Leading providers of let property cover, Total Landlord Insurance, have just added Total Landlord Emergency Cover to their portfolio of insurance products
designed specifically for landlords.
Total Landlord Emergency Cover is a cost-effective insurance product that provides immediate assistance in the event of a domestic emergency at a rental
property.
The policy provides cover 24 hours a day 365 days a year for call out charges, labour and repairs for emergencies such as the breakdown of the heating system, plumbing and drainage problems.
Broking Manager, Steve Barnes, said: “Domestic emergencies at landlord’s rental properties can be inconvenient and sometimes difficult to resolve. It is not just boilers that go wrong, plumbing, drains and lost keys can cause inconvenience for landlords. At just £70 per property we feel that this policy represents excellent value for money and provides reassurance for both landlords and tenants that emergency assistance is only a phone call away. Introductory discounts are also available for limited period”.
Total Landlord Insurance will also be extending their range of landlord focussed products to include Rent Guarantee insurance and Tenant Referencing soon.

Steve continued: “Our customers are at the heart of our business and we will be adding more products and services to our website to provide landlords with a one stop solution for their insurance needs”.

For more information on Total Landlord Emergency Cover go to www.totallandlordinsurance.co.uk or call on 0800 63 43 880.

With student market nearly upon us, New Student Publications carried out an interesting straw survey on Student Landlord Problems

Different categories were addressed covering areas from unpaid rent to cleanliness issues.

Unpaid rent, filthy tenants and panicking about filling your properties for next year?

The results were astounding, with over 14% of landlords saying that their current biggest problem is just finding tenants to take their properties and fill in any gaps should someone drop out during a contract, with more than 2% feeling like they are struggling just to get viewings. One agent simply said “we have unlet properties remaining for July 2011, the situation is worse than in previous years” In a similar 2009 survey finding tenants was also the biggest problem raised by landlords.

Dirty Tenants

Landlords cited dirty tenants as their second biggest problem, with 16% left to pick up massive cleaning bills, or called out at 4am to change a lightbulb. The general consensus was “students don’t take care of the property or make any effort to keep the house clean.” 3.5% of agents thought that students demanded a much higher standard of accommodation than ever before, although it seems that tenants are unwilling to take out contracts for a full twelve months, with one landlord struggling to get even shorter terms “the majority of people contact me to rent for one or two months.”

Pressure From Pupose Built Halls

Many of the landlords surveyed said that they felt increased pressure from new purpose built student villages found in many city centres; more than 8% of those surveyed would eradicate those villages if we gave them one wish! 2% of landlords are afraid that their properties were not close enough to ‘hotspots’ and so would soon be abandoned in favour of more central locations.

Unpaid Rent

11% of businesses struggle with unpaid rent, while 2% note that this messes with their cash flow and although some are sympathetic to the issues caused by the Student Loans Company, most are fixed on the bigger picture; “a lot of time is spent chasing payment. Students seem to think that it is not always necessary for them to pay their rent.” This coupled with tenants excessively using all inclusive utilities means that businesses are less profitable. One landlord’s wish was simply that we could ‘undo the recession’ as 8 different landlords complained of increases to the cost of maintaining their properties to a decent standard.

Relax Regulations

Bogged down with HMO paperwork and expense? Over 18% of those surveyed would love to change or relax the regulations and the council powers to control them. One landlord stated; “there should be a national guide for HMO legislation.” Some landlords feel so strongly about HMO licensing that they named specific city councils or even actual councillors as their biggest fear for the future. 3 landlords said they had qualms about council schemes to shift populations from one area of a city to another, and how it would affect their business.

Worries Over Tuition Fee Increase

Landlords are worried about the tuition fee increase, with more than 14% saying that if they had one wish, they would fight the fees and leave the system as it stands, a worry which probably contributes to 13% of them saying that they feel the future of the market is uncertain, as some students may choose to stay at home to study. Competition from the university owned housing is a headache too, with 4% saying an increase in that sort of accommodation would be detrimental to their ability to let.

Problems With Advertising

Landlords raised the issue of advertising, when to do it and how the culture of marketing lets so early can damage the business, with nearly 5% of landlords thinking there should be a guideline that means property is marketed in January and not before. 4% thought university accommodation offices charged them too much for advertising, and 5% would like to see cheaper, and more effective advertising available to them.

Deposit Protection Unfair

Some landlords were concerned that the existing Deposit Protection Scheme did not offer them enough scope to reclaim money for damage to their properties. Eight separate landlords would like to see the entire system revised, with 1% of those surveyed listing it as their biggest problem. A case from the survey highlights the DPS’s flaws; “£1500 worth of damage but ex tenants refuse to give consent to DPS to pay the landlord.” And some feel that from a legal standpoint the law does not protect them, 3% of landlords would like to see more legislation to protect the financial interests of the landlord.

