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Make Fees Fair: The Rental Rip Offs to Avoid
Our current generation is now in property terms referred to as ‘generation rent’. With rising property prices, many are unable to take their first steps on the property ladder and therefore are forced to rent. Although renting appears initially a cheaper option, tenancy fees can see upfront costs are also unaffordable for many. The BBC now claims that we are ‘the most expansive place to rent in Europe, with accommodation, costing, on average, 43% of a tenant’s income.’
The Legal Standings
In the ‘Business Companion’ for Trading Standards on Lettings Agents, under the condition of displaying fees, it states:
“One of the provisions in the Consumer Rights Act 2015 relates to the requirements for accommodation letting agents and property management businesses to display their fees and charges to clients.”
These fees for a Lettings Agent must be displayed in the premises where clients are dealt with, (or potential face-to-face clients and clearly on the company website, (where applicable). The relevant fees include:
- Introducing tenants to landlords with available accommodation for rent
- Arranging assured tenancy agreements
- The management of rental properties
These fees however, although legally have to be stated, they are not regulated.
This lack of regulation, along with an ever increasing upfront cost of renting for tenants, has now resulted in many speaking out against them. Legal action is being called for. With the backing of Baroness Olly Grender, Vicky Spratt, editor of The Debrief, has launched a petition to make renting fair in England. The petition now has over 254,000 supporters.
In her petition, Vicky states that she herself has probably spent over £2000 in agency fees over the last 9 years – having paid as little as £80 and as much as £552 in agency fees over her time. Her petition calls for the ban of these unfair letting agency fees.
The petition has led to Baroness Grender putting forwards the ‘Renter’s Rights Bill’. This Bill has already passed both the first and second readings at the House of Lords without opposition and is now awaiting a date to be announced for the committee stage of proceedings.
You can read and sign Vicky’s full petition by following the link below:
Tenancy rental fees have been abolished in Scotland since 2012, and this is only increasing the pressure for England to do the same.
However, many argue that by removing the fees charged by agencies, rental prices have just increased to compensate. A study by Shelter into how the Scottish lettings market reacted to the banning of these fees in June 2013 states:
“The most recent quarterly figures show rents in Scotland are falling. While statistical modelling of rents in the letting agent sector indicates that between 1% and 2% of the rent rises in Scotland in 2013 could, in part, be caused by the law on fees, this is inconclusive, and appears short-lived. Historic analysis of rent levels in Scotland show that market factors such as demand and supply and wages have been far more significant drivers of rent levels than legislative changes in the past. This is backed up by the experts interviewed as part of the research.”
Michael Green has filed a lawsuit to Foxtons resulting in the company now facing the possibility of an £80million pay-out to those who have paid extortionate fees using them. Green is claiming that Foxtons is clearly breaching the the 1999 Consumer Contracts Regulations and its modern version, the Consumer Rights Act of 2015. The claim will fall under “substantial imbalance”, when charging high check out fees for example, which is a cost that falls to the tenants, despite this service only really benefitting the landlord. It is clear to see why, as tenants renting through the company are paying up to 10 times as much as is reasonably expectable in fees.
The costs, estimated by Michael Green, are roughly £55 for administration and referencing and then renewal fees, at around £10. Foxtons fees will set you back £420 in administration charges, £300 for a simple name change and even £165 for a standard property check. From these figures, it is easy to see why barristers are of the legal opinion that Green has a credible case against the company.
Foxtons however claims that their fees are transparent and therefore do not break any laws as any tenants that sign up to rent with them are aware of how much will be charged. If Michael wins this case against Foxtons, it is likely other agents will also be forced to pay back large sums of money to many tenants that are victims of this overpriced culture also.
Regional Case Study
We have conducted some research into some of Norwich’s biggest independent and corporate Lettings Agencies, to see exactly how ‘reasonable’ their fees are.
As you can see prices per person can range from anything to £216, all the way to £497. This is without the month and a half’s rent upfront as standard that every company we investigated require in full before you are able to move in. This means that for an £800pm rental property in Norwich, you could be expected to come up with £1,697 in upfront fees.
To keep to property longer than the agreed tenancy contract, you are looking at an additional cost of between £84 - £125. Although many of the letting agencies we investigated do not charge any extra for a rolling contract for there tenant, this does not offer a tenant the same security as a 6-month contract for example that they could have initially signed.
