Wherever you go, “agents” are the same

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Real Estate Agents I mean.

The “Real Estate” industry is seriously full of turds. What we have is a group of people who’s job function is little better than commission-paid sales floor staff but who have inane delusions of grandeur, I’m sick of stupid yet condescending “agents”. Unfortunately many people in the industry are actually very well off, and I guess that’s all the grandeur you need in this day and age. Just try not to forget that it doesn’t matter who you are, tenant, landlord, buyer or seller, the industry is geared as best it can be to rip you off if you let your guard down.

As in Australia there are fairly standard tenancy agreements here in the UK, though not so standard that there’s a specific form you can expect. Thankfully the language in the contracts is kept in reasonable “plain English” too, no problem understanding it (the one I have is actually clearer than the one in Australia, it covers exceptions/rules with far less detail though). Back in April 2006 I signed a 12 month contract with a 4 month “break clause” for our place in Rickmansworth. What this means is that after 4 months I’m allowed to end the tenancy if I give two months notice — essentially it is a 6 month assured tenancy and very hard for either the tenant or landlord to exit unless exit is mutually acceptable. The following 6 months continue to be covered by the two month notice rule and, in fact, the wording of the contract is that this case continues indefinitely until either the tenant or the landlord gives notice.

Simple enough, strong lock-in periods are not nice and 2 months is a lot of notice but I can live with that.

So, here’s what a letting agency will (and did) try to do when the 12 months draws to a close. They’ll send you a new contract with a renewed assured tenancy period and do their best to communicate the point “you’d better enter a new contract or you’re turfed”. This seems rather ridiculous, seeing as the current protections of the contract continue indefinitely — the letting agent is pushing the assured tenancy period as “safety” (and push this bit or marketing to both parties as a positive, personally I think this lock-in is a negative for both parties, but less so for the landlord). Even more annoying is the fact that the lock-in was 2 months longer in the renewal than in the original contract.

Why bother with all this paperwork? Simple, it’s for the $$$. The money grubbing sales monkeys in the estate agency get dosh for this. I pay 55 quid for processing, which is stuff all — OK. The landlord pays 1000 quid!

Insane. What’s worse is that immediately the agency posts advertising that the place you’re in is available for let — even if you’ve applied for an extension and no 2 month period of notice is in place until the landlord rejects the extension. They’re really pushing the tenant to become uncomfortable and not question anything and just sign the contract ASAP with no consideration. Worse than that? Nearby agencies in the same chain start calling the landlord asking to be able to show the property and informing him that the current tenants (me!) have chosen to leave, a complete lie! A bunch of cats fighting over that morsel of commission.

Unfortunately the landlord isn’t too keen on contracts and isn’t keen on upsetting the agents — agents are scary. Fortunately he’s a good bloke and is more than willing to let the break clause in the contract cover the whole period. End result? The new contract is completely useless since it provides the same continuing protections that we already have. I still pay my 55 quid, the landlord still pays his 1000 quid and the dirty little agents get their commission. I get out of the uncomfortable situation of being very solidly tied to paying the rent for the property for 8 months, so I’m happy enough despite this not being an ideal outcome in my mind (I’d really prefer it if the agents didn’t get the landlord’s money).

I don’t particularly want to move but I consider my job in the UK to be volatile (at core it’s based around a R&D contract with another company) and in this case being locked into a 950 quid PCM tenancy for 8 months is too high a risk — 2 months is bad enough! We have considered moving, but I can’t see how it could fit in with current complexities in my schedule. Moving is hard, the current place is good, and the location is extremely convenient — the only issue is that quality and convenience come at a high price tag which has been difficult with Kat not working.

Down with the agents I say!