Worries Over The Potential Drop In Student Numbers

And what of the future of the student property market? More than half of those surveyed were very worried about the potential drop in student numbers next year, with one landlord summing up the problems this will create; “if student numbers drop because of the £9,000 a year course fees then we might see empty houses, lower rents or both.” A worry shared by 3% of those surveyed, who fear the contraction in the market will mean a forced reduction of rents, while other suggested offering shorter term contracts or starting to appeal to the housing benefit market was the only way to keep the business afloat.

No Problems At All

But this isn’t the full picture. Almost 9% of those surveyed have no major problems with the lettings market, their tenants or filling their properties. One landlord is more than happy with his tenants; “we enjoy our students. We pride ourselves in helping them learn how to care for and run the house. We regard them as ‘professionals-in-training’ and teach them what they should reasonably expect from a landlord and what they should reasonably do as a tenant.” One respondent would use a magic wand to change the public’s attitude towards students; “they tend to live in larger houses that are too big for modern families and therefore almost act as guardians for some of our most impressive architecture. They should be seen as a positive part of any community.”

Top 5 biggest fears for the futureNumber of responsesPercentage
Fewer students in the future10154%
Student villages158%
Legislation increasing workload158%
Unpaid rent due to fees105%
Universities moving into market84%
Top 5 current biggest problemsNumber of responsesPercentage
Bad tenants5113.6%
Uncertainty for the future4913.1%
Finding tenants4812%
Unpaid rent4111%
HMOs174.5%

No Letting Go are working with a number of student letting agents and bodies around the UK to help protect both landlords and tenants from many of the issues arising from cleanliness and deposit protection. Better use of Inventory services, checking tenants in, property visits and managing the check out is critical to ensuring that potential problems are dealt with in advance and issues arising from check outs are dealt with quickly and efficiently. Contact No Letting Go on 0800 881 5366 or find your nearest office at www.nolettinggo.co.uk

Compiled by Emma Parker New Student – Student Housing Magazines – www.newstudent.co.uk

The uptake of HomeLet’s new tenant reference, Optimum, which guarantees to remove the tenant if they fail to pay the rent, is up 150 per cent on projected sales figures. With inflation and unemployment rising the popularity of this product has been attributed to growing concern of rental arrears.

Commenting on the news HomeLet MD, John Boyle explained, “Naturally we’re pleased with the uptake of our new ‘Optimum’ reference, we developed this product specifically to counter the concerns of both our letting agent customers and their landlords. With rents remaining high conditions are particularly hard for tenants at the moment. The latest statistics make for grim reading; inflation is way up on the Bank of England’s targets and unemployment is continuing to creep upwards. These and other factors sadly mean that 2011 will be a tough year for many tenants’ which is obviously a major concern for landlords, who are also facing these difficult conditions.”

According to the latest Residential Lettings Survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors strong tenant demand resulted in rents rising rapidly in the three months to the end of January. Figures released by the Council of Mortgage Lenders show that number of new mortgages lent to house buyers slumped by 29 per cent in January when compared to December. With lending likely to remain low throughout the year, demand for rented property is likely to push rents up further in 2011.

Matt Billingham, Owner, Billingham Cooke Estate Agents said, “Demand for high quality rented property is only going to increase in 2011. In many areas across the country tenants are already bracing themselves for an expected increase in rents. For many a rise in rents whilst inflation is so high will only increase the pressure on their budgets and many landlords are starting to realise that a service, which provides an element of cover should a tenant fail to pay the rent, is essential.”

Commenting on Optimum, Sara Bailey, Manager, Aquarius Homes said, “More landlords are asking for a service that also offers to protect their investment income. We’ve seen a number of traditionally safe tenants who’ve passed their references with flying colours fall on hard times, especially with the cuts in the public sector. This is a real concern for landlords, especially reluctant landlords or those with highly geared investments.”

John Boyle concluded, “Following the credit crunch, housing agency Threshold reported an increase in threatened or actual cases of illegal eviction. Evicting a tenant can be a difficult, costly and emotional process, and landlords shouldn’t take matters in to their own hands.

“When they’re covered by Optimum, through their local letting agent, our in-house Legal and Claims department take care of everything whilst ensuring that tenants are treated fairly and that every letter of the law is followed when obtaining vacant possession of a property. We also offer a range of products that provide missed rental payments as well as legal cover.”

Source: Property Drum Newsletter

Two lettings firms, one in London and the other in Torbay, have been expelled by The Property Ombudsman scheme.

