Countrywide - which is making the lettings sector a key part of its ‘back to basics’ programme - is proposing to increase services it offers to landlords and renters in a bid to mitigate the impact of a loss of revenue following the ban on agents’ fees on tenants.
In an exclusive interview with Letting Agent Today, Countrywide’s Group Operations Director Paul Creffield - one of three figures now at the top of the organisation - says that while he is enthusiastically in favour of licensing of letting agents, he is personally neutral about whether there should be a ban on their fees levied on tenants.
However, as a ban is definitely on the way from spring 2019 Creffield says his firm - the country’s largest lettings agency - has to combat the loss of earnings it will create.
“We can’t simply transfer fees to landlords as they’ve already been hit by the raft of tax and regulation changes aimed at the sector. Therefore we’ve got to consider new services that will genuinely help landlords and tenants and create income” he says.
Creffield believes tenants’ insurance and payment protection schemes are two possible options; additionally, he believes the increasingly popular adoption of no deposit insurance schemes will help landlords as well as renters because it makes it easier to increase churn amongst tenants.
Creffield also says that a major part of his ambitions in his new role - which he moved into following the departure of Alison Platt as chief executive in late January - is to give lettings greater visability and recognition of its central role in revenue for the group.
Lettings has performed significantly better than sales during the troubled Platt era. Across the UK, Countrywide had 62,646 rental properties under management at the end of 2017, a fall of four per cent over the year before; in London it had 26,644 under management at the end of 2017, a rise of three per cent on the year.
However, across the UK in 2017 Countrywide saw an 11 per cent drop in the number of lets agreed, contributing to an eight per cent fall in lettings-related income.
“Despite the difficulties we’re stronger on our lettings side than on our sales said. We’ve not got very decent levels of managed stock and we’re improving the fees we’re taking for the group” says Creffield.
Countrywide’s next major trading statement is expected in late July.