Making sure the check-in process for tenants is carried out in a smooth manner is more important than ever, in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Restrictions are tightening across the country again as Britain prepares itself for a fully fledged second wave, and while a second national lockdown seems unlikely, there could be further curbs on everyday freedoms as the weather worsens and the annual flu season begins to rear its head.
But what can you do to ensure the pre-tenancy process is as seamless as possible? Here, we outline some top tips for agents eager to impress clients more than ever this winter.
During normal times, good communication is vital when it comes to ensuring a smooth, successful tenancy, but this even more so the case at present, when many people are uncertain and confused about what they can and can’t do.
From viewing protocols to playing by the rules on in-branch appointments, to ensuring all your landlords and tenants know where they stand with regards to tenancy agreements, inventories, fees and Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), it’s vital that communication is clear and consistent throughout.
Make sure you know the preferred method of communication for your landlords and would-be tenants, so you can contact them via a medium which they are likely to check on a regular basis and respond to. For many, this will still be a call, text or email, but for an increasing number it might be via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime or other social media platforms.
Emphasise the importance of the tenancy agreement
This is the contract signed between your landlords and tenants, setting out the legal terms and conditions of a tenancy and the rules and regulations tenants must abide by – for example, whether they can have a pet, redecorate or smoke indoors. The tenancy agreement can be written down or be a spoken oral agreement. It is, though, far more preferable for it to be written down somewhere, so there is an evidence trail to follow should any disputes occur at a later date. Tenancy Agreements provided by TLA.co.uk – Visit the Landlord InterACTIVE™ service on the homepage.
The tenancy agreement is something tenants should read carefully before they commit to renting a home, to limit the chances of any issues further down the line. If, for example, a landlord has made it explicitly clear that sub-letting is not allowed and late-night parties are a breach of the tenancy agreement, and a tenant goes ahead and does this anyway, the potential for serious disputes goes up.
Tenancy documents – such as tenancy contracts and tenancy agreements – can be signed electronically with digital or e-signatures holding the same weight as physical ones. In these Covid times, where face-to-face interaction is advised against, and remote solutions are being encouraged, you may want to arrange for landlords and tenants to sign in this manner, as well as prioritising digital deposit registration, digital offers and digital referencing.
Make it digital
In days gone by, tenants would likely have come into the office to complete the application process for a new home and sign their tenancy agreement – as well as potentially stopping by for keys and any other queries.
Even before Covid, the trend for people visiting agent branches in-person had been on the decline, but this has been supercharged by the pandemic, with the government actively encouraging appointment-only visits to branches and pushing for remote solutions wherever possible.
This includes remote viewings in the first instance, to ensure that a tenant is serious about a property before visiting it in person.
On the viewing itself, there are a wide range of protocols that all parties – agent, landlord and tenant – must abide by, from face coverings and social distancing to a limit on the number of people in a property at any one time and no mixing of households.
If something can be managed digitally at present, this is preferable given the restrictions at play – which are also much stricter in certain parts of the country deemed more at risk of virus spread.
Some of the tenancy process was slowly moving online even before January this year, but the desire for digital solutions – streamlined, simplified and highly effective – has gone up a couple of notches since Covid-19 became a part of our lives.
Too much of the current process is bogged down with paperwork and inefficient systems, but agents using fast, streamlined systems can really stand out from the crowd.
Tenancy admin, and the tenant referencing process, can be cumbersome and time-consuming if you don’t have the right kind of procedures in place to speed these up. Again, this is where digital solutions come into their own.
Know the Covid rules
To ensure a smooth pre-tenancy process, it’s vital that letting agents and landlords adhere to the guidance given by government on how to safely let property during the coronavirus pandemic.
Landlords and letting agents should not conduct viewings in properties where tenants are symptomatic or self-isolating, while any visits to a property must be made in accordance with the government’s guidelines on working in other people’s homes and social distancing.
The government also advises letting agents and landlords to take steps to ensure any properties are ready for new tenants, including cleaning to minimise any potential spread of the virus in line with government advice.
Additionally, it’s recommended that letting agents and landlords consider how best to conduct tenancy check-ins for new tenancies, ‘taking care to follow government advice on social distancing and public health advice’ to minimise the spread of infection. Right to Rent checks can, at present, be conducted remotely due to Covid-19.
The government also suggests that agents and landlords look for ways to ensure that in-person payments, referencing or checks can be conducted remotely instead, taking further legal or professional advice if required to implement these properly.
We know that effortless rental transactions are more crucial than ever at present, and here at Propoly we are doing our bit to make that a reality.
We help your landlords and tenants to get to the move-in-date faster by inviting tenants to submit digital offers, pay holding fees, sign ASTs and pay move-in monies all online with minimal manual effort from your side. You can also generate a deal on behalf of landlords by using details provided by tenants digitally, and generate the tenancy agreement instantly by selecting custom options.
Our software also automatically provides your landlords and tenants with instant updates on every step of the process, from viewing feedback, tenancy documents and status updates throughout the tenancy progression process for landlords, while tenants can see status updates for themselves and co-tenants, and complete their references, signing and paying monies online.
Landlords are already required to make sure that the wiring and appliances in their properties are safe, but from July it will be a legal requirement for private landlords to have their electrical installations inspected every five years and provide safety certificates to tenants and their local authority.
The regulations will apply to all new tenancies from 1 July 2020 and existing tenancies from 1 April 2021. If serious problems are identified, these will have to be remedied quickly. Local authorities will have a duty to take action if landlords do not comply with the requirements and will be able to issue fines if necessary.
If, like many tenants, your rental package is not bills inclusive, it will fall upon you to pick your own energy supplier. But how can you go about picking the best one, with the best value for money and the biggest impact on lowering your carbon footprint?
