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.

 

 

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.

Agents: How to stop people forgetting to sign out keys

If you feel like you’ll never get your staff to toe the line, try these suggestions

“I just can’t get my staff to do things properly” has to be just about the biggest complaint I hear from estate agency owners and lettings managers as I travel the country.

For many, getting people to sign out keys every time is a constant battle. At the same time, most people realise that getting this right is the single most important way to prevent keys going missing.

Though it’s easy to say “I’ll never get my negs to do it right” and accept it as a “fact of life”, in reality, signing out keys is just a simple organisational habit that you can embed without a great deal of effort. Here are the top things successful agents do to ensure that keys are issued correctly every time.

Locking keys to the board is the wrong place to start!

Locking pegboard systemSome assume that the best way to ensure people always sign out keys is to lock them into the cabinet, and that nothing short of this will work. The good news is that there are many (much cheaper) things you can do first.

In fact, physically locking keys down can have its own problems, such as the impracticality of the space needed for a chunky board and the cost.  You not only have to pay for the board (the most popular brand costs £280 for just 25 keys on Amazon), but you also need the special key rings and pegs to make it work.

Even peg locking mechanisms are often worked around when the staff are in a hurry.

Whilst a physical locking system can and does make sense for some, I only suggest coming back to it once you’ve tried all the other things below.

Stop ‘locking’ and start with ‘looking’ for the key

You probably know the many obvious security reasons for not writing your property addresses on keys, did you know that this (still alarmingly common) practice could also make your staff less likely to sign them out?

If it’s too easy identify that they’ve got the right key, people will get into a bad habit of grabbing it and running, certain in the knowledge that they have the right one.  Though it might save them a few seconds of time, it will leave you both out of compliance and exposed to all the risks of losing keys.  If they have to do a little work to find the key, but it’s then super easy to sign it out whilst they’re at it, then why wouldn’t they?

By contrast, if they have to look up the key in one place, only to need to go somewhere else to actually sign it out, then that all-important second step will almost always be skipped.

If you’re still using a paper list to find keys, keeping the list right next to your sign-out log is a must (but please remember to keep this list secure and lock it away at night!).

If your CRM offers you a basic sign-out log, then you might be able to use that. However…

Beware of too many clicks (or keep a pen handy)

Taking the path of least resistance is not just human nature, it’s a fundamental law of nature in general (think rivers, electricity, even evolution).  Anything that slows people down, even a little, is less likely to get done.  It’s absolutely critical that the process of finding a key, signing it out and getting out the door for that viewing can be accomplished with the absolute minimum of effort.

If you have an electronic tool for key tracking (e.g. the CRM system we talked about earlier) make sure that it is as rapid as humanly possible to get from knowing which key you need, to getting it signed out.  This can be measured in the number of clicks or key strokes to get the job done.  More than 3 of either and it’s time to find a faster option!

If you’re stuck with pen and paper, there are still ways to cut down the friction.  Just keeping a working pen tied to your logbook can make a surprisingly big difference.  You might also think about the amount of information someone needs to fill in.  Name, date and signature are about all you can ask for, or the friction is too high (yes, you’ll be sacrificing other important and useful information, but that’s better than keys not being signed out at all!).

Visual cues trigger the right habits

We’re all driven by our habits, and all good habits start with a trigger.  Most of us don’t have to think to brush our teeth in the morning, we just do it out of habit.   We want to make it a habit for the team to always sign keys out, so we need to trigger them to do it (there are many books on this subject- my favourite is Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit”).

If you’ve already changed the computer system, or re-positioned the key book, then those changes themselves might be enough to trigger people to a new way of doing things.  Often it’s a good idea to add a visual stimulus, here are some common examples:

  • If you have a key room, (or a back room where keys are stored) a prominent poster asking “Have you signed the keys out?” should trigger the right response in the short term
  • Changing the keys themselves can also be helpful, for example add a brightly coloured tag

Reward good behaviours…

Once you’ve done all the physical things to get the right behaviour in place, don’t forget to show your appreciation as things start to improve.  The way you do that will probably depend on each individual within your team.  Rewards can be monetary, or you could try out a service like PerkBox, but don’t forget good old fashioned praise and sugary treats!

…And follow up the mistakes

The final important way to get people to toe the line (once you’ve made it as easy as possible to do so) is that you quickly pick up on the occasions when the process isn’t being followed.  Nobody likes to be seen to be getting it wrong, so you must take advantage of this to keep the right process front of mind in the early days.

Having someone with authority to actively monitor how well the keys are being managed is crucial, and often overlooked.  If people think nobody is watching, they’ll be inclined to cut corners.  On the other hand, if they know it will be noticed when they don’t do things properly, they are far more likely to put in the extra effort to get it right.

If you see people not following the process well, then you can follow up with them either individually or collectively.

