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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Give everyone an ID fob (if you don’t have any to hand, give us a call and we’ll sort you out!)
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)
They can search and sign out keys according to their permissions
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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:
Who has it (Some CRMs only track “In” or “Out” – Useless!)
Who gave it to them, and when (Always good for understanding context, and a second person to call on if something goes wrong)
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.
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.
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?
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.
The global vacation rental market is booming. HOST is a new & unmissable event.
With the global vacation rental market projected to reach £167.9bn in 2019, this is a prime opportunity for growing your business, and increasing your profitability. We’re we are looking forward to exhibiting at this exciting new Conference at the Business Design Centre on 31st Oct – 1st Nov 2019.
HOST 2019 is a dedicated launchpad for learning about this industry, through bootcamp workshops, keynote sessions and conference speakers. You will have the opportunity to meet partners and explore the latest technology to maximise your efficiency, and network with other stakeholders through one to one meetings and roundtable sessions.
To make the most of this two day conference, you will need to plan ahead! Here is a handy guide to the event so that you don’t miss any of the best bits:
HOST will be split over five conference theatres, each covering a specific business driver:
1. Business Strategy & Growth
This stage will cover all aspects of the vacation rental market dynamics & statistics and what this means for the whole business of hosting. It will showcase insights from Continental Europe and North America and look at the Entrepreneurial opportunities in Europe and the UK. It will also cover the fundamentals of buy-to-host investment and working with property consultants and include case studies across urban accommodation, ski-lodges, yacht charters
Here are some top picks we will be watching out for:
‘The acquisition storm – what will the industry look like in 5 years?’ – Simon Lehmann, Founder, AJL Consulting
Panel: ‘Beaches, Biometrics & Bots: The future of travel’ – lead by James Cassidy, Homeaway
‘Urban vs rural market dynamics’ – Pierre Becerill, Founder, Transparent Intelligence
Competing with the influx of properties on the market’ – Will Ashworth, CEO, Watergate Bay Hotel
2. Technology & Innovation
This stage will look into all the latest advances in technology and how it can be harnessed to streamline your business. This will cover everything from your website, cloud-based management systems, revenue optimisation, to home automation for security & comfort and latest maintenance solutions. It will also cover customer verification systems, use of block chain and harnessing big data and analytics for decision making.
‘The Human touch vs technology: finding the right balance’ – Michael Hillier, General Manager, The Hilton
‘How to automate your check-ins and manage your keys remotely’ – Marc Figueras, Co-founder, Keynest
3. Marketing, Distribution & Sales
Come to this stage to look at your customer journey, branding and how to increase conversions and build lifetime customers. Learn how to make your property shine in a busy market using a great website, compelling content and clever digital remarking
Watch out for:
‘Making your property sing in a noisy, noisy world’ – Kent Lindvall, Founder, Treehotel
‘Branding and a great customer proposition’ – Andrew Fowler, Co-founder, Locke
‘Making your website look and feel great‘ – Alan Egan, Founder, Vacation Soup
4. Regulation, Finance & Tax
This stage will show you how to get the hang of dynamic pricing, how to finance your buy-to-host and all the latest regulations affecting your business. It will also cover all the fundamentals of tax and insurance and some of the latest technology around payment processing and fraud prevention.
These are the key presentations which we will be watching:
‘What regulation is doing to the future of your business and what you can do about it’ – Kate Nicholls, CEO, UK Hospitality
‘Dynamic pricing, and how to work it’ – Ian Coles, Trading Director, easyHotel Plc
‘Key health and safety laws that are often overlooked’ – Kurt Janson, Director, Tourism Alliance
5. Business Partnerships
In an industry where quality partnerships are crucial, this stage will show you how to assess potential partners, how to maximise the value of your platform partner and how to assess and select technology partners. Also lots of tips on how to manage your manager.
‘Working with and selecting Technology partners’ – Richard Vaughton, CEO, Rentivo
‘Monetising on your guests’ total travel budget’ – Natalee Pfeifer, VP Growth, GuestForce
‘Deciding which listing site is best for you’ – Simon Bennet, Owner, Augill Castle
And while mentioning Partnerships, don’t forget to look out for the interactive roundtable workshops, and peer to peer networking opportunities. With over 2000 attendees and 200 conference speakers you will come away with all the tools you need to grow your business in this exciting market.
Don’t forget to drop by the Keyzapp stand 86 to learn all about how smart key management can streamline your business and save you money every day, we very much look forward to meeting you there!
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!
Some 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.
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!**
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.
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.
It’s mid-July and that means the busy summer season is already underway for folks in the Northern Hemisphere. Keys will be going in and out of the office with ever increasing frequency, and staying on top of them can be hard work! As we all know, a key in the wrong place can cause no end of woe for you and your team. It usually leads to bad guest experiences, delays in servicing, frustrated staff and angry landlords.