We here at Abode believe that you should not be financially punished for continuing a peace of mind secure fixed term contract and will not charge any of our tenants a renewal fee of any kind.
When conducting the study into agent fees, the most obvious thing is how complicated the whole process can be.
Firstly, not all websites, in particular the independent companies, display clear costing. Specific information is very difficult to find online. They are either on small hidden links or in lengthy paragraphs that don’t make it clear what is included in certain figures and what isn’t. The corporate companies, although set out pricing in a simpler form of a table, still have vague wording.
For example, an application fee, can also be under the term ‘admin fee’ or ‘agency fee’ and you have to be certain of exactly what that includes and some charge extra for drawing up the tenancy agreement for instance.
Another example of how complicated the renting process can be is the difference in pricing dependant on whether you are renting alone, or as more than one applicant. Even this is not straight forward as there are all kinds of catches attached to prices for two applicants for the same property for instance. When conducting our study, we found with one of the independent agents that they offer a price for two applicants, however there are catches attached, such as the requirement to be married and in ‘joint names’.
During our investigation, we found many other complications, such as being charged for an inventory check, however facing two different charges dependant on whether the property is ‘furnished’ or ‘unfurnished’. It is important to read all of the small print before signing to any property.
- Read the government booklet titled ‘How to Rent’. This should legally be provided by the agency prior to signing your tenancy agreement.
- Ring the companies directly once you have found a property of interest. With many of the websites involved in our case study, the correct pricing figures were difficult to find and often did not include all upfront charges which were later discussed over the phone. By ringing the agency directly, you are much likely to get an honest answer to any pricing questions you may have.
- Plan for every situation. If you think that beyond the shorter-term renting contract you could potentially explore the possibility of staying longer, remember to enquire what this could cost you before you sign for the property.
- Rent a property through a local independent letting agency. The figures above prove that it’s way cheaper than through a national chain!
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Does Our Region's countryside need protecting?
With the Joint Core Strategy in place for our region, over 36,000 new houses could be built by 2026 to cope with demand. From 2008, up to March of last year, nearly 10,000 homes were built in the Greater Norwich area and that number must now be increased again. Norwich alone could see 12,000 of this demand in the next 20 years. Plans are now in progress to source the sites in which these new houses can be built on.
This has sparked fear in many who worry for Norfolk's intrinsic identity of a rural landscape could now be at risk. Although authorities are arguing that brownfield sites are much more likely to be deemed suitable than open countryside, could a green belt still be needed in Norwich?
Green Belt Petition
The Campaign to Protect Rural England, (CPRE), have started a petition to see a green belt for Norwich is introduced, stating:
“As our local authorities begin the process of reviewing the recently adopted local plans for Norwich and its surrounding districts with the likelihood that they will have to accommodate even more growth beyond 2026 until 2036 on top of what we already consider to be excessive growth, it is now more urgent than ever that Norwich has a Green Belt in place to protect the setting of this historic city and the countryside from the onslaught of never ending development and the consequent urbanisation of this rural county.”
This petition now has nearly 900 signatures from locals sharing these same fears.
It’s these communal concerns which are seeing more and more local rejections to house building proposals. Already early this year saw the rejection of 83 new homes in the Costessey area. The proposal would have seen the properties built on farming land in the Tud River Valley, but the idea was rejected following a public outcry. 237 letters of complaint were received from residents in objection to the plans, ranging in reasons. The reason for refusal was voted as the visual impact the project would impose upon the valley. This concern echoes an overall feeling of an increasingly reduced rural identity for Norfolk. Other reasons for objection included an increase in pressure on community amenities such as health and education services, as well as an increased risk of flooding and increased congestion. Locals rejoiced at the announcement of the refusal.
Thorpe St Andrews Refusal
Another recent refusal includes the controversial proposal to convert Thorpe St Andrews' Oasis Leisure Centre into 27 new homes. Again, the backlash from residents played an important role in the rejection of these plans. The historic nature of the building was called into question with the proposal incorporating plans to demolish the main house and construct a completely new leisure centre with pool, gym, nursery and café. Resident complaints also included the traffic increase that would have more than likely been caused by the new plans. Broadland District Council received 15 letters of concern from local residents.