In some circumstances (particularly with sales staff) negative incentives have been shown to work quite well. These often take the form of fines for not being signed out.  Turning the process into a game can also work, providing a special bonus for those people who handle keys well, and “naming and shaming” the worst performers. Whether this is right for you will depend on your business culture.

“What gets measured gets managed” – Peter Drucker

You might have been wondering about how you know when things are going right or wrong.  Getting hold of the right information quickly is probably the biggest reason to use a dedicated key management system, as it is built to provide the right information to you.  However, it isn’t impossible to do it using paper and spreadsheets (it just might take a bit longer).  Depending on your CRM system, you might also be able to print useful property reports out (though many are sadly lacking good features for this).

Here are some thoughts on what to track:

  • How many keys are being signed out each day – is that what you expect?
  • Do you have more viewings, inspections and other visits scheduled in a day than you have keys signed out in the log?
  • Check at the end of the day which keys are outstanding – is this what you expect?
  • Are there any keys who have been signed out for a really long time? Who is responsible for following them up?

How long does it take to get key management right?

Most people find that after implementing the above steps, the effect on the way people sign out keys is pretty instant. If you start monitoring how people take and return keys, you could find the problem solved in under 2 weeks.  The challenge is to keep it going.

It’s worth investing the time to check on keys every single day in the first few weeks.  Following that, once you’re confident everything is working well, you’ll find you don’t need to check as frequently (and the process of  checking is much easier).  It’s super important that someone in your company is responsible for checking on the process regularly – check out this article for more on why, who and how to get someone in charge of keys.

Need any help with getting keys right?  Why not get in touch?

We’re working on a few free tools to help you and we’d also be happy to put you in touch with customers who’ve been through the process already.

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.

FUTURE: PropTech – 14th May 2019 – we’re exhibiting!

Future Proptech Advertising Banner

We are very excited to be exhibiting again at the worlds No. 1 PropTech event for its 5th year!

This years theme: Open Collaboration

Bringing together over 2,000 forward thinking real estate executives to discuss the future of the built environment, this day will be packed from beginning to end with interesting content. With so much to choose from, visit the FUTURE: PropTech website to book your tickets, download the full agenda and plan your day wisely!

Make sure to squeeze some time in to visit us on the Keyzapp stand S32 to have a chat about how we can save you time and money managing your keys! With the handy Smartphone App, it is quick and easy to book a meeting in with us to secure a slot.

Who else is going?

Format of the Day & events we will be watching out for

With so much to pick from, its best to break the day down into the 4 separate stages at the event:

2 Main stages: Stage 1: Mega Trends. This will focus on how the real estate sector is being fundamentally changed by global trends such as urbanisation, demographics & technology.

Stage 2: FUTURE Is Now. Will feature case studies, on-stage demos, success stories & “How To” guides of the technology that is already being deployed by leading real estate companies.

2 smaller stages: Stage 3: Launch Stage. This will be showcasing start-ups and ‘ones to watch’. Stage 4: Agent Zone Stage is a dedicated stage for panel discussions and Keynote presentations

We will be watching out for Track 6 on Stage 2, showcasing the impact of technology on the Real Estate sector, and the challenges and opportunities for Real Estate Leaders.

 

 

 

And we will also be checking out the latest innovations in Facility Management (Track 4, Stage 1), where we feel that good Key Management has a lot to offer:

 

Don’t forget to download the Smartphone App ahead of the day to book in meetings and get all the information you need at your fingertips.

Reasons to attend

Do you really need any more persuasion?! Well here goes.. in their own words – some of the key reasons to attend FUTURE: PropTech are as follows:

  1. Arrange 1-to-1 meetings with 2000+ real estate leaders
  2. Listen to 30+ hours of dedicated content
  3. Choose from 4 stages and 9 themes
  4. Learn from over 100 of the world’s leading thinkers in the property sector
  5. Curated Brand Showcases – see live demos of over 80 world leading technology providers, start-ups and innovators
  6. In depth breakout sessions including workshops and round-table discussions
  7. Enjoy complimentary street food served all day. Provided by Streetdots
  8. Network at the free-flowing bar with wine, beer, tea, coffee & refreshments
  9. Attend our 5th Anniversary & UKPA re-brand Party with FREE BBQ, FREE food & drink & live DJ
  10. Connect with delegates from over 40 different countries and meet them in our dedicated International Zone

So book your tickets now, and we very much look forward to seeing you there!!

 

Letting Agents: Avoid this Big Mistake with your Keys!

So, what’s this big key mistake that many people are making?

Have you ever had that embarrassing situation when you can’t find a property key with a client standing right next to you? It usually isn’t your fault – ‘someone else’ had it last (but no one knows who or when)! It’s an agent’s nightmare. Continue reading “Letting Agents: Avoid this Big Mistake with your Keys!”