Each month, we take 5 minutes to ask a lettings industry expert 5 things. This month we are lucky enough to be talking to Francesca Mirisola-Jones, Senior Lettings Negotiator at Brand Vaughan Estate Agents.

Q. Hi Francesca, Thank you so much for taking the time out to do this for us. I’ll just get started as I know how busy you are! So I’m going to start on the subject of pets. Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has just announced an overhaul of the model tenancy contracts and has called upon landlords to remove restrictions on pets. I’m guessing this hasn’t been too popular. What are your thoughts on this as a lettings negotiator?

A. Well I understand the motive behind this but also don’t understand why they implemented the cap on the option to take a higher deposit for pets. You used to be able to take more money as a deposit to cover damages and pest treatments if they were necessary at the end of the tenancy but as they have now taken away this opportunity, a deposit has to be reserved for potentially owed rent, cleaning and other issues. So this has resulted in landlords being less inclined to accept pets in properties. If they introduced a pet deposit option I believe it would be more widely accepted. Deposit protection schemes were introduced many years ago to protect tenants interests – so it seems counter productive. It also isn’t just the landlords decision – certain properties have lease clauses for ‘no pets’. So I think it will prove problematic.

Q. Hmmm. It’s not really workable is it? So moving on – I’d like to get your opinion on Boris! After his landslide victory, 2020 seems to have started with huge amounts of optimism amongst many in the property industry. But is the Boris bounce real? Could this really be a ‘turning point’ year for the property market?

A. I believe this is true for the sales market after a rather unprogressive couple of years – and if he were to reduce or abolish stamp duty, I believe it would be a more friendly market for first time buyers, as well as boosting the market economy. The Brighton and Hove market which we operate in for example was voted one of the worst places to be if you are a first time buyer. So something needs to change. In the world of lettings I really don’t believe that Boris’ ideologies will have much influence. I’m sceptical. The lettings market has seen a reduction in profits due to the tenant fees ban which was introduced last year and I have several friends who have suffered working in smaller agents.

Q. Don’t mention the tenant fees ban! There does seem to have been a move towards tenants rights doesn’t there? I mean it’s good in a way, but it hasn’t been plain sailing – and especially difficult for those in your profession I imagine. So talking about parliamentary decisions: the government have just committed over 4 million to local councils in a bid to tackle the problem of criminal landlords. Do you think this will have much of an effect? Money well spent?

A. Depends on how they intend to spend it. It will be interesting to see. I would like to believe it will be used to tackle private landlords who are neglecting tenants who are in financial aid, who maybe are not in a position to defend and support themselves.

Q. You’d hope so. Their track record of dealing with the problem hasn’t exactly been great so far has it?! So you mentioned earlier about the generally unprogressive couple of years we’ve just seen in the housing market. And with the stagnation of house prices – I know that home improvements have been on the rise massively. So I wanted to get some advice from you. What are the easiest or most foolproof ways to add value to your property?

A. Number one, stay on top of maintenance. Keeping the property up to date, fresh and well decorated not only makes it more appealing but adds value. A lot of landlords conduct basic maintenance and think that this adds value which is not the case. If you have the extra cash, then have something that stands out and isn’t the ‘British standard’. I am always blown away on valuations by decorative tiles, marble counters and themed or coloured rooms. Without fail these properties will always draw the most attention and let the quickest at the best price. Good quality materials make all the difference.

Q. Noted! Now I know you spend a lot of time in the office, so tell me what you think about this. The entire branch network across the Connells Group has signed up to new technology where customer emails basically trigger the office phones to ring. The staff then hear a message with the enquiry and the name of the enquirer -and can then phone the customer straight back with the touch of a button – usually as the person has just sent their email. This is apparently going down well with customers, who are impressed to be called back straight away from an email enquiry. Have you come across any changes like this? Do you we will see a lot of changes to the traditional agency model and how it operates?

A. I haven’t come across a service like this before but I do indeed think it would be extremely effective in saving time writing back to email enquiries and would get a positive customer response. Our business has explored and taken up new services such as ‘no-deposits’,  bills inclusive in rent options and in-house cleaners. This has modernised the traditional agency approach with a more personal and comprehensive feel, with a wider range of services being offered to tenants. Even within property management, tenants can now report maintenance via apps on their mobile phones making the service more user friendly to tenants and agents alike. The industry is constantly changing, developing and expanding making the range of services being offered broader. I think that the most successful businesses within the lettings industry will be the ones that continue to adapt and evolve with the growing market.

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A massive thank you to Francesca for taking the time out of her busy schedule to do this for us. You can further connect with Harriet over at Brand Vaughan Estate Agents. And of course, if you want to work with an inventory clerks who truly understand the sector, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.