.

There are, however, a number of factors to consider before agents and landlords see this as a silver bullet for managing access to rental property (see below).

Potential Challenges of Smart Locks in 2023

Getting a reliable connection

In the majority of Smart locks, the more advanced functionality (such as being able to grant a person access from anywhere in the world) relies heavily on the lock having a connection to the internet. This often means attaching the locks in some way to a home Wi-Fi network. Although home Wi-Fi is getting more reliable all the time, the majority still wouldn’t rely on it for the essential security of their property.

Landlords are often not responsible for the internet provision to the tenant, meaning that they can’t rely on the tenant setting things up correctly for correct operation of the smart lock. There is still a danger of smart locks becoming just one more thing that needs to be maintained with the work required outstripping the benefits.

Sharing access

It’s tempting to see smart locks as a great solution to the problem of managing keys faced by landlords, tenants and agents alike. If all parties can have access to a smart lock, then it becomes easier for access to be provided when needed. At least, in theory. In practice, most domestic smart locks are really designed around a single family to use, and don’t allow for easily sharing of control between different parties in a tenancy contract. It introduces a number of problems around who has control to the smart lock apps. Who assigns new users.

Many agents and tenants alike would be concerned that different teams of people would all need to be trained in each different type of smart lock. Most agents don’t want the risk of a team member accidentally opening up access to a property because they didn’t understand the app properly.

What happens when it goes wrong?

There are many reasons why smart locks can go wrong in practice. Aside from connectivity, the most common is a power failure. Most smart locks rely on a battery, which if not changed, can lead to tenants being locked out. Most have a a backup mechanism such as external battery contacts or a USB port to attach a phone- but they rely on the occupier having the correct battery or charging cable with them when they need it- not at all likely if it’s late at night!

Other smart locks still have a backup key to allow manual unlocks- this is perhaps the best solution, but still requires keys to be carried and managed by the interested parties.

Addressing potential vulnerabilities

While smart door and window locks offer plenty of security benefits, agents and landlords must be mindful of certain risks before any smart lock is installed. If not properly addressed, these possible risks could manifest into larger problems.

Cyber attacks and hacks

Cybercrime is rife at the moment, and hackers might attempt to intercept wireless communication between devices. Unprotected and unpatched networks and devices will make that easier. If a controlling device is compromised, a hacker could potentially disrupt the connection between it and the lock.

This is why it’s important to deploy a solution that ensures encrypted connections between devices, as well as regular security patches to prevent any breaches.

Unpatched software

Firmware that is not updated or patched can expose smart lock systems to more vulnerabilities and hacking risks. If prompted, you should always ensure that you install recommended security patches to ensure core systems remain as secure as possible. You should also do this for any other smart home technology that you have, as it only takes one breach for all interconnected devices to become vulnerable.

Access code theft

If smart lock access codes are compromised, it means that unauthorised individuals could gain access to your property. This is why enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA) protocols like biometric verification, SMS or email access codes, or phone calls to trusted devices can be a valuable additional layer of security. You can install reputable third-party authenticator apps to verify all legitimate requests and refuse any that have not come from a trusted device.

Best practices for optimal security

There is no denying the fact that smart locks present some security risks. However, if landlords and estate agents can address these known risks and instil the preventative measures outlined below, security can be maximised.

Choose reputable brands

Make sure that you choose a trusted smart lock provider with proven security experience and one that is transparent about its approach. Make sure that you consider the relevance of all your solution’s features, whether it’s anti-hacking software, regular security patching or smart integration with other software.

Secure networks and devices

Make sure that you set your software to update all security patches automatically, as this will ensure all known vulnerabilities are promptly addressed and safeguarded. Don’t exclusively do this for your smart locks, but for all connected smart home devices, as this will ensure optimum security within your property.

Ensure that the Wi-Fi network (which the smart lock system will connect to) is also secure with a strong, unique password. Make sure that you change your network’s default username and password.

Implement MFA and real-time monitoring

If available, make sure that your smart lock system and app have multi-factor authentication features enabled. This will ensure that you (or another trusted resident) receive codes or prompts to verify the identity of whomever is trying to access the property, and thus will safeguard you and your possessions from potential theft or damage.

By integrating your smart lock software with a smart CCTV or camera system, you’ll be a step closer to achieving real-time visibility over your property. Landlords and estate agents can consider partnering with a reputable penetration testing expert that can provide 24/7 monitoring, as well as immediate assistance in case a system is compromised.

