With the UK population spending longer in rental accommodation, due to the upfront expense of buying a home, their time and treatment as tenants will naturally resonate and impact decision making when it comes to buying their first home.
As agents will know, their customer service levels towards tenants can have a significant impact when doing business in the future.
First-time buyers are set to be the largest buyer group over the coming years. In our latest State of the Property Nation (SOTPN) report, we found that 62% of current renters think they will no longer be renting in the next five years.
Two of the main active groups in renters are millennials and Generation Z and there are specific ways you can communicate with these audiences to forge a good relationship and remain top-of-mind.
Millennials and the younger ‘Gen Z’ love communicating online and expressing views and opinions via social channels, but they also yearn for individualised face-to-face contact and bespoke information (part of the reason why mass-advertising is starting to become less effective).
Methods of communication
So, one of the first points to consider is how you communicate with tenants. Even though, on a strictly contractual basis, they are not your client they will still have an expectation that you are instantly and easily accessible as ‘their’ letting agent.
While some clear boundaries should be put in place in terms of when you will be able to respond and on what, it can create a great impression of accessibility and exclusivity to add tenants renting from your landlord clients to your WhatsApp or another secure messaging platform on your business phone.
As technology enables 24/7 communication via these groups, renters will expect this access with you too.
You can differentiate your agency by holding informative evenings for tenants who are aspiring buyers, to help give them guidance on issues and housing market points that might feel out of their comfort zone, such as:
• Tips for saving and consolidating finances e.g. opening an ISA account and the different options available.
• Advice on knowing a ‘good’ time to buy in the current economic and political environment.
• How to approach property viewings.
• A step-by-step guide to the property buying process.
While finding the time to host evenings like this is easier said than done, they will add value.
Providing tenants with useful information today will stand you in good stead for the future, particularly if over half of renters are looking to buy within the next five years.
The information you give now will not only provide clarity on this important process, but could lead to a future instruction.
Flexibility with property viewings
With a jam-packed working week and weekends, today’s tenants can find it difficult to fit in viewings.
According to a recent Zoopla survey on rental pain points, 23% of respondents ranked juggling their rental search around work or childcare commitments as one of their top three frustrations.
An accommodating approach is something that tenants remember and will build a strong rapport with them, so they are likely to return to you in the future.
In practice this is hard to execute, as agents are often away from a desk and with clients, however, utilising technology to communicate with tenants on the go or allowing them to view your availability and amend viewings themselves could ease this.
This will particularly go far with millennial and Gen Z renters, who, by nature, are technologically savvy and seek out instant information and easy communications across all aspects of life.
Transparency and value for money
Another finding from our SOTPN report was that consumers are now less interested in an estate agent’s low fees and local reputation and more concerned about transparency and value for money.
Easing channels of communication or providing information sessions to tenants are two ways which demonstrate clear value for money, and a sense of transparency about the housing market and the buying process.
However, a sense of transparency can also be provided through lettings listings themselves.
Our research on the rental market also found that the number one frustration for renters was a lack of information on property listings, such as floor plans.
For sales listings, floor plans are broadly viewed as a crucial piece of information for a prospective buyer, whereas for lettings, floor plans are quite often not included.
On average, only 17% of lettings listings include floor plans whereas 75% of sales listings do.
Even though a floor plan may not show off a rental property in all its glory, it does eliminate the time taken by agents to arrange and host unsuccessful viewings for reasons related to size or layout.
More importantly, it may have the opposite effect and encourage tenants to book a viewing as the renter has been able to assess the liveability of the property.
Converting tenants to sales clients is of course a long-term aim, but it is one worth considering given the huge pool of current tenants who are hopeful about becoming homeowners.
Similar to moving home, changing rental property is still a significant life event and so the experience had with an agent will be remembered.
If the experience is positive, there is a memorable and long-standing incentive to return to that same agent when buying and selling in the future.
*Charlie Bryant is Managing Director of Zoopla