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Top agent hits back at journalist who condemned entire agency industry

One of Britain’s best known lettings agents has hit back at a journalist’s claims that the industry is in danger of being shunned by tech-savvy younger renters who won’t be prepared to put up with poor service. 

Katherine Denham, a journalist on London business newspaper City AM, earlier this week claimed that traditional lettings agents are being outwitted by the likes of Purplebricks and “tech-driven millenials who could well be the death of this industry.”

In a lengthy scathing attack, Denham also accused many agents of being "reliably awful" and the industry as a whole of being “blinkered to the dangers, underestimating the threat posed by thriving online businesses, and millions of tenants who are fed up with paying over the odds to get little in return.”

For good measure she claimed: “There’s a generation of renters who may not be able to afford to buy a house, but who are not prepared to put up with unprofessional letting agents forever.”

But now Kristjan Byfield, the popular and high-profile co-founder of base property specialists in east London, has written an open letter via Letting Agent Today, hitting back on behalf of the industry.

We’re very happy to carry the open letter in full below.

Hi Katherine 

Whilst I agreed with some elements of your recent City AM article bemoaning the often poor service delivered by some Letting Agents, it joins the litany of articles that have gone before (and the many, no doubt, yet to be written) that attack our industry as a whole.

In highlighting the least trusted professions, I see you happened to miss journalists off of the findings mentioned (and let’s not forget parking wardens too eh?). 

I think it is this attacking mantra that befalls the reputation of your industry at times. Try and find genuinely, insightful, candid, positive articles about our industry (that aren’t just a piece of PR) and you will find that your searches yield very few results indeed!

There are a litany of agents across the UK, from single office independents like us to much larger organisations, trying to evolve and improve delivering an ever-better service and renting experience. 

They bring tech and digitisation, transparency, efficiency, fairness and genuine quality customer service to the fore - but you never hear it written about in the general media.

So, as a follow up article to this piece, why not take time to genuinely research our industry and the pioneers, both big and small, that are driving it forwards? Rather than bemoaning the worst element, instead why not champion the heroes emerging across the UK?

There are agents that charge fair tenant fees and some that even charge none at all. 

There are agents that are available day and night by phone and via tech. 

There are stories from across the UK of agents that regularly go above and beyond to deliver incredible customer service and deliver an amazing rental experience from enquiry to check out. 

There are agents daring to innovate, both in terms of service offerings and through digital innovation to deliver to tenants and landlords alike, a service for all to enjoy and be proud of.

So, like the many agents across the UK determined to deliver a quality experience and transform the attitudes held by many of our industry, why not buck the trend of your industry to date and rise as a champion of consumers by educating them about the many amazing things taking place that could mean a life spent renting is a great experience and not the horror story it is almost always portrayed as? 

I will be sharing this piece as an open letter for all to see but wanted to write to you directly first. 

As you can see I am passionate about my industry and the amazing things happening within it and welcome a conversation, online or face to face, about the many exciting innovations and companies leading the way to a better renting experience.

Kind Regards

Kristjan Byfield

  • SCN Lettings

    Unfortunately landlords and agents are the "in vogue" whipping boys ( and girls) at the moment. As politicians chase Generation Rent's vote, so the press chases it's readership for sales.

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    Where are these "heroes"? I've yet to find one and I've been renting for almost 20 years.

    Billy the Fish

    Try working in a lettings office to see what goes on day to day, and sometimes well into the late hours to ensure everything moves along smoothly. I remember staying in the office until 22:00 once as one of our Tenants had been burgled and the front door was left hanging off it's hinges. I could have just gone home after calling the emergency contractor but as she was on her own and vulnerable I stayed with her until the contractor eventually came. It was just bad luck he was on another emergency call-out.

