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By David Alexander

Joint CEO, apropos


OTHER FEATURES

Better communication will be key for agents now and in the future

There is little doubt that the last year was one which none of us will easily forget both personally and professionally. Every aspect of life has been changed forever and the lettings market is no exception.

Change was coming for the sector anyway, but the pandemic has accelerated this change and enormous structural differences have been introduced which would probably otherwise have taken years to happen.

Virtual viewings, restrictions on visiting tenants in their homes, a shift toward remote working, and a constantly changing regulatory environment have all resulted in new ways of working for everyone involved in lettings.

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From landlords to tenants, agents now have to work smarter, more effectively, and communicate more clearly to ensure that all involved in the lettings process know precisely what is going on in this constantly changing situation.

As a result, communication has never been more important. At the start of lockdown, the need for regular communication with clients (both landlords and tenants) was highlighted and any firm which didn’t have up-to-date mobile numbers, email addresses, and other means of keeping in touch soon found themselves struggling to catch up.

But the pandemic has highlighted that there was a growing need anyway for stronger communication with tenants. Keeping them informed of changes to the regulatory and legislative framework, ensuring tenants can keep agents informed of any changes in their circumstances, and maintaining regular contact so that any potential problems or issues which arise can be addressed before they become insurmountable.

While this has been essential over the last year it will remain so in the months and years to come. With further regulatory changes on the horizon, closer communication will be essential to ensure that tenants are aware of the way in which the private rented sector (PRS) is changing.

By maintaining strong communications, agents build a bond of trust which reduces potential areas of conflict or misunderstanding and eases the transition involved in the introduction of new rules and regulations.

This works both ways of course. Communication between agent and tenant has to be strong but also needs to improve between tenant and agent. This both helps build relationships but can also avoid misunderstandings.

There is a great deal of material online providing information for tenants on non-payment of rent, complaints procedures, or encouraging general ill feeling toward agents and landlords.

To counter this effectively, it is essential for agents to ensure that their tenants are fully aware of their rights, their legal position, any changes which are arising specific to the property and their tenancy, or more widely in terms of regulatory or legislative changes in the sector.

The tenant must feel free to communicate any issues they have with a property or with wider adjustments within the private rented sector and the agent has a duty to keep tenants fully informed of all changes.

Agents must acknowledge that a tenant is a customer and customers, while not always right, do always have rights. It is much better for the agent to tell a tenant about any legislative changes to tenure, or to changes in circumstance or eviction legislation, than for them to read potentially ill-informed and prejudiced messages online.

Transparency is a vital part of communication and the more upfront and clear agents can be, the more tenants will trust them resulting in less confusion and greater understanding on all sides.

I also believe that relationships between agents and tenants will last longer and become more long-term in the coming years. The pandemic has reinforced the importance of having a secure and comfortable home and, I believe, this will continue.

Tenants now want much greater stability in their lives and are seeking longer term agreements. Landlords welcome this and, as part of this, agents need to adapt to developing more long-term relationships with tenants.

The pandemic has accelerated this process and encouraged, through necessity, the need for greater communication because there have been so many major issues to resolve in a short space of time. This is a good thing, a positive action in a time of negativity, and should continue in the coming years. Better communication means better relations for all.

It should be remembered that the private rented sector remains a strong and vital part of the housing market. The second largest provider of homes in the UK, the PRS has grown enormously over the last 30 years and there is still room for more growth.

But it is an increasingly competitive market and agents need to keep ahead to ensure their clients receive the best service. How this service is delivered has been changed by the pandemic and this will continue in the coming years. Agents therefore need to ensure they are working with the most up-to-date software, providing an online service offering with 24/7 access, and promoting a professional service delivered locally and efficiently. It must be about combining, where possible, face-to-face communication with online efficiency.

But at its heart the letting business, like any other, is about people and relationships. How we deliver remains as essential as what we deliver. The pandemic hasn’t changed that fundamental and good communication is a vital element of this.

The coming year, like its predecessor, will be unlike any other. But amid the gloom and doom there can be optimism and opportunity. This is a time when the old way of doing things probably won’t work ever again and we must all adopt new systems, effective methods of delivery, and build new relationships and better communications in the coming year.

*David Alexander is joint Chief Executive Officer of apropos

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