Life of an inventory clerk – Swindon & Cotswolds local branch

Have you ever wondered how the life of a professional inventory clerk is? We decided to ask directly to our franchisees and share with you their professional experiences but also any light hearted or intriguing anecdotes. The first ones to answer our questions are Alison & Mark from the No Letting Go Swindon & Cotswolds local branch.

1) Some of our readers may be unsure as to what is involved in your line of work. Shed some light by telling us about a typical day in the life of a professional inventory clerk.

Independently and impartially carrying out a detailed inventory of and reporting on condition and cleanliness of properties primarily in the residential lettings sector before, during and after a tenancy has taken place. A typical day will involve liaising with letting agents / landlords and tenants in order to make this happen!

2) As a professional inventory clerk it is essential that you have an eye for detail; what other skills would you consider essential to do the job well?

To-Let-Agency-NoLettingGo

Photo: geograph.ie

Empathy, enthusiasm, resolve, impartiality, flexibility, initiative and resilience!!

3) How might a landlord prepare for an inventory?

Ensure in good decorative order with carpets professionally cleaned and vacuumed, all rubbish/ unwanted items removed, kitchen and bathrooms , flooring and woodwork all professionally cleaned throughout.

4) When moving house, stuff is constantly being shifted about from place to place and it is all too easy to overlook the odd item when packing. You must have come across some oddities during your time as an inventory clerk. What are the five strangest items you have found in a property during check out?

Wardrobe novelty door knob decorations such as soft toys/ hearts etc, a leather whip, , a straw boater hat and recipe cards to name a few!

5) Property is hot business at the minute, often seen as a great investment if managed properly. If you could offer three tips for new landlords wanting to let their properties what would they be?

Maintain it. Have it professionally cleaned and arrange a detailed, impartial and professional inventory make.

6) Landlords and tenants are two of a kind; they can be great, a perfect match but they can also be high maintenance, occasionally apathetic and sometimes complacent. What are the three most typical complaints landlords have in relation to the inventory market?

  • Poor quality reports from previous inventory providers
  • Tenants leaving the place in a worse condition than taken on, most of the time not technically correct as they often have a ‘rose tinted view’ of their own properties
  • Missing / damaged items or appliances

7) And what about the tenants, do you ever receive any complaints from them if so what are typical complaints and are they always justified?

  • Non- completed tasks / actions by landlord or through letting agent such as phone points that were supposed to have been installed
  • Grass cutting before tenancy
  • Cleanliness or lack of it! in relation to the property

8) Animal lovers can often be dismayed when moving into rented accommodation as many landlords do not allow pets to be kept within their property. In your experience, what implications and issues does owning a pet have on a property?

  • Wear & tear on carpets
  • Build up of pet hair
  • Smell
  • Cleanliness
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Photo: flickr.com/Mike K

9) You must have held the keys to a fair few houses in your time: from the elegant to the beautifully designed to the stunningly decorated. Can you tell us about any interesting houses you’ve come across?

48 room 138 page inventory on an 11 bedroom, 7 bathroom country house with swimming pool, tennis courts, changing rooms, walled garden and stable blocks & outbuildings. A number of large farmhouses all with seemingly single people moving in!!

10) On the No Letting Go website it states: “No Letting Go will provide peace of mind and ensure no horrible surprises”, give us an example of any “horrible surprises” you’ve encountered.

  • On a job in a rural location everything was prepared meticulously by the both agent and landlord with carpets professionally cleaned and even re-stretched,  yet when we arrived to carry out the inventory make , overnight a Jackdaw had fallen down the chimney and marked the carpets again with loose carbon from the chimney and had several accidents shall we say, scared in a corner we managed to get him outside and contacted the agent  bringing the tenants attention to it at check in but adding that additional cleaning was being arranged as we carried it out!
  • Upon carrying out a inventory on a newly renovated property the landlord said would be clear but they had still been living in the property , were pulling cables through the ceiling still for inset spotlights and even though there were ‘glass walls’ upstairs  the landlords partner was running around half naked !!

11) There are many routes towards owning your own business, what compelled you to become an inventory franchisee, has it been a wise decision and how much did you know about the world of inventories previously?

