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Blunt warning to letting agents - beware rip-off contractors

Letting agents and landlords are urged to step up their awareness of rip-off maintenance contractors.

The Association of Independent Inventory Clerks is warning that over-charging or failure to complete jobs are common problems within the rental sector, and the AIIC says this may cost agents and landlords thousands of pounds a year. 

The association says a landlord recently claimed on a trade website that a plumber had charged £90 for tightening a 'valve connection' in a leaking radiator - a job which, according to the landlord's tenant, took just two minutes to complete.

"This is a problem that seems to be becoming more common, but it's something that landlords and agents can address easily. Before employing any tradesperson you should ask for a quote” says Patricia Barber, chair of the AIIC.

"You can also ask them to provide an updated quote once they have visited the property and assessed the situation. What's more, by informing a tradesperson of your maximum spend or budget you can alleviate the worry of being hit with an unexpected bill. It’s then up to the contractor to decide whether or not they want to take on the job" she adds. 

The AIIC also advises agents and landlords to use reputable tradespeople and take advantage of resources like checkatrade.com, ratedpeople.com and trustatrader.com.

"As well as using these sites when looking for a contractor, you should also leave reviews when work has been completed. This will help others to make decisions and contribute towards keeping these online directories as accurate and up to date as possible" says Barber.

"When letting a property, you will always need to put aside some money for essential maintenance jobs. However, choosing the right contractor and making sure you receive quotes and inform them of what you're looking to spend could significantly reduce your annual costs" she concludes.

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    Any reputable agent will have a good database of decent contractors but this article raises a number of issues about the use of contractors.

    The first issue is the agent having an understanding of property issues and just how a property works. There are many agents who use junior staff in their offices and sadly they lack experience of owning or occupying houses; most do not have any formal training or property qualifications. A good agent should be able to liaise between the tenant, landlord and contractor to establish what needs doing.

    Now bear in mind that many tenants demand instant attention. Arguably they are right; rents are strong and rising in most areas and for some people part of the attraction of renting is that somebody else sorts out the repairs. Whilst the agent (again with experience) should manage tenant expectations, not all tenants are reasonable, especially if they are lacking heating or hot water.

    Finally, look at the contractors. Okay, £90 may be excessive for tightening some pipework, the contractor will have had to travel to the job, provide a van, provide tools and needs the experience to know what to look for. If it's so easy why isn't the landlord doing it himself or setting up in business as a plumber?

    It is quite hard to find good reliable contractors, mainly because there is so much work about (in my area anyway). A good agent should be insisting that the contractors have insurance and meet H and S standards; it's amazing how many people walk away from jobs if they have to provide proper paperwork! Therefore the pool available to an agent is limited.

    We use a number of contractors but have lost count of the number of times a contractor has failed to do a job or send in a quote because he forgot (juggling his mobile whilst driving or stuck under somebody else's bath) so we tend to use larger contractors with admin staff to provide good support. This is not actually more expensive (even if it was it's worth paying a bit extra) but it's a damn sight more reliable for all involved.

    There are some jobs (minor plumbing being an example) where getting a quote is not practical; just pay the call out fee and get it sorted. Sometimes the landlord just has to take it on the chin so as to avoid wasting time for all those involved (I speak as a landlord as well as an agent).

    Graham Bowcock

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    I agree entirely with your comments. In particular the second paragraph is an area where I as a landlord has suffered. A pretty girl in a flash office but with no knowledge how a house works was a recipe for disaster for me. It took 8 months for them NOT to fix a leak in the bathroom. I got rid of said agent and found one who resolved everything in less than 2 weeks. Result - happy landlord but most important, happy tenant.

     
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