Working with short stay companies around the world, I often get asked about “best practice”. I thought I’d write a quick guide, based on what we’ve seen and the experience of our clients- I hope it’s helpful!
1. Make sure you have enough copies
When you’ve got keys going in and out to staff, contractors and guests, have enough sets available all the times. It will really make life easier! It may be that another person needs access to a property before the last person has returned the keys. Most short stay and holiday rental companies we work with keep at least 4 sets of keys – 2 for guests, 1 for cleaning and maintenance and one for management.
Having two sets of guest keys can reduce the number of times you’re asked to provide a spare when guests lose them or lock themselves out. It also buys you time to get other sets ready or re-cut. A side effect can be that the guests feel more loved!
It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have another “emergency” set that can be used as a template for getting keys re-cut (see below).
2. Separate your guest sets and management sets
Not every set of keys we hold is the same. We often need keys to access parts of a property that guests should not access, such as utilities cupboards and water meters. Over the course of a busy season, some guests will inevitably lose keys, so it’s important to keep those sets down to as few as possible. This will reduce cost and hassle of getting keys re-cut or locks changed.
The other reason for separating the sets is because the way you handle guest keys is often very different to the way you manage keys for staff, cleaning and maintenance. Having a different set for different purposes often makes sense. It helps everyone if you can make the sets visibly different, so people looking at them can instantly see what type of set they are. The most common way to do this is either using a different coloured tag or a different label. Some people do both!
If the key rings you are giving out contain high-value items that are likely to go missing (e.g. parking fobs, or high security keys) you might also consider adding tamper-proof keyrings to certain sets. Tamper Proof Keyrings can become very expensive, so this might only be worth doing for the high-risk sets.
3. Ensure strict accountability for everyone who takes keys
This is the big one – and it’s also the hardest. Without strong accountability, it’s almost impossible to stay on top of your keys.
What do we mean by accountability? It means that any person who takes keys knows, understands and accepts what it means to have keys in their possession. You need to have rules and processes that everyone understands and follows. There must be also be significant consequences for not following the right process.
The main thing to ensure is that anyone taking keys is responsible for ensuring that they are returned in the same condition they were taken, within the time frame you set.
If a person does not follow your process correctly or loses a set of keys in their possession, then there are consequences. Usually that means being liable to pay the replacement costs (including the relevant administration costs) if keys are lost, but it can also mean missing KPIs for staff and contractors, and even remuneration if keys come back late.
How you manage accountability will likely differ between staff, contractors and guests. For guests it will probably form part of your Terms and Conditions, and most people will expect to pay a charge for lost keys. For staff and contractors it’s important to have a key management policy in place, which may for part of their general contract, which outlines their responsibility.
The golden rule for accountability should be that whoever the key log says has the keys is the person responsible for them. This brings us neatly to the next point….
4. Track everything
If making sure everyone knows their responsibilities when they take keys is the most important thing, then the only way to enforce that accountability is through effective tracking. It is critical that you can reliably track who has a key at any given point. With reliable tracking, you will always know who is responsible. Having observed our clients over many years, there is an astonishing improvement in the way people look after keys, as soon as they know they are being tracked and monitored.
Tracking keys effectively is easier said than done. Below are the main things you’ll need to track:
Key Issue / Signing keys out
The big danger is that if people take a key without signing it out, it’s impossible to track. You need to make sure that the right person is accountable for a key when it is taken. Here are a couple of ways you can do that:
1. Ensure that keys are only issued by dedicated staff.
These are people whose job it is to hand over keys and ensure things are accurately recorded. These people are incentivised to do things properly, since if something goes wrong and a key is missing, then they are ultimately accountable. What’s important here is that only these trusted individuals have access to the key cabinet and the list/database of which key goes with which property (never, ever, write the property address on the key tag)
2. Use a software system or key database to audit who looks up keys.
This is the most flexible approach. If people have to rely on a database to find the key they are looking for, then a sophisticated system such as Keyzapp will be able to tell you the last person who looked for a key, even if they fail to sign it out properly. If people are using the same system to look up keys and sign them out, then in practice this rarely happens, since it’s so easy to sign it out at the same time as you look it up. Any mistakes that are made become very easy to pick up and correct.
3. Physically lock keys in place until they can be signed out.
There are a number of hardware options on the market that prevent people taking keys unless they are fully signed out, ranging from mechanical “peg boards” to highly sophisticated cabinets that use fingerprint or facial recognition. These options can be used together with software systems if you want the best of both worlds. The only thing to bear in mind is that even basic mechanical systems can be quite expensive to buy and maintain. They also take up quite a bit of physical space, which many people don’t have.