General interest in / passion for property. Not sure yet as still early days yet love the work but need it to provide a better income level & no not really!!

12) Would you recommend inventory management as a career for others?

Yes, if you are hard working, adaptable, flexible, self- reliant and personable you’ll do very well.

Is it easy running your own franchise business from home?

Lots of people dream about running their own business – for reasons which range from escaping the commute, spending more time with family or to simply fulfill an ambition and earn more money.

Working from home - No Letting Go

Working from home – No Letting Go offer great franchising opportunities

And one of the best ways to begin is to become a franchisee which will help you become quickly established with a business that is tried and tested.

Having a franchise means you will get the help and support you need for your business to do well and this is where becoming a franchisee for No Letting Go becomes a win-win situation.

You don’t need expensive overheads such as an office, you don’t need prior experience of the property market – you just need a computer, access to the internet and a ‘can do’ attitude.

Nick Lyons is the managing director of No Letting Go and he says: “Running a business from home is tough but the upside outweighs the downside – there’s no commuting, there is lots of flexibility, it’s cheap to do and you do get to spend more time with your family.

“However, there’s no getting away from the fact that you will have to work extra hard in networking, getting out and mixing with client prospects and then you have the possible loneliness because you don’t mix with other people as you may have done previously.”

As a home-based No Letting Go franchise you may still have clients visiting so you can’t afford to be sat around in your pyjamas all day long and you still have to report to a regional office.

Nick adds: “Franchising is a great opportunity for the right people. The reward potential is enormous but it still requires energy, discipline and dedication to be successful.”

There are franchising opportunities for a wide range of industries and No Letting Go have become the leaders in what is termed inventory management. That is when an inventory is made at a property for the landlord which is independent as well as being fair and accurate.

Like many opportunities, franchising is about what you put into it. It is not a short cut to success and you will need to be professional in your outlook and establish a routine that works for you which means no slacking to watch TV or entertaining people to coffee on a regular basis.

It also means that you need an office space which, ideally, has a door so you can keep distractions and family on the other side of it. Everyone needs to understand that when the door is closed, then you are at ‘work’ and should not be disturbed.

It’s only natural that some people won’t understand the difference and think that being at home means you are available for chores or favours. You will have to be firm – relent once and it will become a common feature and will lead to working for longer trying to get the work done.

Some people will also struggle to get their ‘business head on’ which is to say they don’t commute and don’t have that time between home and work to focus from one place to the next. It helps to dress as if you are going out to work.

The next big issue is spending long periods by yourself. Let’s be honest: after years of working in hectic office environments, this is going to take some getting used to.

You will need to structure your day and allocate time to achieving a set list of tasks. You will also need regular breaks from the computer and to get some fresh air and exercise. Do not start playing computer games or over-indulging in social media such as Facebook or Twitter – turn them off and you will reap the rewards.

It may also be a great idea to start networking and joining business clubs (especially if you become a franchisee of No Letting Go because the potential contacts you make could bring money in).

Finally, working from home is a great way to earn a living but if you don’t take time to make friends and create new networks then who will you boast to about your successes?

For more information about becoming a franchisee with the fast-expanding business No Letting Go, then visit: http://www.nolettinggo.co.uk/join-our-inventory-management-team.html or call 0800 8815 366.

No Letting Go are the UK’s leading provider of inventory management services, providing check in and check out services, property inventory and condition reports and specialist on site services to landlords, lettings agents and property professionals.

What is Clean?

By Nick Lyons, Managing Director, No Letting Go

Whilst it may be of no surprise to many long time property managers, the introduction of the deposit schemes (TDS) has highlighted an area that causes a great deal of time-related cost in the industry. It seems that the most common cause of complaint is, and has been, cleanliness and from my various discussions with property managers and adjudicators over the previous few years, the most difficult element to determine is “What is Clean?

cleaning products

You’ve got the cleaning products – but what constitutes ‘clean’?

It is fair to say that what one person calls clean, is not what another person calls clean and therefore as an inventory management company, property manager, landlord or in house inventory clerk, how do you benchmark standards and determine levels of cleanliness so that we all know what we are talking about?

