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What can the lettings industry learn from AirBnB, Vrumi and JustPark?

Barely a week goes by without news of the latest disastrous AirBnB experience suffered by an unsuspecting landlord.  

Whether it’s damage to the property; complaints of anti-social behaviour; or invalidated insurance policies, horror stories make more interesting news than the countless positive experiences of users.  

I’m not here, however, to discuss the pros and cons of AirBnB – or any other similar service for that matter.  

Instead, the rise of online platforms that facilitate homeowners to capitalise on their properties’ assets do, I believe, serve as a wake-up call to the more traditional elements of the lettings industry.

Let’s face it, whether it’s renting out a spare room (or whole house), a potential meeting room or a driveway, homeowners are becoming increasingly savvy as to the opportunities for making money out of their properties.  

As a sector we need to sit up and take notice of this and consider how we adapt as a consequence. 

The technology behind these services is relatively simple: within just a few clicks, often from a smart phone or tablet, a consumer can instantly become a landlord of sorts.  

And of course, as more people seek to benefit from these services, there is a corresponding pool of businesses and consumers eager to engage with their flexibility and attractive costings.

So it is that these services continue to grow in popularity. But let’s not forget that those who rent out rooms, homes, driveways or dining areas don’t require training and they’re not expected to have a raft of industry standard qualifications to their name – indeed, you may argue they’re not needed. 

But homeowners can become dazzled by the potential returns and not consider the paperwork that will not only safeguard them, but their customers too.  

Whether it’s ensuring that mortgage terms have been checked; insurance policies adjusted; fire safety checks have been completed; or simply that inventories are up to date and cleaning and maintenance are effectively managed, the ease with which these online services allow homeowners to engage with new markets, means that they may not give due consideration to the ‘business’ side of these transactions.  

With busy lives to lead, they may not even always be available to handover keys or run through the ‘house rules’.  

It’s here that there exists an opportunity for the letting agent on the high street and it’s one which some are already taking advantage of.

But rather than playing catch up and responding to these services once they’ve grown in popularity and have a seemingly unstoppable momentum, we need to shift our own thinking – start to think like these start-ups ourselves.

The possibilities that technology presents to the man on the street are immeasurable.  

A few years ago it would have seemed absurd that you’d rent your driveway out to a stranger via a few clicks on a smart phone but now there are myriad of online marketplaces. 

The lettings agents who are likely to survive and thrive are, therefore, the ones not only already providing innovative technological support to their tenants and landlords, but those whose sights are set on the future.  

We need to ensure that we not only fulfil an important role alongside the likes of AirBnB, Vrumi and JustPark now, but that we continue to diversify our own service offerings and importantly, that we anticipate the next big thing – before someone else does!

*David Westgate is Managing Director of Andrews Letting & Management

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