Below, we outline some top tips on the key things you need to be considering when choosing an energy supplier…
Use comparison sites to shop around
For better or worse, the adverts for these sites are now ingrained in our collective consciousness, but they do actually have a use – particularly when it comes to comparing things like the best energy deals on the market.
Picking the right gas and electricity deal could save you considerable amounts of money each year (hundreds of pounds off your energy bills, in many cases), so it’s worth doing your research and shopping around for the best possible package before you commit yourself to a particular provider.
Sites such as Compare The Market and moneysupermarket.com allow you to compare fuel tariffs, while Which? Switch and uSwitch also allow you to compare a range of tariffs in your area.
Which tariff should you choose?
There are a number of things you should bear in mind when choosing your energy supplier. Do you want a fixed, variable or green energy deal? Do you want to combine your gas and electricity in a dual fuel package?
Do you want to be on a ‘time of use’ deal, which lowers rates for your electricity in off-peak hours – usually between midnight and 7am? If you use most of your energy during these hours, time of use is something you may want to consider. In most cases peak energy use will be outside these hours, but for some it might represent the right deal.
Meanwhile, in a similar way to mortgages, a fixed energy deal is often cheaper and more secure than a variable one – with prices fixed for the length of the contract, or fixed at different rates, at separate stages of the contract.
However, on a fixed deal, if energy rates go down, your rate will not be reduced. What’s more, while fixed deals are often the cheapest, they don’t tend to offer much flexibility in terms of switching. If you choose to change deals more than 42 days before the end of your contract, you are liable to pay a fee to do so.
A greener approach – Visit Our Green partners, WorldofRenewables.com
With the growth in renewable energy and greater awareness about climate change, many consumers are keen to take a greener approach to many aspects of life. This includes energy deals, where green energy tariffs are an option. These tariffs use more renewable energy than standard gas or electricity deals.
This could cost you more than other tariffs, but there are certain green suppliers – including OVO Energy, Green Network Energy, Green Star Energy and Ecotricity – who offer cheaper green energy deals.
With BP recently suggesting that renewable energy will be the world’s main power source by 2040, greener energy is likely to be more popular than ever in the coming years and is something you may want consider now to help the environment and, in many cases, secure lower bills.
Check out our Going Green section on the homepage.
Switching tariffs or providers
If you’re already on one tariff, and want to switch to a cheaper one to save money on your energy bills, you can ask your supplier to move you to a cheaper tariff. Or, alternatively, you can switch to a totally new provider.
Switching can save you money and can also allow you to source a more energy efficient tariff and enable you to switch more easily at a future juncture.
Assuming you are not in debt to your current supplier, you can switch by phone or online. You can use the sites mentioned above to search for deals by postcode and compare tariffs, inputting your energy usage to ensure you get the most accurate results possible.
If you have a smart meter, information on your energy usage will be provided – or you could simply look at your latest bill.
Once you’ve found the right deal, you can confirm your switch by providing your new supplier with full bank and address details. It should take around three weeks for the switch to take place, and you may have to pay a small cancellation fee (typically £25 to £30 for each service) to your existing supplier, especially if you’re on a fixed deal.
The Big Six – who are they?
When the topic of energy suppliers in the UK is raised, you’ll often hear about the Big Six – the companies responsible for providing approximately 95% of the country’s energy. But who are these firms?
- British Gas
- EDF Energy
- E.ON UK
While these companies provide the vast majority of UK homes with gas and electricity, there are a whole host of smaller suppliers on the market who may offer better deals, including local and green providers.
Often, these smaller companies have higher levels of customer satisfaction as they can offer a more personal service.
What’s more, fears about issues being caused by a small supplier going out of business suddenly are misguided, with energy regulator Ofgem recently introducing measures to protect consumers from losing their energy supply if a small supplier goes bust.
Despite the possible benefits of switching suppliers, many are put off by the time, cost and hassle they perceive to be involved. As a result, less than half of the UK’s population has ever switched their energy supplier, even with regular calls from MPs for people to browse around for better deals.
Paying for your energy
In some cases, people opt for a prepayment tariff, whereby you top up your energy using a prepayment meter. This means you pay for your energy in advance and swerve the prospect of monthly and quarterly bills, offering more flexibility and an effective pay as you go approach to energy.
While this ensures you are more likely to only pay for the energy you need, a prepayment meter typically makes gas and electricity more expensive.
If you don’t have a prepayment meter, you can pay your energy bill on a quarterly basis (by cheque, direct debit or BACS transfer), or via a monthly direct debit. The latter option is very often the cheapest, with most suppliers providing discounts for those paying by direct debit.
One other option is to make regular payments via a credit or debit card, which can be done weekly, every two weeks or every month.
Splitting the bill
If you are part of a house share or living in a student property with your friends while at university, you will want to find a way of splitting the bills you owe fairly and easily.
Sites such as Glide simplify bills for students by combining all utilities into an equal monthly split for each tenant, reducing the possibility of disagreements over who owes what and who paid what when. It also means chasing housemates for money becomes less of an issue.
However you do it, you should decide on a system and stick to it. If one or two people use much more energy than others, they may be willing to contribute more to the monthly energy costs. Work things out fairly and remain consistent with this thereafter.
As you can see, there is quite a lot to get your head around when it comes to choosing the right energy supplier for your rental property. But there is plenty of help out there to help you pick the right package and provider, and you may want to seek advice from your landlord, friends or parents on which energy supplier they would recommend.
Remember, too, switching isn’t as hard as you probably think it is, so it’s worth regularly reviewing your energy package to ensure you’re getting the best possible deal.