In the early days of the deposits schemes, the first statistics to come from all three adjudications as published by Mortgage Trust in 2009 showed that 43% of disputes were related directly to cleanliness.

The TDS scheme at the time was reporting figures in the region of 50% and recent figures released by a landlord survey carried out by mydeposits.co.uk showed that 88.5% of disputes were related to cleanliness, 53.8% were related to wear and tear and 23% related to gardening.

No Letting Go carried out an analysis of all check outs at its various UK offices in 2010/11 to ascertain which areas of the check out were causing most disputes. Cleanliness was (not surprisingly) the biggest area – registering around 78% of the negative comments, closely followed by rubbish, damage and to a lesser extent general maintenance.

To back up the No Letting Go survey on check-outs we went further and carried out an analysis of 100 inventories from various sources including inventory companies, agents and landlords.

Surprisingly we found that only a few companies stated what they determine as clean, most in fact had such a vague explanation that I was amazed that any property manager could make a decision on the level of cleanliness required for the property without having to make a visit themselves! However more companies did make a determined effort to define levels of condition.

As part of a review of No Letting Go inventories following our research we introduced a list of definitions or parameters to state what we meant by clean. We found at the time that we spend an enormous amount of time explaining how dirty or clean a property was.

Inventory companies are in the business of independently registering facts in a subjective area of the property business, thus we needed a way to say to our clients what we meant by the various states of cleanliness. And by that, we mean:

What is a professional clean?

What does cleaned to a professional standard mean?

What is the difference between a good domestic clean and average domestic clean?

What does not clean actually mean and so on.

For example, No Letting Go define Professionally Clean as:

Everything immaculate, sparkling and dust free. Appliances and sanitary ware spotless. Carpets steamed cleaned, vacuumed. Floors swept. All furniture in order and clean. Linen freshly laundered. Cleaned to a high professional standard by a professional cleaner, receipt seen. Name of the company and date carried out.

The key here is not about our own opinions and differences on what we all call clean. It is about clearly telling a property manager or landlord (or adjudicator) what the benchmark is and therefore provide detailed and clear information to be able to make decision on the levels of cleanliness required to get a property ready for the next tenancy or to make it easy to calculate a deposit deduction.

Furthermore, with the increasing importance of the check-in procedure by gaining tenants’ agreement to the inventory and the schedule of condition at the start of the tenancy, clearly defining a level of cleanliness (whether in the inventory and schedule of condition and/or in a separate check in report) is critical.

Knowing that such a high proportion of issues relate to cleanliness, explaining to your tenant what is expected of them before and at the end of the process will mean less ambiguity which in turn saves time and money.

The best inventory management condition reports are not only the most detailed, but the clearest.

For further details on the No Letting Go cleanliness parameters call us on 0800 8815 366 or simply visit our website at http://www.nolettinggo.co.uk/property-inventory-articles.html and look at any of our inventory, check in or check out reports. We define both cleanliness and condition parameters to make it easy to make a decision.

Unpaid rent and filthy tenants – Latest Student Landlord Survey 2011

With student market nearly upon us, New Student Publications carried out an interesting straw survey on Student Landlord Problems

Different categories were addressed covering areas from unpaid rent to cleanliness issues.

Unpaid rent, filthy tenants and panicking about filling your properties for next year?

The results were astounding, with over 14% of landlords saying that their current biggest problem is just finding tenants to take their properties and fill in any gaps should someone drop out during a contract, with more than 2% feeling like they are struggling just to get viewings. One agent simply said “we have unlet properties remaining for July 2011, the situation is worse than in previous years” In a similar 2009 survey finding tenants was also the biggest problem raised by landlords.

Dirty Tenants

Landlords cited dirty tenants as their second biggest problem, with 16% left to pick up massive cleaning bills, or called out at 4am to change a lightbulb. The general consensus was “students don’t take care of the property or make any effort to keep the house clean.” 3.5% of agents thought that students demanded a much higher standard of accommodation than ever before, although it seems that tenants are unwilling to take out contracts for a full twelve months, with one landlord struggling to get even shorter terms “the majority of people contact me to rent for one or two months.”

