This article originally appeared on Estate Agent Today.
People now expect a streamlined, digital-first experience from every single service they interact with - and the lettings industry is no exception. Tenants expect to be able to complete the entire application process for a new property online and in their own time.
“Whenever someone has to physically come into your office, you’re wasting their time - and that’s what they don't want,” says David Thomas, co-director of Liberty Gate, an award-winning estate and lettings agency in Nottingham.
Thomas Izod, valuation manager at London’s Kallars Property Agents, agrees. “Everyone’s expecting digital, everyone’s expecting processes to be a lot easier - and they expect that already,” he says. “The majority of things are done online now and agents need to go the same way.”
The lettings industry, however, has been slow to adapt to these expectations. In most cases, renting a property is still a complicated, time-consuming process for every person involved - agents, tenants and landlords - and none find it particularly enjoyable.
There are piles of paperwork that take precious time to complete, sign and file - and changing legislation means documentation needs to be constantly updated.
There’s little automation or digitisation and, where technology is used, there are multiple systems, which are inefficient and still leave gaps that can only be processed manually. This means there is ample room for human error and no standard procedures, causing widespread confusion and contributing to the negative perception of the industry.
Although this perception has been driven largely by a small group of rogue agents, recent action by the government to regulate the industry will impact everyone.
Improving the experience of tenants will be key for agents looking to improve the reputation of the industry overall. You can start by making the entire application process digital, by utilising technology that takes care of every aspect of the process in one place - and mean that your tenants never need to come into your office again.
Technology can transform the lettings experience for both tenants and landlords - while reducing the amount of manual administration for agents. A good lettings platform could do this by:
Digitising tenancy creation: A digital tenancy agreement that lets tenants pay holding fees and complete their application from anywhere, anytime. E-signature capabilities mean there's no need for tenants to come into the office or for you to facilitate their paperwork.
Fully integrating the referencing process: Technology-assisted referencing should include accurate and reliable checks, using dynamic, user-friendly forms that are smart enough to remove common errors and delays, and are optimised to work on any device so tenants can submit references at a time and place that is convenient for them. Real-time updates that let tenants and agents alike see how their application is progressing.
Automating record-keeping and compliance: An automatic audit trail should show when contracts and compliance documentation - including Right to Rent and tenancy guides - were dispatched, opened and signed. Contracts should be updated regularly to be in line with the latest legislation.
Providing a shop-front to offer additional services: The ability to offer additional services, such as insurance or media and utility-services, should be fully integrated with the application process so they can be purchased at the click of a button to increase conversion rates. This provides more value to tenants while also increasing agencies’ revenue.
Daniel Otton of Buttercross Estates in Newark-on-Trent says digitising his agency’s letting process has transformed the experience of their tenants.
“The customer experience and customer journey is always at the forefront of our minds and has been since we first started the business. We wanted to make sure we were delivering a really good, slick and efficient service,” says Otton.
He believes those who are not utilising technology will find their customer experience isn’t as good as it should be - which could ultimately be harmful to the reputation of those firms, who could be negatively reviewed online. Given that approximately 90% of customers start their buying process with a search engine, it’s important that agencies bear online ratings in mind.
“In this day and age where your customers and tenants and landlords are able to review your system and your business online and share that experience with others, it's a massive worry if you're not performing well,” says Otton. “So we're making sure that by using technology we're delivering that good experience and it's helping our business grow.”
Otton is not the only agent who has found that by using technology to improve the experience of his tenants, he’s also improved operations at his agency and, ultimately, helped it to grow.
Tiago d’Cruz, Assistant Head of Lettings at Peabody in London implemented the Goodlord platform to digitise the lettings process, which he says has saved the agency both time and money.
“We had 70 pieces of individual paper we’d have to print out - the majority of which we shredded. There is no paper that needs to be printed out at all now,” says di Cruz. “I’ve been able to use the time I’ve saved to get my negotiators out doing inventories and properties. That’s saved us about £3500 a month.”
Ian Crampton of Ferndown Estates in Birmingham agrees that by automating most of the lettings process, his agency has been able to focus on growing their portfolio.
“Technology has drastically improved our pre-to-post-tenancy timeframes, our staff are less stressed, the interaction with tenants particularly with regards to the technology that the platform that is it on, has greatly enhanced our lettings business and streamlined our business hugely,” he says.
“It means that we can then spend more time on the things that are actually more important to us by meeting tenants and meeting landlords and getting more properties into our business.”