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?



Gain 20 minutes or more

A couple of weeks ago I talked about gaining 20 minutes a day and how this adds up to 2 weeks in a year.  How do we arrive at gaining 20 minutes, does it apply to everyone?

You gain time by saving time on activities you have to do, in our case how you manage keys.

Let’s use a simple numbers approach first.  If you issue 10 keys a day you will repeat the following activities.

Key Sign Out

  1. Look up the address of the property and identify the key to sign out.
  2. Fetch the key.
  3. Handover the key and sign it out.

Key Sign In

  1. Receive the key
  2. Sign in the key
  3. Hang it up in its designated location

To issue 10 keys a day you will on average undertake 20 activities, 10 sign outs and 10 sign ins. If you save an average of 1 minute on each activity you will save 20 minutes a day.  I agree this is a simplification and is only part of the story.

Does this apply to everyone? That depends on your current system, but we think this is a minimum, particularly if you use a paper log book system or a spreadsheet. Some of our customers tell us they save an hour a day (over £200/month).

What is the potential for you?

When you have a few minutes take look at one or more of these:

  • Observe your office in action during the day
  • Write down your process
  • Time yourself and your colleagues
  • What happens if you are interrupted?
  • How often are your records incomplete?
  • Do people “shortcut” the system?

How long does it really take to manage your keys?

London buses – they all come at once

A typical busy lettings office may give out on average 10 keys a day. That is an average of 20 transactions as each key has to be issued and returned. This sounds easy, and it is; after all that’s only an average of three transactions an hour. But just like London buses averages are tricky things.

A bus is scheduled every 10 minutes, but in London you can wait for half an hour and 3 buses will turn up at once. People who need keys are just like that, they arrive together; they often want them at the start of the day, not one or two very hour. Unsurprisingly these are also busy times because other people need attention for phone calls, visits and meetings at the same time. This is when a good key system saves you time, precisely when you need it most.

The average of 10 keys a day can also give you a distorted picture, it makes life look easy over a day, when in truth most activity is concentrated into a few busy times. This can be further distorted when you consider what a daily average of 10 keys means; some days only 1 or 2 keys are issued, on others it can be more than 20, but the average will still be 10.

Our records for some customers demonstrate that 4 out of 10 (40%) of all key transactions happen between 9 am and 11 am; what’s more for these customers 7 out of 10 (70%) of key transactions happen before 1 pm, lunch time.

We created Keyzapp to help people with the promise of making the mundane process of issuing keys easy and enjoyable. This makes it possible for everyone to manage keys, particularly when they are busy and under pressure.

Your key management system will change soon

One thing we can be sure of is your business environment will change.  If I look back 15 years the business environment was very different from today, 15 years before that it is almost unrecognisable.  I was going to start this blog by saying that people do not like change, but this is really not true.  Facebook started in 2004, Twitter started in 2006 and the first iPhone came out in 2007, look how big they are now. If we take Twitter as an example, 0 users in 2006 to 500 million in 2012, only 6 years.

The change being brought about by these technologies is still in it’s infancy in the business environment, but it shows that people can adopt changes very quickly.  People are more resistant to change in the business environment for many reasons, but despite this resistance our business environment is changing quite quickly.

In many businesses the system to manage keys has been the same for over 100 years; keys are issued and returned using a paper log book to record and manage them.  This has already changed for some high security organisations but for many they still use the 100 year old paper log book.  If you still use a paper log book, change is only round the corner.  The question is not will I change my key management system but why, how and when; questions that I will return to in future posts.

New technologies mean that information can be read from key fobs and ID cards easily, quickly and cheaply.  When you combine this with the internet, mobile devices and cloud computing, you can be assured the pace of change is about to pick up.

Managing keys electronically saves time and improves accuracy; this in turn enables you to give a better service to your customers, both Landlords and Tenants.

Keyzapp is a natural evolution of key manangement

All organisations that manage keys have systems and procedures in place; after all keys go back to the time of the Egyptians and Romans, however keys in their current form started in the early 17th century (Chubb-1818, Yale-1848).  What is more many organisations are using the same paper log book methods to manage keys they would have used in the 17th century!  These procedures have stood the test of time, but the problem is they only work up to a point.

New key management systems exist but they tend to be “electro  mechanical” based systems which satisfy different security needs, they are generally just as time consuming and more expensive.

The simple paper based key management systems fall down because people do not follow the procedures, so keys are continually being looked for and occasionally misplaced, all resulting in people spending more time then they want to (or need to) looking after keys.  Keyzapp provides a better way of managing keys without the need for pen and paper but is based on the same time proven procedures used since the 17th century.

Our solution is easy for people to use so that there is no reason not to follow the system.

We believe that people will realise they can improve on their current methods and that Keyzapp  is a better way, worth investigating and investing in.