Madisons of 7, Odeon Parade, 468, London Road, Isleworth, was expelled for failing to pass on rent it had collected and for mishandling tenants’ deposits.

However TPO is required under the terms of the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007, to maintain Madisons’ registration for sales activities.

The Disciplinary Standards Committee (DSC) of the TPO Council considered a number of complaints where Madisons collected rent and did not pass it on.

When the matter was referred to the Ombudsman he determined that the rent should be paid over to the landlords, and that compensation be paid for breaches of the TPO Code of Practice for Letting Agents in the firm’s general failing to provide a service consistent with fairness, integrity and best practice. In one case, although the rents have now been paid, the compensatory award made by the Ombudsman has not been met.

“This has been a sorry and frustrating business for both Madisons’ clients and TPO,” said Gerry Fitzjohn (right), vice chairman of the company operating TPO.

“It concerns us that while we can expel their lettings business from the scheme we have no option but to continue registration for their sales business until the Office of Fair Trading bans the agent.

“In the meantime, it is our duty to make the public aware of the situation regarding Madisons.”

The second firm to be expelled is Torbay Residential Lettings (TRL), of 49 Market Street, Torquay.

The firm had breached several aspects of the TPO Code of Practice for letting agents by not co-operating with the Ombudsman’s investigation, not paying the award made by the Ombudsman after he had found the firm had not registered the tenants’ deposit, failing to complete a proper check-out process, and failing to provide an appropriate form of tenancy agreement.

The Disciplinary Standards Committee (DSC) of the TPO Council, in deciding to expel TRL also noted that one of the directors of the firm had been jailed for three years in January, 2010, for child cruelty and perverting the course of justice.

The remaining director considered that the dispute being decided upon by the Ombudsman was not the firm’s responsibility because the complaint arose from the actions of the jailed director. The DSC took the view that this was not relevant and the firm was liable to meet its obligations as a TPO member.

“Such behaviour is unacceptable,” said Gerry Fitzjohn. “Our scheme’s primary purpose is to resolve disputes between agents and consumers but we also aim to raise professionalism and insist on certain levels of service. Where these are not met, we make it clear that an agent is no longer fit for membership and recommend the public take notice of this.”

Published in Jungledrum, Property Drum. March 2011

TDS state that the following percentage awards (in terms of deposits held) were made during 2010

Percentage of awards made to tenant – 56%

Percentage of awards made to landlord – 42%

Percentage of awards made to agents – 2%

The lack of landlord generated accurate paperwork seems to still be a problem.

TDS state that in 2009/10 the top three causes of disputes were as follows:

Cleaning – found in 46% of complaints

Damage – found in 29% of complaints

Redecoration – found in 24% of complaints

I read a great article written for Upad this week….if you missed it then here it is. It is always good to remember the basics.

The Buy-to-Let boom is unlikely to return any time soon. A serious lack of good deals from BTL mortgage lenders is compounded by a distinct absence of confidence right now. But it does look like those green shoots of optimism are starting to appear again and 2011 may well be the year when a little cheer returns for budding Buy to Let landlords.

Tenant demand has never been stronger and banks say they want to lend again. Combine that with rising rents in many areas and a housing market that continues to splutter, and you’d be right to think that now is a good time to reconsider a Buy to Let investment.

And invest is the key word. Buying to let is just another way of getting your capital to work as hard as it possibly can for you in order to generate returns. How you do that is up to you. Perhaps you want the boost of a monthly rental income from a property. Or you could fancy a longer term punt and hope to rake in the cash when you sell the property some way down the line. But whatever your intentions, make sure you don’t make any of the common errors that often put a Buy to Let landlord’s investment at risk.

Don’t spend too much for too little return.
Calculate what you can afford and take into account all the expenses of being a landlord. Don’t overstretch yourself. Be realistic about your finances and take professional advice on taking out an appropriate mortgage. Consider future interest rates. Over the next few years, interest rate rises are inevitable. Don’t be caught out: will your investment be as attractive if any mortgage payments you make rise dramatically?

Being a landlord also attracts all manner of expenses and they can sometimes come out of the blue. Ensure that you can afford them and also that they don’t dent the profitability of your investment. In a rented flat, the boiler could go kaput at considerable expense or a service charge bill could come out of the blue. Expect the unexpected.

Remember that your rental income might occasionally be reduced. Tenants might miss the rent and get into arrears or you could experience voids between tenants when the property isn’t generating any revenue. Ensure that you should mitigate against these and that you can afford to keep going through the leaner times.