Smart locks: the future of secure property access?

As smart technology continues to affect the UK lettings and sales sector, you can expect to see Smart Locks becoming more compelling in the years to come. Traditional keyed locks are not going to go away, and certainly not anytime soon, however, smart locks will gradually become a more preferred option over time. As the market matures, the problems of today will become easier to solve.

Digital Tools Streamlining Commercial Property Inspections And Surveying

Commercial property surveys and inspections have remained relatively formulaic for decades. The crucial due diligence process of inspecting and surveying properties has remained relatively unchanged for some time.

That said, new technologies are emerging that serve to make this tick-box exercise much faster, more accurate and more efficient for commercial agents and property managers. From mobile applications to 3D scanning to drones, Proptech innovations are changing the inspection landscape significantly, cutting down on manual efforts and alleviating agents from excessive, tiresome and labour-intensive paperwork.

Find out some of the most innovative and intuitive tech that looks set to transform the ways that commercial properties can be routinely inspected and surveyed.

Automated and AI-powered defect detection

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are two intertwined technologies that are causing widespread disruption in many industries, and property is no different. While it’s no secret that AI can transform agents’ content marketing, lead generation and data entry efforts, the tech can also be used as the backbone for visual inspection solutions.

AI-powered software can autonomously detect defects and issues in buildings, based on insights and data from surveys, and therefore automate many of the laborious and time-consuming parts of manual property inspections.

Inspection tools such as TensorFlight can provide in-depth visualisations of properties, while using AI to highlight potential areas for further inspection and deeper analysis, meaning surveyors can dedicate their time and efforts to the most imperative tasks.

By leveraging automation, surveyors and commercial estate agents can intelligently analyse images, models and datasets to identify problem areas such as dampness, corrosion, asbestos, and so on.

Drones and UAVs to access high-up or hard-to-reach areas

Drones have become an invaluable tool for commercial property surveyors, enabling access to difficult areas like roofs, chimneys, gutters and facades, as well as the external walls of high-rise buildings and blocks of flats.

Equipped with high-resolution cameras, drones can capture detailed imagery and videos of a building’s external condition. Built-in photo-capturing software can then stitch these images and video content together into sophisticated, immersive models that can provide detailed inspection maps for surveyors and agents.

Providing this extent of data and photographic evidence makes report generation much more detailed and efficient; it’s no surprise that surveyors are regularly using these UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to conduct greater numbers of detailed RICS Homebuyer surveys and reports.

Drone deployments are much safer and faster than manual inspections of hard-to-reach areas. They also cause no disruption to a building’s occupants and are relatively easy to learn with minimal training.

3D laser scanning for precise digital replication

Static LiDAR technology – another word for terrestrial laser scanning – is becoming vital for commercial building surveys and inspections. Tripod-mounted scanners allow surveyors to deliver more comprehensive surveys, capturing very specific areas or everything within view, with individual scans distributed within a few seconds. The scans are condensed and aggregated to construct detailed 3D property models.

These scans pick up all physical and structural details at millimetre-level accuracy, which can then be used to create bespoke, detailed floor plans, flythroughs, elevations and supporting imagery for property listings. Everything is geospatially located with precise measurements and details. Using this highly sophisticated technology, professionals can inspect a property’s condition and identify defects with ease, often in real-time.

Dynamic mobile apps for improved accessibility and analysis

Mobile applications can make inspection reports much more sophisticated, usable and shareable for all stakeholders involved in a property transaction. Surveyors can use mobile applications to capture HD photos, videos, annotate images, and deploy measurements directly on-site, and subsequently embed these assets in their reports.

Interactive floor plans can also be created as a result of the images and supporting measurement data, thus making navigation and analysis easier. With these assets backed up by detailed, timestamped analytics, defects and issues can be identified with greater accuracy and efficiency.

Having inspection data in accessible and visual formats enhances understanding for clients. It also enables improved maintenance and repair scope planning. Commercial Estate Agents can find end-to-end platforms for defect detection and 3D CAD floor plan rendering, such as AutoCAD LT from Autodesk

Exercising caution with human oversight

While property technology tools provide significant cost- and time-saving benefits, they can’t replace the need for qualified professionals conducting on-site assessments and inspections‌.