Pressure From Pupose Built Halls

Many of the landlords surveyed said that they felt increased pressure from new purpose built student villages found in many city centres; more than 8% of those surveyed would eradicate those villages if we gave them one wish! 2% of landlords are afraid that their properties were not close enough to ‘hotspots’ and so would soon be abandoned in favour of more central locations.

Unpaid Rent

11% of businesses struggle with unpaid rent, while 2% note that this messes with their cash flow and although some are sympathetic to the issues caused by the Student Loans Company, most are fixed on the bigger picture; “a lot of time is spent chasing payment. Students seem to think that it is not always necessary for them to pay their rent.” This coupled with tenants excessively using all inclusive utilities means that businesses are less profitable. One landlord’s wish was simply that we could ‘undo the recession’ as 8 different landlords complained of increases to the cost of maintaining their properties to a decent standard.

Relax Regulations

Bogged down with HMO paperwork and expense? Over 18% of those surveyed would love to change or relax the regulations and the council powers to control them. One landlord stated; “there should be a national guide for HMO legislation.” Some landlords feel so strongly about HMO licensing that they named specific city councils or even actual councillors as their biggest fear for the future. 3 landlords said they had qualms about council schemes to shift populations from one area of a city to another, and how it would affect their business.

Worries Over Tuition Fee Increase

Landlords are worried about the tuition fee increase, with more than 14% saying that if they had one wish, they would fight the fees and leave the system as it stands, a worry which probably contributes to 13% of them saying that they feel the future of the market is uncertain, as some students may choose to stay at home to study. Competition from the university owned housing is a headache too, with 4% saying an increase in that sort of accommodation would be detrimental to their ability to let.

Problems With Advertising

Landlords raised the issue of advertising, when to do it and how the culture of marketing lets so early can damage the business, with nearly 5% of landlords thinking there should be a guideline that means property is marketed in January and not before. 4% thought university accommodation offices charged them too much for advertising, and 5% would like to see cheaper, and more effective advertising available to them.

Deposit Protection Unfair

Some landlords were concerned that the existing Deposit Protection Scheme did not offer them enough scope to reclaim money for damage to their properties. Eight separate landlords would like to see the entire system revised, with 1% of those surveyed listing it as their biggest problem. A case from the survey highlights the DPS’s flaws; “£1500 worth of damage but ex tenants refuse to give consent to DPS to pay the landlord.” And some feel that from a legal standpoint the law does not protect them, 3% of landlords would like to see more legislation to protect the financial interests of the landlord.

Worries Over The Potential Drop In Student Numbers

And what of the future of the student property market? More than half of those surveyed were very worried about the potential drop in student numbers next year, with one landlord summing up the problems this will create; “if student numbers drop because of the £9,000 a year course fees then we might see empty houses, lower rents or both.” A worry shared by 3% of those surveyed, who fear the contraction in the market will mean a forced reduction of rents, while other suggested offering shorter term contracts or starting to appeal to the housing benefit market was the only way to keep the business afloat.

No Problems At All

But this isn’t the full picture. Almost 9% of those surveyed have no major problems with the lettings market, their tenants or filling their properties. One landlord is more than happy with his tenants; “we enjoy our students. We pride ourselves in helping them learn how to care for and run the house. We regard them as ‘professionals-in-training’ and teach them what they should reasonably expect from a landlord and what they should reasonably do as a tenant.” One respondent would use a magic wand to change the public’s attitude towards students; “they tend to live in larger houses that are too big for modern families and therefore almost act as guardians for some of our most impressive architecture. They should be seen as a positive part of any community.”

 

Top 5 biggest fears for the future Number of responses Percentage
Fewer students in the future 101 54%
Student villages 15 8%
Legislation increasing workload 15 8%
Unpaid rent due to fees 10 5%
Universities moving into market 8 4%
Top 5 current biggest problems Number of responses Percentage
Bad tenants 51 13.6%
Uncertainty for the future 49 13.1%
Finding tenants 48 12%
Unpaid rent 41 11%
HMOs 17 4.5%

No Letting Go are working with a number of student letting agents and bodies around the UK to help protect both landlords and tenants from many of the issues arising from cleanliness and deposit protection. Better use of Inventory services, checking tenants in, property visits and managing the check out is critical to ensuring that potential problems are dealt with in advance and issues arising from check outs are dealt with quickly and efficiently. Contact No Letting Go on 0800 881 5366 or find your nearest office at www.nolettinggo.co.uk

Compiled by Emma Parker New Student – Student Housing Magazines – www.newstudent.co.uk

Lettings firms expelled by Property Ombudsman

Two lettings firms, one in London and the other in Torbay, have been expelled by The Property Ombudsman scheme.