    Not focusing on the bad agents, every industry has poor service as well as good, what about the agents where you never had a problem? That's where the heroes were

     
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    As I said, I've yet to find one. Had problems with deposits not protected properly, no gas checks/certificates, no EPC, unfair clauses in Tenancy Agreements which although asked to pay for told only landlord able to vary, high fees, no prescribed information, failure to respond to calls (agents), infestations, dangerous electrics, disrepair - gas and water leaks, dangerous stairs, windows/vent sealed I could go on. All these properties were larger than average with mid-range rents in decent areas. As a tenant I kept the properties clean, was a good neighbour and paid the rent. I've heard of many experience worse that I've endured.

     
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    If you are not happy renting Sue Kelly, buy a house instead. When you own your own home these problems don't just magically disappear. You have to deal with them yourselves!

     
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    Well said Kristjan!

  • Chris JaiBahadur

    I would be only to pleased to sit her in front of an assembly of our tenants and landlords for a questions and answer session all selected by her of course.

    I think that would bring her down to earth.

  • Angus Shield

    Bravo Kristjan!
    I am an independent in Salisbury, Wiltshire.
    We were dealing with a split hot water cylinder at 21:30hrs last Friday night, a burgled flat (in tenants absence), at 14:30hrs on New Years Eve and more recently the death of a tenant.
    Am I doing not enough for my fee Katherine Denham?
    Keep up the good work all!

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    I am also an independent in Salisbury and I quite agree Angus I have been on the phone all weekend trying to sort out an electrical problem for a tenant as our emergency contractor was away. We have also dealt with a tenants death and given all the help we could to the parents in dealing with the property and everything else they had to do.

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    I have been letting property for thirty years. Always the same properties, so I know them well, but with different letting agents as they come and go.

    I had one who had no idea how to force an eviction and keep the deposit for me.
    Several agents did not know how to deal with debtor letters addressed to the household but referring to a departed tenant. (Phone the debt company and explain - job dome in 2-3 minutes)

    There is one thing that letting agents will not do and that is use a property inspector who really knows how a house works and can look for faults including hidden leaks, dangerous electrics and unacceptable levels of filth. Such people would also know when a boiler/heating system needs service outside of the annual check.

    Its all very well saying they will send around a "qualified contractor" when a minor observation/fault has turned into a disaster for the tenant and the landlord but as a service it is n.b.u.at all.

    None of the above inspection checks require a trade qualified person, just someone who looks at things and sees what there is to see. The electrical regulations even have a class of inspector called a competent person which is anybody at all. With plumbing it is easier - if you can see water on the floor then..............

    Boilers are more of a problem but if they pass installation inspection then there should be very little that requires professional inspection but the risk is too high to say this is a fact.

    If you are a personable young person inspecting properties whose limit is changing a light bulb them I am very sorry but I do not like you. You are a risk to me.

    Another very useful service would be for agents to change safety alarm batteries. Most agents would not even test them although my current agents have started doing so.

    These safety and inspection routines are now so complex (not difficult!) and legally enshrined that they require someone who can do them.

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    Oh Mr Meade, I bet you even want a discounted fee for carrying out the type of inspection you expect. The role of property inspector is to inspect what can be seen and what is reported by the tenant. Filth can be seen, "hidden leaks" cannot. The clue is in the wording. Why would a person visiting a property for a management inspection know that a boiler serviced 6 months ago, requires further work unless the person who actually lives with the system reports it is not working properly? Obvious electrical problems can be seen, many are not and having an agent does not absolve a landlord from his responsibilities to let a safe house. Alarm batteries - firstly it is the agent's duty to advice a landlord they need the alarms and when instructed have them fitted. It is a tenant's responsibility in most agreements to test and change batteries and light bulbs. Why would an agent perch on steps or chair to change, unless of course you want to pay for 2 inspectors, one to change the battery and the other to steady the steps, H & S! Obviously I am being facetious, but really perhaps we should visit each evening and turn the bed down! The agent you mention in your second paragraph is clearly a totally inexperienced one and everybody has to learn, but if every member of the same company is as inexperienced, then you are paying your discounted fee to the wrong company and need to look for one that may charge a realistic fee but at least spends a lot of it on training and systems and knows what is expected of a tenant and landlord within the terms of the tenancy agreement and also the terms of business you would have agreed, which I am pretty sure do not include structural surveys.

     
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