“You need to adapt with the times, even though it's really difficult,” says Robert Neill, Head of E Property Agent, a national property company, that specialises in the management of buy to let portfolios. “It’s important that we not only survive but thrive as an industry - and I believe we must keep moving forward to do this.”
Recognising early on the impact that the pandemic would have on agencies and their tenants, Robert set up crisis training for his senior managers. He involved his solicitors, legal aids, and accountants, along with other professionals. This was to make sure that he had access to all relevant resources and that his staff could address any financial issues that tenants may have, head on.
“Our accountants provided us with videos that we’ve been able to share with tenants to help them along the way, and they provided training to our senior managers on what to advise in different circumstances, based on a case by case basis,” says Robert.
The agency set out a clear process for any tenants struggling to pay rent. “If a tenant reports that they’re experiencing financial difficulties, we ask them to complete a form, a questionnaire basically,” says Robert. “We then arrange a call within 48 hours with one of our Senior Managers that’s had the crisis training to review the individual case. The managers listen to understand what the scenario might be and run through how we can help.”
Robert recommends this step by step approach, to build an understanding of the tenant’s circumstances, before discussing rent. He says that “what we can do is help the tenants first of all. There's no point demanding money from someone if they don’t have the means or know-how to pay it.”
Once on the topic of rent, it should continue to be a conversation. “Tenants historically don't choose to not pay rent because they don't want to,” says Robert. “It's because they can't. You need to communicate, find out why people can't pay.”
This is when the senior managers can step in to talk through the options with our tenants, to help them continue to pay their rent. “There have been a lot of occasions where tenants were unaware of what financial help they could receive,” says Robert. “By dedicating time and resources to each tenant that’s suffering due to the pandemic, we’re able to agree reasonable payment plans, which we can communicate to our landlords, who can then plan and arrange their own finances.”
In some cases, Robert’s found that it’s counter-productive to ask a tenant to stand to their tenancy, when they simply can’t. “We’ve negotiated relinquishing tenants half-way through their fixed term tenancy with an agreed notice period on certain conditions, so they can avoid major financial difficulties. Our tenants avoid excess stress and pressure, and we and our clients have a clear picture of what to expect from these tenants.”
This altruistic approach is common sense, when “everyone's in the same boat,” says Robert. “There's always someone worse off, unfortunately. So, you just do what you can to help. What we're trying to do is be there for people first and foremost.”