Pay to view, not pay per view – commentary from our Partnership Development Manager, Neil Jackson (MARLA)

Years ago, I warned applicants to avoid dealing with anyone who wanted to charge them for the privilege of viewing a property. Now, with the looming ban on tenant fees, I’m not so sure. The ban will cause disruption and potential job losses across the lettings sector, and the plain fact is that there’s a cost to viewings. If you do a very basic calculation to figure out the sums involved, I’d be surprised if it comes in at less than £25 each time. For some areas of the country, it will be much, much higher. Can you pass the costs on? Let’s look at the context.

Your time is valuable

Most applicants will have no idea how many ‘no shows’ you experience. They won’t have considered the overheads associated with getting a qualified, professional and insured member of staff to meet them at an agreed time and place. And, if they’re unlucky enough to have been left hanging around by the late arrival of an agent – or worse a ‘no show’ from an agent – they won’t be impressed by the idea of paying to view. (Most believe, by the way, that the landlord should foot the bill.)

Now, you may argue that properly qualifying an applicant – and not booking a viewing just for the sake of it – is a skill all professional negotiators need, and generally speaking, I’d agree. However, we’ve all experienced turning up to a viewing, having confirmed with a pre-call earlier in the day, just to get ghosted by the applicant, who you never hear from again. It’s incredibly frustrating, but it’s part of the job, albeit a harsh lesson in the importance of a sharp booking process.

Let’s think, now, about what happens when the fees ban is implemented? If you could refine your viewing processes to get a better hit rate and reduce wasted time, you’d want to do that, wouldn’t you?

Learning from online retail

Now, of course, the aim of the fees ban is to make renting fairer and easier for tenants. I’m not suggesting undermining that principle with sky-high, pre-tenancy costs, but I do believe there could be demand for a range of optional services for applicants.

As an example, if you’ve shopped online, you’ll know that prime delivery slots cost more. Everyone accepts this and chooses the best option for them. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to apply this model to your business and to your negotiators’ time? If you can only commit to eight viewings on a Saturday, why not consider a premium service which guarantees a weekend slot? Pre-referenced applicants would also make your qualifying much easier and reduce the instances of ‘forgotten’ CCJs and the like.

I’m confident that many applicants would happily pay a small, optional fee to have benefits such as flexible viewing or priority access to new properties. Provided these are exactly that – optional – I do not see them contravening the draft bill in its current form. Caution is necessary, however. The bill prohibits most payments “as a condition of arranging the grant, renewal or continuance of a tenancy” with only limited exceptions. There’s a long road to travel before the bill is finalised, and until we know the final wording, posts like this can only be speculation.

In the meantime, it is, of course, business as usual. If you would like to discuss how we can help you navigate the ever-changing lettings landscape, let’s talk.