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In the eye of the storm – why agents need good lines of communication

It’s never more obvious how important good communication is for letting agents than in times of bad weather. Havoc caused by Storm Doris in February showed just how much damage adverse weather can do to properties.

Across the country, people were picking up the pieces after Doris hit with gale-force winds of up to 100mph. Trees uprooted, shattered windows, and the risk of serious water damage to homes as the environment agency issued 13 flood warnings from Devon up to Cumbria. It’s thought the total damage caused is running into a bill of more than £400 million. 

This is a stressful time for letting agents as they become especially busy fielding calls from tenants, managing properties and informing landlords of any damage. For landlords, this is a stressful time too. Not only are they faced with an unknown bill to fix their properties, but they also have to trust that their letting agents are able to handle the increase in frantic calls from concerned tenants. For them, keeping tenants content is paramount.

“If I’m lying in bed and hear wind and rain outside, I open my eyes and can’t get back to sleep. I know there will be a huge increase in the amount of calls I get from tenants with damage to their properties. So much so that I will clear my diary if extreme weather is on the way and move appointments as I know many more tenants will be in touch,” explains Sally Asling, managing director of Surrey Lets.

We see just how important this good communication is during bad weather, as our property team dealt with a considerable increase in calls from worried tenants after Storm Doris. Of course, a letting agent without a proper weather contingency plan in place may struggle to field the additional calls.

“I always tell the landlord straight away if a tenant calls with damage to the property, and if it’s a managed property I arrange fixing the problem,” Sally adds. But letting agents have a big job in triaging the many calls they receive, as tenants get in touch with a variety of problems. 

“It’s a skilled letting agent who knows what is an emergency and what is not, there’s a fine balance of managing the duty of care to the tenant and the duty of contract to the landlord – I want my landlords to have happy tenants, but I also have to be mindful of my client’s budget.”

Nicola Jackson, property team manager at Moneypenny and landlady of 14 properties, will readily attest to this. “I get really nervous when I look at the weather forecast and see a storm on the horizon,” she said. “I know that there is a very good chance it will cost me money as there is always something to break or go wrong. But as a landlady, I like to make sure that problems are fixed as soon as they possibly can.”

Nicola adds: “The vast majority of my tenants are fantastic – they pay their rent on time and keep the properties in great shape – so of course I want to get things back to normal for them quickly. I also don’t want problems to get worse at the risk of being faced with a bigger bill, so I need my letting agent to be all over their communication. For instance, after Storm Doris several slate roof tiles had blown off one of my properties. I received the message first thing in the morning and made sure these were fixed the following day with minimum fuss.”

A quick message to a landlord can make all the difference. But this is where letting agents can come unstuck as they juggle the additional calls from tenants with managing their clients’ properties. As in most people faced with the aftermath of an event, the ‘calm after the storm’ can still feel a little chaotic. People under stress may not think in their usual logical sense and tenants in this situation my lean on the letting agent for help, even when it isn’t in their particular expertise to assist them. 

“Often we receive calls from tenants who are in a blind panic with weather damage to their property, when really they should be calling the emergency services, but due to the stressful situation they just can’t think straight,” said Nicola. 

“One poor lady once called saying the front door had blown shut in high winds and her child was locked inside. Luckily, as receptionists, we’re well-versed in dealing with this – we even have the number for the National Grid in front of us, just in case.  But a lot of the time we are advising common sense. One chap called up with a broken boiler and suggested he try and fix it with a screwdriver. After my initial shock I explained that this would be a catastrophe should it blow up. He eventually agreed to leave it to the experts.”

Having a plan in place to handle communications in a crisis – such as dealing with weather damage after a storm – can alleviate a lot of the problems letting agents have to deal with.

The secret to surviving the storm is how you weather it.

*Samantha Jones is Commercial Manager for Property at telephone answering specialist Moneypenny.

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