Madisons of 7, Odeon Parade, 468, London Road, Isleworth, was expelled for failing to pass on rent it had collected and for mishandling tenants’ deposits.

However TPO is required under the terms of the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007, to maintain Madisons’ registration for sales activities.

The Disciplinary Standards Committee (DSC) of the TPO Council considered a number of complaints where Madisons collected rent and did not pass it on.

When the matter was referred to the Ombudsman he determined that the rent should be paid over to the landlords, and that compensation be paid for breaches of the TPO Code of Practice for Letting Agents in the firm’s general failing to provide a service consistent with fairness, integrity and best practice. In one case, although the rents have now been paid, the compensatory award made by the Ombudsman has not been met.

“This has been a sorry and frustrating business for both Madisons’ clients and TPO,” said Gerry Fitzjohn (right), vice chairman of the company operating TPO.

“It concerns us that while we can expel their lettings business from the scheme we have no option but to continue registration for their sales business until the Office of Fair Trading bans the agent.

“In the meantime, it is our duty to make the public aware of the situation regarding Madisons.”

The second firm to be expelled is Torbay Residential Lettings (TRL), of 49 Market Street, Torquay.

The firm had breached several aspects of the TPO Code of Practice for letting agents by not co-operating with the Ombudsman’s investigation, not paying the award made by the Ombudsman after he had found the firm had not registered the tenants’ deposit, failing to complete a proper check-out process, and failing to provide an appropriate form of tenancy agreement.

The Disciplinary Standards Committee (DSC) of the TPO Council, in deciding to expel TRL also noted that one of the directors of the firm had been jailed for three years in January, 2010, for child cruelty and perverting the course of justice.

The remaining director considered that the dispute being decided upon by the Ombudsman was not the firm’s responsibility because the complaint arose from the actions of the jailed director. The DSC took the view that this was not relevant and the firm was liable to meet its obligations as a TPO member.

“Such behaviour is unacceptable,” said Gerry Fitzjohn. “Our scheme’s primary purpose is to resolve disputes between agents and consumers but we also aim to raise professionalism and insist on certain levels of service. Where these are not met, we make it clear that an agent is no longer fit for membership and recommend the public take notice of this.”

Published in Jungledrum, Property Drum. March 2011

£100m fund for franchise industry

February 07, 2011
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A £100m loan fund to boost growth in the franchise industry was unveiled today by NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland.

The money will be able to support up to 1,800 new and growing franchise businesses and 24,000 jobs nationwide, based on typical start-up costs.

The fund offers reduced fees of one per cent and 12-month capital repayment holidays. New franchises will benefit from two years’ free banking.

Tom Kelly, managing director of NatWest commercial banking in the north west, said: “Everybody wants to see banks funding business growth, as well as helping new businesses get off the ground to create jobs. This is exactly what this fund will deliver.”

A 2010 survey by NatWest and the British Franchise Association showed the industry’s combined turnover in the north west was £1.3bn. Nationally, there are around 35,000 franchisees employing more than 450,000 people with turnover of £11.8bn.

The survey also found the number of female franchisees had grown by 86pc in the last seven years.

UK wide inventory management discovery dates

No Letting Go release more discovery dates for people wanting to get involved in the property inventory management industry.

Discovery Day Dates – 2010/2011:

Tuesday 24th August London
Thursday 30th September Birmingham
Wednesday 27th October London
Thursday 25th November Manchester
Tuesday 18th January Bristol
Thursday 17th February London

Contact No Letting Go at www.nolettinggo.co.uk or on 0845 659 9980 for more information on our inventory franchises throughout the UK