Don’t forget to “futureproof” your investment.
Many landlords come a cropper because they spot a cracking property at a great price and just go for it. Don’t forget Elvis: only fools rush in. With a little local research, you might discover why the property is such a bargain. Is the location up to scratch? Is crime a problem? Is a new motorway just about to plough through the local nature reserve? Maybe a supermarket is planned for the end of the road? It doesn’t take much nous to do some research and understand what’s happening in the area. A bargain property is always a bargain for a reason. Just make sure that some third-party development isn’t going to blight your enterprise.

Buy for your tenants, not yourself.
Channel your inner Vulcan, disengage your emotions and buy a property that will generate a fine return. That’s the challenge Don’t fall into that all-too-common trap and buy a place you like but which is entirely unsuitable for the tenants you have in mind. And be careful to approach the decoration and fittings of your property in the same way. Go for generic colours and furnishings and think of your future tenants at all times.

Don’t forget the taxman. (He won’t forget you!)
In general terms (and you are best advised to consult a professional accountant on such matters), if you are making more than £2500 profit on your property each year you’ll need to file a self-assessment tax return. So make a merit of it. You can claim tax relief on certain expenses you incur as a landlord. A canny accountant will help you pay not a penny more (and not a penny less) than you have to and is well worth the expense for all the expertise they can offer.

Do you understand the role of a landlord?
Sometimes landlords jeopardise their investment by failing to appreciate and understand the legal frameworks that surround every landlord. Firstly, whilst it may be your house, it isn’t your home. You can’t just pop by on a whim and you are also responsible for maintaining the property in a fit state for the tenants. Bone up on the law, read a few books and keep up with the news. Joining one of the landlord associations out there is always a good idea.

An interesting story below on Landlordzone from the AIIC supports No Letting Go’s policy of detail first, technology second. Read on……

The use of technology in inventories could end up costing landlords far more than they bargained for, according to The Association of Independent Inventory Clerks (AIIC).

The perception of inventories by some lettings agents is that inventories can be very long, time-consuming and somewhat of a laborious process, resulting in several landlords and management companies opting for the use of technology in inventories, believing it will save them time and money.

The use of technology in inventories claims to help landlords and management companies to complete inventories in a matter of minutes, with the ability to add large quantities of photographs which can provide evidence in tenancy dispute claims.

In reality, whilst some systems are considerably better than others, most technology, including digital photography, does not allow for the inclusion of sufficient detail to provide indisputable evidence of original condition at the start of a tenancy.

For this reason in many tenancy dispute cases according to The AIIC, the adjudicators have thrown out technology-based inventories, as they cannot deliver the level of detail required which means that the landlord can lose hundreds of pounds in lost cases.

Pat Barber, Chair of The AIIC, comments: “Inventory reports should contain a full description of a property and its contents with details on every bit of damage and its exact location at the start of a tenancy. As an inventory is a binding legal document that provides a complete record of the condition and contents of a property, it is only effective if it is accurate.

“Without an accurate and properly detailed inventory, a landlord has no evidence to prove that the property has been damaged in any way during the tenancy and therefore will find it almost impossible to withhold any deposit money from the tenants.

The AIIC is committed to excellence and professionalism in the property inventory process and works hard to ensure that all landlords, tenants and letting agents understand the importance and benefits of professionally completed property inventories.

The aim of the AIIC is to ensure that every landlord, tenant and agent in the UK is aware of the importance of the inventory process and the benefits of employing an independent, professional inventory clerk.

Nick Lyons commented on the above article saying “No Letting Go believe technology is critical to improve the speed of the inventory, aid in management of paperwork and to help reduce costs, but not at the expense of the detail of an inventory”

An interesting article I received from Tom Entwistle at Landlord Zone.

A landlord has been fined £10,000 for failing to comply with the requirements of two Improvement Notices served by the Council.

Cllr. Chris Wells, Cabinet Member for Community Services, said: “I am pleased that the magistrates decided to fine Sandwich Properties Ltd the maximum amount. This company was clearly unable or unwilling to look after their property, and did not have any regard for the safety of tenants.

We always try to work with landlords to improve housing conditions, but where such blatant disregard for tenant safety is evident, we will use every power available to us to ensure that rogue landlords are brought to justice and tenants are provided with the safe living environment that everyone deserves.

We are also committed to protecting the public purse wherever possible, especially in these times of financial constraint. This is why we always charge for the service of Improvement Notices if the deadlines set out within them are not met”.

In 2009, officers of the Housing Regeneration Team visited 102 Grosvenor Place in Margate and found a property containing four flats which contained serious health and safety hazards. There were no fire precautions or safe means of escape and none of the lights in the shared entrance or staircase were working. The property had been neglected and the internal conditions were dirty and dilapidated.