Proposals Push Forwards
With a push from local councils to landowners, developers and agents to make suggestions as to where the Joint Core Strategy's proposed 36,000 new houses by 2026 can be built, the face of Norwich is changing. With major developments already getting the green light, such as 900 new homes in Eaton, Lakenham Cricket Ground Development, in which work has begun for the construction of 75 new homes and planning permission granted to build 670 new homes in Trowse, including shops, restaurants and a pub. All of these projects have faced local opposition during the process, and with such a demand on housing, more and more are likely to be approved in the future. A green belt in Norwich would help protect the scenic countryside area most at risk and in turn safeguard our rural landscape.
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Are Property Gurus as Helpful as You Think?
With the most revered and followed ‘property gurus’ being sentenced to jail time for counts of indictment, are we still able to trust their ‘advice’?
Early this year, Phillip Martin was found guilty on 6 counts of indictment. He has been sentenced to 7 years of imprisonment for these offences and has had a previous disqualification from directorship increased from 7 and a half years to a 10 year ban. But how did this property guru, that was loved by so many, end up behind bars?
Mr Martin branded himself as “the Approachable Property Expert” and became a trusted figure on the property guru scene, speaking at various property meets and events, including those on the wealth educator circuit. It was here that he would offer people mentoring programmes and services assisting in portfolio building, including many involving lease options. This was not free of course.
This was the beginning of his demise, as he eventually went bankrupt as PM of Rapid, along with all the other companies involved in 2009. Anyone who had invested in his business felt the shortfall of collectively an estimated £2.4 million.
Despite this, he was still revered by many, and many of his loyal following ignored this discrepancy and welcomed the property guru back with open arms. His charm was convincing, persuading many of his innocence. Despite losing millions in investor’s money, Phil Martin was compassionless and continued as he did before.
This then led to a police investigation, with which he refused to cooperate with. He was charged in November 2014, on 12 individual counts, including fraud and forgery. After being released on tag, he showed signs of engaging once again in property mentorship programme. Even with his new recent sentencing, it is unclear whether this “Approachable Property Expert” will finally learn his lesson.
These kind of stories cast doubt on the motivations of property gurus as a group. Phil Martin isn’t alone, and a new generation offering different ways to part us with our cash are coming through. They initially advertise advice for landlords and comments on the buy-to-let industry as a whole. However, this advice is completely unregulated.
Many of these modern 'experts' offer a joint venture, in which you part with your hard earned cash and place it into a property under their expert guidance which is a “guaranteed” money earner. Modern trends see more ventures involving a below market value, (BMV), property, which tends to be a multi let project amongst other deals.
Many of the property gurus suggesting BMVs that are a sure thing are without any relevant qualifications to be legally aware in this sector. Not only that, but to offer actual financial advice that is credible, you must be FSA regulated, and many operate regardless.
The real question is why would they offer you the opportunity to take a cut of the profits if the deal is so infallible? Many companies claim to be part of several thriving joint ventures, earning various percentages on property. If these are all so financially successful, why is your capital necessary and why would they need other people to split the ‘profit’ with?
The Dangers of Joint Ventures
If you attend these property meetings and talks, are a member of various social media groups, or engage in website forums and are interested in a joint venture proposal, there is one fundamental question that you should ask yourself. How well do you know the person you are entering into this partnership with?
As previously mentioned, not only may these people not be FSA regulated or possess the appropriate qualifications, but you are often unaware of their personal financial past. Mortgage Broker Lisa Orme states in an interview for Property Tribes that “by entering a loan together, you are linking your finances together, and that in itself can be dangerous.”
It is important to remember that once you have entered into a joint venture with someone, and your finances are linked, that anything that may happen to their financial situation will impact on yours. This includes bankruptcy and CCJs. Not only that, but after the loan is over, your finances remain linked for 7 years, as that is when it will drop off a credit file.
So if you feel like you have any doubt about linking the state of your finances to a basic stranger, the simple answer is to not to ever enter the joint venture with them in the first place. (No matter how convincing!)
With any substantial investment it is crucial that you conduct thorough personal research. By knowing the legal requirements, costs can be saved further down the line. By conducting individual research first, you are much more likely to be able to identify a fraudulent property guru programme, as oppose to being unadvised prior.
The most important question to ask if offered an unmissable property investment is why would they themselves not invest? Why tell you about below market value properties?
If you require any impartial and genuine advice on property investments, that is actually FREE, please do contact us at Abode.
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Abode’s Building of the Week
Our first ever building of the week is the beautifully historic Dragon Hall. This grade 1 listed medieval building is located on King street, a stone’s throw away from the river Wensum.
