Tenant fees – how should estate agents act?

Estate and letting agents have taken more than their usual bashing in the press over the last few months, and one of the many topics has been lettings, with the rise in rents and the role of agents coming under scrutiny.

Estate agent stereotypes

Nothing sells like a scandal, and some corners of the press will do anything to further the stereotype of the unscrupulous estate agent with reports about protests outside Foxtons in Brixton back in May helping fuel the fire. Talk about letting agents fees getting out of control and the problems of this area of the market being unregulated have also been reported.

Understanding the process

Most agents are totally upfront with tenants about what to expect. It’s all part of giving  a good, honest service and helping prospective clients understand the process. But for every ten letting agents that lay their cards clearly on the table there will be one who fails to make things clear. First time renters such as students can be particularly vulnerable, not knowing what to expect and being unaware of the steps involved.

ASA complaint

So what should a good letting agent do to help their clients understand what the fees are and what they cover? After a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) was upheld earlier this year, letting agents should now be aware that as of November 1st 2013, they will be expected to clearly state in their advertising where fees may apply. The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) have been notifying agents by letter that they will be closely monitoring lettings advertising from this date.

Which fees are involved

The fees in question are those that are commonly referred to as ‘non-optional’ administrative fees. Check-in and check-out costs, letters, credit checks, creation of tenancy agreement or amendments to existing ones all come under this remit. The existence of the fees should be made clear, as well as information on whether these fees are applied per tenant, per property or according to the value.

How to act

Letting agents need to think about anywhere rental properties are advertised, including their website, portals, social media and any other channels. The letter from the CAP suggests that the lettings section of any agent’s website can be modified in a variety of different ways.

Here’s how independent London based agents LDG have acted on their website – all letting properties now carry ‘+fees’ which hyperlinks to a page on the site talking about their fees – we’ve marked it in red in this screengrab:

fees

Foxtons have acted too, with the addition of hyperlinked text to all their rental properties. Here’s how their site looks now (see the addition of ‘Tenant fees may apply’ that we’ve marked in red):

tenants fees may apply

Most agents list their properties with a few property portals too. Two of the major portals have already put something in place:

Right Move have added the following copy to their lettings properties:

‘IMPORTANT NOTE: When you apply for a tenancy there will be an administration fee to pay – ask our branch staff or visit (url) for further details of this fee and other fees which may become payable during the lifetime of your tenancy.’

Zoopla rental properties that we checked all carry this information about tenant fees under their property descriptions:

tenants fees may apply

These are just some of the ways the market has reacted to this latest advice. If you have rental properties that are being advertised on your site or anywhere else, now’s the time to speak to your webmasters and consider that letter from the CAP.