Playing Fair: Northwood examines recommendations from the OFT

February 21, 2013

Last week the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) called for measures to be taken to ‘make the market work better for tenants’ and suggested a number of recommendations designed to help Government, industry and enforcers achieve this.

As far as Nick Cooper, MD Northwood is concerned, not all lettings agents should be tarred with the same brush

“It seems that not a week goes by without a new report into the private rental sector.  Last November Which? revealed its findings, last week the OFT made its recommendations and Shelter is about to launch its ‘Letting Away with It’ campaign.  In each case, the transparency of letting agent fees is at the core, generating enormous amounts of media coverage and providing the source of great debate.

What’s interesting is that the recommendations all follow a similar dialogue: fees should be more transparent, consumers should choose a member of a professional organisation and procedures should be in place if problems occur.

Yet, the fact of the matter is that many of these recommendations already exist in some form.

Let’s take a look at some of the OFT’s recommendations:

Letting agents need to be more transparent about ALL of their fees and charges, using a tariff – I couldn’t have put it any better myself! At Northwood, all of our charges are outlined upfront when tenants and landlords make enquiries about properties.  In fact, for landlords choosing Northwood’s Guaranteed Rent service, there are absolutely no charges: there are no charges for becoming a landlord or setting the contract up, no tenant introduction fees, no commission and no VAT.  100% transparency. Simple as that.

OFT also recommends that agents should have a general redress mechanism so landlords and tenants can sort out problems when they occur.  In the event of a landlord or letting agent having a problem with Northwood, a complaints handling procedure is in place to ensure that it is dealt with in the correct way.  If the matter cannot be resolved internally, Northwood is a member of The Property Ombudsman to provide independent redress. 

Initiatives which make it easier for landlords and tenants to assess quality, such as recognised logos are another recommendation.  These already exist in the industry as a signpost to professional letting agents.  Northwood encourages all of its offices to join NALS, ARLA or RICS, which have minimum entry requirements that the agent must satisfy including PI insurance, Client Money Protection (CMP) schemes and tenancy deposit schemes. Northwood is a founding member of SAFEagent, a mark and campaign to indicate CMP schemes.

It goes without saying that we welcome a stricter enforcement strategy to weed out the criminals and wholeheartedly support any efforts to improve standards in the industry.  Over the years, irresponsible and greedy letting agents have given the lettings industry a bad name – they are a minority but our message to landlords is: it doesn’t have to be that way.  Know what you’re looking for in a letting agent, check that they have the right credentials and renting a property needn’t be a risky business.

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