This location made it the ideal place for rich merchant Robert Toppes to construct the building as a trading hall between 1427 and 1430. The site of Dragon Hall was utilised well before this date and parts of the site predate 1427, for example an undercroft beneath a service block used for storing foods and dates back to roughly 1330.
The building itself has a medieval design was built with the purpose to impress trading partners and buyers. This explains the elaborate infrastructure of the building, such as the beautiful crown roof upon the the 27 metre long hall. What makes this building unique was that it was solely built by one person, as oppose to trade groups and guilds of similar heritage.
The timber framing posts stand upon a collar beam, and supports a collar plate. This style of roofing originated in Europe around the 1300’s, but didn’t gain significant popularity in England until the late 15th century. This beautiful crown post roof construction wasn’t rediscovered until the late 1970’s, when maintenance work was carried out.
This is because over the years, the building itself has been used for many different purposes, including a private dwelling after the death of Robert Toppes. In the 19th century, the building was split into various different spaces, including a pub and shops, which resulted in the medieval roof being hidden.
Upon restoration of the original beams, carved onto one of the timber posts is a hand-crafted dragon. Although it is believed there would have originally been a carving in into each timber post, the dragon was the only survivor. The building was then renamed to what it is known as now, Dragon Hall. The dragon was symbolic, representing a guild, therefore relating back to the original purpose of the building.
Dragon Hall is now home to Writers’ Centre Norwich, the literature development agency for the East of England. The building hosts literary events and workshops, but is still open for occasional tours. These include using the building to portray what a medieval Norwich would have looked like.
For all the latest events being held at Dragon Hall, please visit: http://www.writerscentrenorwich.org.uk/Events-all/
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How Would Leaving the EU Affect the Rental Market
There are two entities to consider when discussing the impact of leaving the European Union; the short term effects of an exit and the longer term impact it could have on the rental market. Uncertainty is already causing problems for our Sterling, as investors are reacting with a fear of the unknown as the polls become increasingly even. The sterling recently weakened against the dollar to a seven-year low. With investment hesitating, what effect will this have on the property market?
In regards to the short term effects exiting the EU could have on the rental market, many predict they will not be particularly significant. A recent report released by the Centre of Economics and Business Research Ltd, (CEBR), for the National Association of Estate Agents, (NAEA), and the Association of Residential Lettings Agents, (ARLA), released in April this year, concluded that short term Brexit impact on rents would be minimal.
The impact of Brexit on the rental market would be minimal in the first 2-3 years following the referendum. Rental prices are primarily determined by the supply of and demand for rental property and the impact of Brexit on both would be insignificant in the short term.
Certain areas are more likely to be affected more heavily than others. Different markets are more dependent on different factors. For example, in London, according to the Centre of Economics and Business Research, in 2014, 37% of residents are foreign born nationals, with 11% coming from the EU.
Longer term impacts include a significant potential impact on both demand levels and rental prices.
“Foreign born nationals are three times more likely to be renters than British-born residents”, says the CEBR report. In regards to rental prices, if many EU workers leave London due to stricter immigration regulations, the competition will decrease, leading to a subsequent decrease in prices.
Although this decrease in rental prices may excite joy for tenants, this may cause landlords to reconsider letting their property. The managing director of the Association of Residential Letting Agents stated:
“While renters should face fair and reasonable prices, landlords need to be able to at least break even on any outgoings they have, such as a mortgage. If demand eases to such an extent that landlords cannot recuperate costs, we’ll likely see a mass exit from the market, which would then just have the opposite effect on demand as supply falls – and we’d be back to square one.”
An alternative notion that many opposing this take is that the demand for property outways the supply on such a scale currently, that even if leaving the EU decreases the number of people in the buy-to-let market, that a profit will still be able to be made. Not only this but many hold the belief that a drop in house prices would instead benefit the economy. Ratings agency Fitch has recently argued that are house prices need to lower in order to be sustainable:
“UK house prices are currently up to 25% above ‘sustainable’ levels in relation to disposable income. This scenario, (house prices crashing in the event of a Brexit), could result in near-term price declines that result in house prices falling towards their sustainable level.”
The truth is nobody can accurately predict how Brexit would affect the rental market, but with a Brexit already causing investors to reconsider, uncertainty itself could be the cause of possible turbulent times ahead for this industry.