“People still want to be landlords, believe it or not,” says the director of a family-owned agency in Essex, which has specialised in lettings for almost three decades. “It’s a difficult time to be a landlord, but I think there are definitely still people who want to have a portfolio of properties.”
Charles Ryland of WitLet calls this group “aspirational landlords”, as opposed to landlords who have been investing in property for more than a decade or accidental landlords. It’s more difficult for this group to become landlords, thinks Ryland, which is one of the reasons that they will be looking for more value from their letting agent than landlords have in the past, with increased emphasis on the entire customer experience.
“We’ve always focused on customer service, which is reflected in the fact that a lot of people do come back to us and the vast majority of our new business has come from word of mouth,” says Ryland. “I’d like to think that landlords will start shopping around more and I think that customer service will come to the forefront as landlords look for more value from their agent, and we’re looking at ways we can provide that.”
One way WitLet is providing more value to their landlords is by investing in their digital capabilities, utilising property technology for tenancy agreements, inventories, rent collection and repairs, which means they can offer an online-only service in addition to their traditional, fully managed service. WitLet’s online-only offering lets landlords pick and mix the services they require to “build their own initial fee”. “We’ve designed this service to try and keep landlords’ costs down, while continuing to offer a high level of service,” says Ryland.
“I've no doubt technology is going to be the key for agencies going forward,” says Ryland. Aspirational landlords, in particular, also tend to look for more digital solutions as part of the experience that’s offered by letting agents, thinks Ryland, perhaps because they tend to be part of a younger cohort that’s used to using tech in all areas of their lives.
“They enjoy the technology, they prefer getting a WhatsApp message to a phone call and I think that’s going to be the way forward,” he says. This group is also very open-minded about new approaches to property management. “They’re definitely the ones to try and nab if you can”.
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