Comprehensive building surveys and inspections still require meticulous attention to detail and expert human skill, experience, and opinion for all elements. While technology can certainly improve productivity and automate many manual components of the surveying process, we are still at a point where we can’t entirely entrust all aspects to computers and algorithms.

With people supervising and managing the use of this technology effectively, surveyors and professionals can use their natural senses like smell, hearing, and touch which technology can’t detect or replicate as easily. These insights can therefore be married with the real-time data that apps and tools have already aggregated to make reports more comprehensive and primarily human-driven.

The optimal approach blends traditional techniques with new technologies for more rigorous and complete surveys.

Enhanced due diligence for agents and property managers

For agents and property management professionals, the emergence of new proptech tools makes the due diligence processes much more enhanced for sales, lettings, and ongoing asset management purposes.

The baseline documentation derived from drone imagery and scans makes the property condition reports more comprehensive during the acquisition stage. From this, comparisons can be drawn with images taken down the line, thus making future repairs more accurate and easy to identify and schedule.

Ongoing maintenance scans at regular intervals can identify emerging defects early. Having detailed digital defect reports also aids in repair scope planning and contractor management.

Technologies like automated AI analysis provide more consistent and objective insight, while still allowing for manual assessment by experienced surveyors.

Overall these innovations in technology mean commercial property professionals can provide clients with greater transparency, scrutiny and planning abilities when it comes to the built environment. This raises trust and satisfaction for vendors, buyers, and landlords under contract with agents.

It’s hopefully clear to see that the adoption of proptech tools requires the right strategic approach for them to be optimally effective. Their benefits are clear, in that they can streamline and automate many of the cumbersome aspects of surveying while delivering greater insights, detail and analytics. The key is harnessing and leveraging the technology to make the process work for each end user, and not viewing apps and software as sufficient replacements for hardworking property professionals.

Leveraging the strengths of technology and marrying them with your own methodical approaches and real-world experience will allow agents to reap more of their benefits. From this, smarter management, leasing, selling, and investment calculation decisions can be made. In the near future, it’s evident that we will see the further integration of emerging technologies within the property sector, paving the way for more productive and insightful approaches.

If you can successfully embrace and implement the technology and tools available now, it will work in your favour down the line.

How Landlords Can Tackle Rental Reforms and Energy Changes

The government’s plans for the rental market will see some big changes in the coming years. In fact, landlords have started to make their homes more energy-efficient. Rental properties must already have an EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) rating of band E or better.

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, the government wishes for rental properties to be better insulated and rated in band C by 2026 for all new tenancies. Existing tenancies have until 2028 but for landlords with a large property portfolio, that means beginning to consider changes now.

Data from March 2021 shows that 63% of existing dwellings have an energy efficiency rating of D or worse. This represents a considerable chunk of the property market and presents a challenge to landlords to improve their ratings. It may even see some landlords step away from the rentals market as the costs involved to upgrade their ratings no longer make it financially viable.

Proposed rental reforms plan to introduce lifetime deposits for tenants and to ban Section 21 evictions. The introduction of this bill has been delayed due to the pandemic but it is expected to be published in 2022. So, what can landlords do to tackle these proposed changes and make their properties more compliant?

Making homes more energy efficient

Landlords have an extra year to ensure their new-let properties achieve band C after it was extended from 2025 to 2026. That still requires plenty of work to be done to upgrade the efficiency of these homes. And, the 2028 deadline date for existing lettings looms large. A fifth of landlords have already improved their energy ratings and here are some ways to improve yours.

Bolstering insulation

One of the easiest ways to make your property more energy-efficient is to improve insulation. Poorly insulated windows, walls, doors and roofs cause the largest amount of heat loss in the home. Windows, doors and walls contribute to approximately 35% of heat loss, while the roof is estimated to lose a further 25% of generated heat.

Heat escaping from poorly insulated homes is incredibly inefficient as it costs so much more to keep heating a room. Rather, retaining the generated heat for longer means tenants can lower their heating bills and therefore their costs of living.

With the costs of living beginning to spiral to the point of unaffordability for many, it’s important landlords make their homes efficient for their tenants. Ways to upgrade your insulation include replacing windows and doors, and taking the time to insulate your roof.

Regular servicing of boilers

Energy efficiency comes in many forms but one of the best ways to improve your property’s rating is through regular servicing of your boiler. If your property’s boiler is over 10 years old then it’s worth looking into its efficiency. This might mean replacing the entire boiler or just installing newer parts to ensure it is running smoothly. The same applies to homes that use oil tanks for heating.

