The move by the London Evening Standard to launch London Private Rentals, a free listings service aimed directly at landlords, has shocked agents right across London and the home counties.
The affair has also reignited the debate about standards in the private lettings industry, although landlords are likely to be enthusiastic about the Standard’s new offering.
The paper carries a weekly 48-page Homes & Property property supplement supported by expensive advertising from agents. The paper’s plans have come out of the blue to them.
The Standard describes its new offering as the first quality listing site available to landlords directly. It launched it last week in a full page advert opposite the property supplement.
London Private Rentals offers landlords free listings, and makes it clear it is not available to agents. Geograpically, it will take properties from all over London, plus East and West Sussex, Kent, Berkshire, Surrey, Essex, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.
The search facility will be powered by Upad, an online letting agent that is now an ARLA membeer but was originally founded as a direct tenant-find service to landlords that cut out letting agents. While listing is free, the site offers paid-for services at highly competitive prices – for example tenancy referencing, which is charged to tenants at £50 plus VAT.
Landlords can also choose to buy professional photography, floor plans, EPCs, tenancy agreements, inventories and gas safety certificates.
The site, it says, will also provide fair and transparent lettings service, with a team of lettings professionals on hand seven days a week.
James Davis, who founded Upad, said: “Upad is thrilled to be working with Evening Standard to create London Private Rentals. The UK’s first professional direct-to-market rental solution, it will allow tenants to search properties directly from London landlords, and meet them personally in a fully supported tenancy process.
“Until now, quality letting services have only been available through lettings agents. London Property Rentals changes everything, and we couldn’t be more excited.”
Agents who support Homes & Property by taking out advertising include Foxtons, Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, Felicity J Lord, Keatons, Bairstow Eves, Chesterton Humberts, Ludlow Thompson, Stirling Ackroyd, Savills, Northwood and Douglas & Gordon.
Last week, the Standard’s Home & Properties section carried its usual ‘diary of an estate agent’ column, which we understand is paid for, written by lettings manager Damien Brown of Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward.
While most of the estate agency adverts are for sale properties, all the agents who advertise also have lettings divisions, and last week Felicity J Lord paid for a whole page to promote its rental properties.
Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward said it had concerns, ‘particularly if associations between Upad and the Standard are published directly’.
Mariella Petralia, divisional lettings director for Felicity J Lord, said: “I really can’t believe that the Evening Standard is launching such a website.
“Professional lettings agents such as Felicity J Lord have worked extremely hard with bodies such as ARLA and NALS to ensure consistent levels of service for tenants, and promoting such a website seems to fly in the face of where we need to be going as an industry in terms of greater regulation.
“Who is going to guarantee that a property is safe to be let? Who is going to work on behalf of the tenant to ensure their deposits are safe and returned in full at the end of their tenancy? How will a landlord know if a tenant is suitable for their property? There are so many questions that need answering.
“I really think the Evening Standard needs to be focusing its energies instead on working with professional lettings agents to ensure consistently high levels of service for tenants (and landlords for that matter).”
Peter Rollings, of Marsh & Parsons, said: “I used to advertise in the Standard but I don’t any more, so I’m not as angry as I could be.
“However, it is a very strange decision. I can only suppose that they must think that there is money to be made in the private letting market.” He said that in his experience, the private letting market in London is very small.
He added: “I don’t see Upad as a competitor. If I did, there’d be something wrong with my business. It is a DIY site for landlords and tenants.”
Ed Mead, of Douglas & Gordon, said the launch of London Private Rentals would encourage more landlords to do without agents. For his views, see today’s blog.