Following enquiries, Sandwich Properties Ltd of Rookwood Road, London, was identified as the freehold owner. Subsequently, the council served enforcement notices on the freehold owner requiring fire safety improvements and suitable lighting within the common areas.

Unfortunately, when officers returned to the premises after the notice deadlines had passed, none of the work had been completed. Attempts were made to try and meet with the company to discuss the situation, but the company ignored the council’s letters.

In a case heard at Canterbury Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday this week (01 February 2011), Sandwich Properties Ltd were found guilty of failing to comply with the notices without reasonable excuse and fined the maximum £5,000 for each offence. The company was also ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £15 and contribute £100 towards the council’s prosecution costs.

As the lack of artificial lighting presented a considerable risk to the tenants of the property, the council stepped in and installed suitable lighting themselves. The company has been charged with the full cost of this work, together with the cost of officer time and a further administration fee. The company was also charged £911.25 for the council’s expenses associated with service of the original notices. Further action is now being pursued to ensure that the fire safety improvements are made.

If you are an owner of a residential building containing common areas, and would like advice about your health and safety responsibilities, you can contact the Council’s Housing Regeneration Team on 01843 577437 for further information.

Press Release – Thanet District Council: 03 February, 2011

I read this last week on Property Drum about Google – a good or bad thing?
I am interested to know where they are going next with property as the tools they have add enormous value to people looking for or managing property.
Google has dropped its property search function on worldwide maps. “Not every bet is going to pay off,” says spokesman.

Six months after last summer’s fanfare of a new dawn in property mapping, Google’s quest for domination of the property search process is to be shelved.

A Google spokesperson told PROPERTYdrum, “This feature wasn’t used as extensively as we would have liked, and proved difficult to maintain, so we’ve removed it. Note that all Google Maps layers are not going away, just the real estate layer, which was our first foray with displaying vertical industry information via the maps interface.

This also allows us to prioritise resources and focus more on our core commitment to search, local search and building maps that provide a digital atlas of the real world. Google likes to experiment because we believe that’s the best way to create ground-breaking products and features that make a difference in people’s lives.  But not every bet is going to pay off.”

As ever with the ‘less than good news’ the story was not released to the press with the usual noise, but softly filtered to key people yesterday. Later, writing on his blog, Brian McClendon, VP, Google Earth and Maps, said:

“At Google one of our key philosophies is to take risks and to experiment. To that end, in July 2009 we announced the ability to find property for sale or rent directly on Google Maps. This is one of the “search options” next to the search box on Google Maps, and is currently available in the US, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Japan.

“In part due to low usage, the proliferation of excellent property-search tools on real estate websites, and the infrastructure challenge posed by the impending retirement of the Google Base API (used by listing providers to submit listings), we’ve decided to discontinue the real estate feature within Google Maps on February 10, 2011.

“We’ve learned a lot and been excited to see real estate companies use Google Maps in innovative ways to help people find places to live, such as Coldwell Banker’s use of Google Maps and YouTube, or Realtor.com’s Android app that lets you draw a shape on a map to find all properties you’re interested in.

“Yet we recognize that there might be better, more effective ways to help people find local real estate information than the current feature makes possible. We’ll continue to explore this area, but in the meantime, Google offers other options to home-seekers: you can still access other information in Maps such as local businesses, directions and transit times, as well as aerial and Street View imagery to explore where you might want to move, and also use Google search results to find helpful real estate information and websites.

“Real estate companies can also continue to use tools from Google to help connect with buyers and renters who use the Internet to research properties. For example, companies can use the Google Maps API to embed customized maps that are useful to potential clients right on their own web pages. Our Google for real estate professionals site contains various methods for generating leads and improving real estate business operations.”

The property portals’ reactions have been quiet, but Sheraz Dar, Acting Group Marketing Director at The Digital Property group said,

“Homehunters have a complex and often comprehensive set of criteria when searching for a property, and as such need more information than a simple listing. As Google acknowledge themselves, an immense effort goes into producing a property portal. Here at The Digital Property Group we fully understand these needs and through our property portals FindaProperty.com, PrimeLocation.com and Globrix.com we provide a wide variety of tools to assist the homehunter in their search”

So for now at least, estate agents’ concerns about For Sale by Owner (FSBO) damaging their already struggling businesses, and the property portals sensing a very real danger that agents wouldn’t need them, it is back to the status quo. The reason being that nobody actually raced to google Maps to find a home; it seemed just as easy to look at the clean, clear details on a portal, or even, for the real old fashioned types, in the newspaper or actually, heavens above, in the estate agents’ windows. Proof perhaps that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.