“Annual boiler services remove sludge deposits that can clog your system, increasing heating costs and reducing heating efficiency”, says oil tank experts, SG Tanks. “If your boiler is well past its best, investing in a modern and better model is the way to go. Modern boilers are more energy-efficient and fail less often than old ones”.

Look at your lighting

One of the aspects of a property that EPC surveys check is the lighting. An assessor looks at the number of fixed light fittings plus how many low energy light bulbs are fitted. Low energy lightbulbs include CFT and LEDs.

“The average LED lasts 50,000 operating hours to 100,000 operating hours or more”’ says LED light installation company Stouch Lighting. “That is 2-4 times as long as most fluorescent, metal halide, and even sodium vapour lights”.

LED light bulbs, for instance, require just 3.3 watts to produce 400 lumens which is the equivalent of a 50-watt incandescent bulb. To put the costs into perspective, that 50-watt incandescent bulb, running at 8 hours a day, would cost £21.90 to run for a year if you are charged 15p per kWh.

The LED bulb, by comparison, costs just £1.45 per year for the same usage and rate. Now, consider how many bulbs are in your property and do the maths on the savings tenants could make on their yearly energy bills.

Preparing for the proposed rental reforms

While there are things we can do to improve how energy-efficient rental properties are, it’s a tougher task to prepare yourself for the incoming rental reforms. Although the rental reform bill hasn’t come into effect yet, one of the biggest challenges to come from it will be the proposed abolishing of Section 21. This section allows landlords to end rolling tenancies with two months notice without giving a reason.

Legally evicting tenants will become much more difficult so it’s important for landlords to be satisfied with the people living in their properties. This might mean introducing a stricter background check process that gives you a better indication of who is moving in.

Another proposed change to the rental industry is the removal of security deposits for tenants. Instead, a ‘lifetime deposit’ will be introduced that is supposed to stay with the tenant, wherever they move to. This could make it harder to withhold a security deposit and require better evidence of the tenant doing something against their terms of tenancy.

Speculation surrounding the Renter’s Reform Bill includes proposals for an independent industry regulator or a national landlord database. Both would require the actions of landlords to be better documented.

Further rental reform proposals

The government is looking to give renters more of what they want and further proposals include:

  • Making it easier to rent with pets

  • Better enforcement on criminal landlords

  • Making open-ended tenancies the norm

Landlords may no longer have the peace of mind of knowing that their tenant is going to occupy their property for a certain period if open-ended tenancies become the norm. That might mean putting procedures in place to replace tenants unexpectedly. This could be done by associating yourself with an agency or creating a bigger financial buffer to cope with the loss of income.

Renters looking for a property that allows pets have struggled in the past and the new proposals would seek to change that. It is implied that landlords will have to object to pet requests in writing and this can only be rejected if there is a ‘good reason’. An example of a ‘good reason’ would be if the property is too small and the pet’s introduction would be impractical.

Households bought 3.2 million pets during lockdown, creating a huge rise in demand for pet-friendly living. It’s something to prepare for in advance by introducing more durable flooring, enclosed gardens and less exposed electrical cables into your properties.

Smart Security Tips For Tech-Savvy Property Managers

In today’s day and age of technological advancements, smart properties are becoming more and more popular throughout the UK.

However, while advances in technology may generally be seen as a good thing, the increased connectivity of smart devices can create a haven for wannabe hackers, creating all sorts of vulnerabilities when fitted incorrectly.

For property managers, landlords and letting agents, taking advantage of smart tools and installing them with security in mind is crucial. As such, when it comes to installing a smart property or using smart-home technology, it is imperative to consider all these potential challenges – especially from a security point of view.

Here are some helpful hints and tips around property technology to help you manage and install smart-home technology and facility-management devices more safely.

Don’t make outdoor smart devices obvious

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.

With reasons to prioritise building security already, the chances are that you will have fitted a fair few video doorbells and smart cameras in recent times. However, did you know that – while they may have been designed to make properties more secure – certain reports have found they can actually do the opposite?

According to Consumer Reports, video doorbells were found to have more than 11 security vulnerabilities, potentially exposing homeowners and property managers to issues like hacking and data breaches. What’s more, while video doorbells may have been used to deter burglars, certain wannabe criminals have recently been specifically targeting homes with video doorbells, believing them to be a sign of wealth.

