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Although there are set criteria to establish a tenant's suitability to rent a property - ID, credit, residential and income - there are other legislative and industry-level forces at play that need to be understood as we look to the future. Amongst them, the new right to rent process, the end of the furlough scheme, and the pressures around falling levels of stock for agencies and tenants should be kept front of mind.
Agents and landlords need to get to grips with the new online "View and Prove" right to rent process quickly to ensure they can advise tenants and landlords in the referencing process. It will no longer just be checking ID: it's checking immigration status and whether your applicants are allowed to stay or not for EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens. That's going to be a bit of a shake up and it has probably landed on agent's toes without them realising it, as the government announced this only a couple of weeks before the Brexit deadline.
The digital right to rent route is the way to go. There are much more secure methods now of checking people than an in-person check of original documents, with facial recognition technology. The list of eligible ID is so extensive that it heightens the risk of human error in an in person check. The digital process that was brought in for the start of COVID is the future. It's something that needs to stay and be developed even further. There is still more work that needs to be done around it.
If a digital process was introduced for all right to rent checks, the checks could be done a lot earlier in the referencing process. A lot of agents leave that right to rent step until they are moving in or when someone's coming to collect the keys because that may be the only time they meet the tenant. If digital, it could instead be done at the very start of the process, to avoid wasting people's time and money if they weren't eligible to move in.
We've now reached a point where employees are having to contribute towards furlough payments. By 14 May 2021, 11.5 million employee jobs had been furloughed according to government statistics. A lot of businesses, while working remotely, have become more efficient and effective. So how many of those people will still have a job as companies get asked to contribute more every single month? We're going to see pretty quickly how many of them actually get made redundant.
On the other hand, the good news is that there are jobs out there because the whole economy is booming. For referencing purposes, it will simply depend on whether applicants are settled in their current job. Agents may wish to exercise more caution and have more conversations with landlords when hunting for the right tenant.
There is of course another option to help protect against this uncertainty - and that's rent protection. If you were interested in this solution 12 months ago, you should be interested in it now. Over the last 12 months, tenants have been supported financially through the furlough scheme - but now's the risky point.
The next few months leading up to the end of furlough, is when people may start to lose their jobs. There are other jobs out there and they'll go and find them, but that may not happen straight away. So there might be interim periods where people are unemployed, they can't pay their rent. Protecting your landlords and protecting your rental income is now more vital than ever.
Although we've seen even more agents turning to digital referencing since the start of the pandemic at Vouch, we're probably seeing 25% fewer references per agency than pre-COVID, purely due to a lack of properties on the market. There's a whole host of reasons for that. One is booming house prices. It's not as attractive anymore for a landlord to buy a property because the yields aren't there, they're paying too much for it. They could rent it pretty quickly, but does it make sense for everyone? No. So people are holding off buying to let.
Recent legislation, such as electrical safety and energy efficiency standards, has been tough on landlords, so that's pushed some out the market. We need to see government support to make this a really attractive sector for investment again, because we are running out of stock. We always hear about rundown sales stock, but the letting stock market is drying up too.
Agents need to make sure that they are providing extra support to their landlords. It's all about making sure that you're offering the best fit, the best service, the best tech to your landlords, and finding the best tenants for their property.
You need to keep them and attract them and working with your agency needs to be a viable option for landlords. Price increases to compensate for low stock can't be passed onto landlords because they are suffering. It's a question of supporting them to keep those who stay in the market on board.
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Oh Goodlord Limited is an Appointed Representative of Goodlord Protect Limited for general insurance products and credit broking. Goodlord Protect Limited is directly authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority, registration number 836727. You can check this information on the Financial Services Register by visiting www.fca.org.uk/register or by telephoning 0800 111 6768 (Freephone) or 0300 500 8082 from the UK. The FCA is the independent watchdog that regulates financial services.