[News and views from our investigative reporter Ben Reeve-Lewis, (a bit late today) plus a few pithy interjections from me – Ed]
Oh no! Its Friday!
I woke up this morning to the sound of birds singing in the garden of our new home. Stretched, relaxed and started chatting with Frazzy about her day, then suddenly screamed, sat bolt upright, realising I hadn’t written this week’s article.
Tessa was understanding, we are both busier than centipedes at a toe counting contest at the moment and I have been moving house and looking at new places for the past 2 months.
What surprised me was how few properties there are on the market to rent.
Where have all the properties gone?
A friend of mine who is a procurement officer for a local authority tells me that 6 months ago her phone rang several times a day with landlords offering properties up for rent but in the past few weeks she counts herself lucky if she gets one call.
Similarly another friend who works for a major charity and has to find accommodation for ex offenders is at her wits end trying to bring enough properties in. She attends landlords forums, NLA meetings, anywhere that landlords congregate, to try and encourage them to let.
I also have friends who are letting agents and they are seriously concerned for their business for the same reasons. Why is this? There are loads of tenants out there at the moment but a massive shortage of rentals. [So why do the government think that landlords are going to drop their rent for Housing Benefit tenants???? Ed]
Mortgage lending news
There is a tentative bit of good news from the council for mortgage lenders. Buy to let mortgages are on the increase again with an extra 23,700 new ones taken out in the last quarter. This should help towards the current dearth of rental properties out there.
However you have to balance that out with other news, also from the CML, announced in February, that Around 46,000 people had their homes repossessed during 2009 while a further 188,300 homeowners have fallen behind with their payments. This is the highest amount of mortgage repossessions for 15 years, although apparently things have slowed down in this area during the past 3 months.
This is news to me and my co-TRO Sean who are seeing a record amount of mortgage cases at the moment, even for us, and as usual it is always sub-prime lenders on a second mortgage pushing for outright possession with often less than £2,000 arrears.
But why are there so few properties on the market at the moment? Are landlords not letting or are tenants not moving? Fewer mortgages are being granted at the moment, so there are even more tenants out there than usual. In a free market economy I thought things were driven by supply and demand.
I can understand landlords being nervous of impending changes to housing benefit but not all tenants are benefit dependent.
Dodgy letting agents again
On a different tack there has been quite a bit of hoo-haw lately about dodgy letting agents. This is certainly not news to me or Sean who must have the dodgiest set of agents in the entire UK all along our local high street, ripping off tenants budgeting loans, strong arming people out of properties, charging landlords for things that they don’t even do.
The Property Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, said of one case, where his investigation had revealed systematic misappropriation of client funds affecting at least 64 landlords, that Trading Standards and police had to be put under pressure to take action. Hamer has made a fresh call for more control over the actions of residential lettings agents, saying there is appetite in the industry for formal regulation.
I am a big fan of regulating agents. I can see the arguments against too much regulation of landlords, discouraging investment but agents set themselves up as lettings professionals. In my experience agents are often completely clueless about landlord tenant law and have no compunction in breaking it even when they do know. Not all of them of course but a significant percentage.
In 2010 Hamer investigated 1,338 complaints made against agents, the highest ever recorded in 20 years.
“The absence of regulation means the consumer is left vulnerable, with nowhere to go when there is service failure or fraud.
“We believe that the Government must look again at introducing regulation, in order to eradicate unprofessional, unqualified and unethical agents from the marketplace and increase protection for both tenants and landlords.”
This was a phone conversation I had with one of our local agents last month.
Me: Has her tenancy come to an end?”
Me: Well if the relationship between has broken down that much why don’t you serve a section 21 and just bring it all to an end?
Him: Yeah I suppose you are right, we can’t go on like this. So what’s this thing you are talking about? …..a section what?
Add my name to that list Ian!
[What do you think of these news items? Thoughts, comments? Please use the comment box below … Ed]