Property Management & Lettings Accounts
My first introduction to the lettings sector was nearly 20 years ago, when I started out as a Lettings Administrator and gradually worked my way up to Lettings Manager for an independent agent. Nine years ago I had the privilege of joining Prospect Estate Agents in my current role as Head of Property Management and Lettings Accounts.
Having the benefit of experience due to working in all areas of lettings has enabled me to really understand each element of the business and what is most important to our clients.
Looking back at our Property Management team from when I first joined the business to where we are today, the changes are somewhat hard to believe, not only in terms of the growth of the department and the processes that we have adopted but also in the vast array of legislation that has been introduced in this last decade.
My experience has taught me that there are five key elements that are really important in order to ensure that we are constantly evolving as a Property Management and Accounts team and providing the very best experience to our landlords.
These are the top five key items that we believe are important to our clients:
- Customer Service
- Non-Payment of Rents
- Average Tenancy
- Length Void Periods
Below is a summary of our findings from the last year to date and our action plan for the year ahead. Throughout each quarter of this year we will be updating you on these five key points, explaining how we measure against previous quarters and how we continue to improve.
There is nothing more important than what our clients have to say about us, and over the years we have listened and acted upon your feedback.
We have doubled the size of our property management team, meaning smaller portfolios and therefore allowing more time for a much more personalized service. One of the biggest critiques we had was accessibility to Property Managers, so pre-COVID-19 we relocated our Property Managers from our head office in Reading into the relevant office as per the geographic location of the portfolio. Like the rest of the world, that quickly changed in March 2020, and for the safety of our employees and clients our teams set up office at home, however we have not let that stop us. By making the most of the array of tools available such as Zoom, Teams and WhatsApp, we are able to continue to communicate effectively through virtual face to face meetings.
COVID-19 might have put a stop to many things, however it did not halt legislation. With several amendments around Evictions and Section 21 notices as well as the introduction of EICR requirements, we have well and truly been kept on our toes.
We constantly monitor customer service, with managers carrying out ad hoc service calls for feedback. Good news calls are carried out every three months via our property managers to every landlord and tenant, some more frequently where required, and we also incentive outstanding customer service internally with quarterly and annual awards based upon Trustpilot and Google reviews received.
We are extremely proud to have a team with an outstanding work ethic, who are passionate about the industry that they work in and who truly care about delivering the very best service possible to their clients.
Non-Payment of Rents
We know how important it is that our landlords are paid their rent on time every month!
We have two dedicated Accounts Managers whose sole focus is ensuring that this is the case. When there is a problem, they will notify you the same day.
Our priority is to ensure swift communication with your tenants via phone call, text message or email, as well as Rent Chase letters every seven, 14 and 21 days in order to recover your rental payment as quickly as possible. Often it is a simple oversight, but when it is a bigger problem, you can be sure that we will do everything possible to protect you.
We monitor our non-paid rents month on month. At our very best pre-COVID-19 our non-paid rents were 0.6 % in October 2019, with the highest being 2.8% in December 2020. In March 2021, our non-paid rents were 2.2% meaning that 97.8% of our landlords were paid their rent on time.
There have, of course, been challenges throughout this past year with rental payments, due to tenants not being able to work as they were self-employed, furloughed, or in some cases, losing their jobs. In order to protect our landlords, many of whom have also personally experienced financial impact due to the pandemic, fast action and communication were paramount. Following government advice we have been able to set up payment plans where needed and advise on options such as universal credit. Working with local councils, tenants and landlords collectively has enabled us to ensure the impact was minimal.
We are advised by Propertymark that the industry standard for non-paid rents across the UK is approximately 10.4%. With this in mind we are extremely proud of the position we have been able to attain, and we are working hard to ensure that we keep driving this down with a view to get below 1% non-paid rents as quickly as possible.
Your property is your biggest asset, and it is our job to ensure that your property is kept in good shape. It is inevitable that there will be occasional maintenance works required from time to time, not to mention new legislation adding extra financial demands on landlords, such as Electrical Installation Condition Reports (EICRs) which also often require remedial works.
Our current maintenance software offers your tenants a tool for reporting maintenance, with options to add photographs, and choose from multiple languages for those tenants where English is not their first language. This allows your Property Manager to review the maintenance request prior to instructing a contractor.
Over the last year, we have implemented an out of hours telephone diagnostic team to help tenants with troubleshooting maintenance issues. This has reduced the out of hours visits by 85% based on 2019 VS 2020.
The cost of a contractor to attend out of hours is £120, so we strictly will only instruct a contractor when it is believed that there will be danger to either your property or tenant - again saving on out of hours costs.
We are regularly reviewing and improving our maintenance platform, enabling us to be able to offer an even slicker, more accessible solution with regular automated updates to both landlords and tenants to improve our service.
Likewise, with our contractor panel, we are always looking for new recommended trustworthy contractors, ensuring that not only do they offer free call outs but that they also ensure the most competitive prices without compromising on the quality of work.
The average annual general maintenance cost to our landlords in 2019 was £572, vs £597 in 2020. We are constantly monitoring this and working with our contractors in an effort to keep the cost down for our landlords.
We recently sent out our Landlords Income and Expenditure annual reports and are delighted to receive such positive feedback. This, along with all monthly statements, are available for you to access at any time on your unique landlord tracker.
The demand for property is higher than it has ever been, and therefore when tenants are able to secure a well-maintained property with a proactive landlord, they often opt to avoid the unnecessary stress and cost of moving in favor of renewing their tenancy.
The average tenancy term across our areas is currently 30 months. Whilst this is good news for most landlords, some only require short term tenancies, and we can cater for all.
For landlords who have the ability to offer longer term tenancies of up to a maximum of 3 years, we have you covered with a clause within the tenancy agreement allowing the rent to be reviewed in line with current RPI. Here, tracked annual rent increases are key to ensuring that the investment our landlords have made in property is increasing in line with costs and inflation.
Length Void Periods
We are often asked about our void periods, which are tracked via the period between a tenancy finishing and restarting. In order to allow an adequate amount of time for a property to be prepared between tenancies, we have a minimum void period of five days. This ensures that we have time to address any maintenance works or cleaning if required. We are currently working with our developers to be able to accurately report on such information monthly.
We also start our renewal process four months ahead of the tenancy end date using a traffic light system. This enables us to track how we are performing. As explained above we predominantly continue to renew tenancies with longer terms enabling security of income and peace of mind. When a tenant does decides not to renew the tenancy it gives us ample opportunity to ensure that we have a minimum of two months’ notice to relet your property with minimal void periods.
Whilst previously we had designated Renewal Clerks, we have now changed this process. Given that your property manager has the most knowledge relating to your property and already has a relationship with yourself and your tenant, it seemed only natural that they should be the ones discussing any renewal terms. This has allowed us to have a much more effective renewal process in place.
Our ultimate goal here is that we have renewal contracts executed no later than two months prior to the tenancy end date or a new tenancy ready to start within seven days after a previous one terminates.
Our focus and action plan for 2021 is to ensure that by working on each of the above key areas of our business, we improve communication, maximize rental income via reducing our non- paid rents percentage, secure longer-term tenancies with annual rental increases whilst also reducing void periods, and finally, drive down maintenance costs.
I very much look forward to updating you on our progress over the quarter. Should you have any questions or wish to speak to me directly my door is always open - don’t hesitate to get in touch!