As such, you should use this knowledge to your advantage, installing doorbells and smart cameras in areas of the home that are out of sight yet retain a clear view of the front of the property.

If you haven’t done so already, it is also time to take advantage of other low-cost, but valuable contactless technology. To keep track of key security, download a simple and smart key fob solution on your smartphone to know instantly what a certain key is for and who is responsible for its use. Such essential smartphone technology can benefit facility supervisors, agents and property managers alike.

In general, you should encourage your client to make improvements to their property’s security, ensuring their Wi-Fi network is set to private and that they are using a strong password as a sign in for the smart devices’ associated software.

Isolate smart networks

Smart devices are defined as ‘smart’ for a reason, utilising the latest technology to stay interconnected with other devices around the home.

However, while it may be easier to set properties up with one continuous network, it’s important – from a security perspective – to isolate smart networks from existing networks within the property.

Say, for example, you are setting up the security profile for a smart fridge. By creating this as its own isolated network, this will – in turn – render it unable to access the client’s emails or bank account details should anyone manage to infiltrate it, since it will be operating separately from the network housing that information.

Likewise, improving the router setup in a property will significantly improve the security profile of the smart property network. Regular routers often fail to offer decent security features, making it a good investment to purchase a replacement that is capable of identifying and combatting any potential threats.

Going one step further, it could also be worth getting a professional in to do a penetration test or ethically hack the existing smart home setup. This, as a result, will help identify any existing vulnerabilities, enabling you to source the relevant solutions.

Smartphone vulnerability

When setting up a smart property, all the devices will need to be connected to a smartphone of some kind. As such, it stands to reason that, the less secure this smartphone is, the more vulnerable it will be as well. Therefore, it’s imperative to set smartphones up in a way that is as safe and secure as possible – even in the event of being stolen.

From simple things like updating to the latest security patches to investing in fully-fledged smartphone-based security software, there are a wide number of things you can do to protect smartphones against potential hacks.

However, while it may sound fairly obvious, one of the most effective things you can do is ensure strong passwords are being used across the smart home network – whether that be on each individual smart device app or on the home screen itself.

This defence, coupled with a router system that has its firewall enabled, its main computer account set to an administrator-level and WPA authentication turned on, will provide your client with the best possible defence against potential smartphone-focused hacks.

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

Keyzapp Quick Facts: Beyond Barcodes

What does Keyzapp bring over and above the traditional barcode system?

Barcodes were all the rage in the late ‘90s. Some enterprising agents and software makers began using barcodes to track keys and some of those systems are still around today. Barcodes were just the first step- they make some things easier, but key-based headaches have continued in many places that use them.

Keyzapp represents a major step forward. Here’s why:

You’re not tied to a single computer

Most barcode systems require special equipment & software, meaning you can only use it one or two computers. Keyzapp works on all computers, (scanners are optional) and almost every phone or tablet on the market today*

This is far more convenient- staff can look up keys at their desk and sign them out when they get to the cabinet.

Track every key movement

Most of us transfer keys in more than one way Sometimes, they are passed between people when outside of the office. Because Keyzapp works anywhere, these events can be audited and captured as well.

Absolute scanning simplicity

With barcodes you often have to open up your software click inside a particular box for a key scan – this is fiddly and hard to learn. With Keyzapp, simply tap the fob on the reader or phone and you’ll be taken to the right place without even touching the keyboard!**

Lower administration

Many barcode systems require you to print your own barcodes. This passes the cost and a time-consuming process to your team; they have to open the software, manage a stock of labels, print the barcode (then unload the labels) and then attach it to keys. Keyzapp’s fobs and stickers come pre printed and coded, you simply attach them to your keys and start scanning.

Lower cost hardware

Our NFC readers for PCs and Mac, are typically half the cost of the cheapest barcode scanner. With Keyzapp, your smart phone can scan fobs at no extra cost.

In summary…

Upgrading from barcodes to Keyzapp gives you:

  • Far greater convenience and flexibility
  • No admin headaches
  • Ability to track more activities
  • A faster, more user friendly experience
  • Bang for your buck

What really makes Keyzapp work is the way it enables your people to follow your key process consistently every single time, so you have complete peace of mind. Book a demo today to see how it can help you.