Key return / Signing keys in
Once you’ve got people accountable when keys go out of the office- it’s in their own best interests to sign them in properly. All you need to do is enforce a rule that says “If the key is not signed in, then whoever is in the log as having taken it is the person responsible. No arguments.”
Old fashioned pen and paper can still work here, provided you regularly check the keys still signed out. In our experience it’s much better to have a system that makes it clear when keys are not back after a period of time, as this helps prevent key loss and eliminates the need to comb through pages and pages of logs when something goes wrong.
Tracking key handovers
This one is particularly relevant to the Short Stay sector, where keys often pass between people outside of the office. If this regularly happens in your business then you need a good way to audit when keys change hands- if not, the person who takes the keys from the office ends up unfairly “on the hook” (pardon the pun) for keys that go missing. You want to avoid those awkward “he-said, she-said” arguments, which are bad for morale, and lead people to lose faith in the system.
Tracking key handovers outside of the office has traditionally been one of the most difficult things to do. You really have 3 options:
1. Enforce a rule to report every key handover back to base.
Ideally, whenever people exchange keys outside of the office, they must inform the office who can update the records, and send a confirmation to each party that the responsibility for the keys has changed hands. This is quite time consuming for all concerned, and if not done properly can lead to errors or disputes. Many fast-paced companies find it impractical, but it can work on a small scale especially if key exchanges are rare.
2. Simply don’t allow key handovers between people.
This is probably the best option if you don’t have a system that supports it. It will probably mean keeping and tracking more sets of keys for each property, but this is a price worth paying for better accountability.
3. Use an app or system that supports transfer of keys between people.
Here you can make use of mobile devices to electronically record key handovers quickly and easily. We’re not aware of anything other than Keyzapp that makes the process this easy.
5. Put someone in charge
Putting someone in charge of your key process is the critical factor to ensuring that all keys are accounted for. Even if you allow people to take keys for themselves, you still need someone to oversee the process and regularly check it’s working properly. The person best suited for this role is a senior detail-orientated person, who isn’t the office manager. In our experience, the boss isn’t well suited to this role, because they are usually too busy. Equally don’t give the job to the most
Whichever system you choose to track and manage your keys, you still need to check how things are going. Once people know that the key log is regularly reviewed, I guarantee you’ll see an immediate improvement in behaviour. The review should usually be done by the person in charge of the key process, reporting to the office manager. We recommend that you review the log at least once a week, but you may like to do it more often, especially in the early days. With the right tools and process it’s a very quick check. There are 4 main things to review:
1. What keys are overdue?
Any electronic system that allows you to record key sign-outs should also allow you to track a due back date, making this information easy to find. If keys are overdue, then you should chase them up as soon as possible. Overdue keys that aren’t returned quickly tend to go missing. If you’ve followed the advice above, at least you’ll know who is responsible should the worst happen.
2. Which are my at-risk properties?
These are properties where you have no current keys in the office. If you have an emergency and all keys are signed out, then you may be in a difficult situation. See if you can get at least one set back, even if not yet overdue.
3. Does the number of key sign-outs look right?
This helps you be sure that your keys are being signed-out properly. If properties are cleaned on every checkout, does the number of sign-outs from cleaners correlate to the number of checkouts you’ve had this week? If not, dig a little deeper and see who in your team needs more training.
4. Spot check the cabinet.
Pick a couple of random key hooks to go and check. Use your records to work out how many sets of keys you should have right now for a few properties. It’s good to pick a couple at random and some where you know there has been recent activity. This helps you see if people have been following the process properly. If you’ve just added a lot of keys or you’ve changed your process, you should do this more frequently.
7. What to do when guests lose keys
You’ll almost certainly have a process in place for guests losing their keys, but here are a few pointers.
If you charge guests a fee for key/lock replacement, factor in the admin time as well as the direct costs. Getting a locksmith out or sending a member of the team to get new keys cut can be very time consuming and the invoices/receipts can generate a lot of admin. Make sure you communicate clearly any charges that you have to your guests.
A guest losing keys can often give you two problems. Firstly you need to give guests access to the property again by giving them a spare set of keys. Secondly, you may also need to get new keys cut. Ensure you have enough spares so you can do both these things in parallel. We’ve already covered how having two sets of guest keys can make this easier.
Did this help? Any questions?
Well done for making it to the end of what turned out to be quite a long post. I hope you found it useful. Do you have any questions? Have I missed something that’s important to you? Please get in touch by leaving a comment below. Here’s a quick summary:
Make sure you have enough keys to cover all the coming and going and still have one spare in the office for emergencies
Separate your guest sets and management sets, and make it obvious which is which
Make sure everyone knows the rules with keys and the consequences of not following them
Keep a detailed key log
Put someone in charge and review the log regularly for issues