PropTech Today: Letting my flat – who won, tech or traditional?

News at Property Ladder Devon | 23/05/2018


Well last week was interesting. The column about my decision to put the property on with a letting agent went viral

This was after my observations of my past experience at Foxtons and the tactics we used to find the right price for a property were picked up by a respected BBC pundit and buying agent who, in my opinion, missed the point and was frankly, quite hypcritical, given his own monetary motivations for getting the right price for his client, the buyer. 

I am not one to hold a grudge, however, so I shall look forward to a beer and a chat to discuss our differences. Knowing us both, it will be an quite entertaining discussion. 

Let’s be less controversial this week and just state, quickly, and to put you out of your misery, it was the traditional market that won out in the end. 

Within 72hrs of listing our property to let, it was indeed rented, at 98% of the asking price. Two-year deal, no conditions, move-in within five days. Well done River Homes of Chiswick. Impressive customer service to boot. 

They do everything I expect of a traditional agent. The manager understood my property and kept in touch, even when he knew there was no chance of me bringing it on, he was always there. And this was the result, a nice lettings deal for them. 

Now let me add some context...

In my mind, this was agents being a) efficient and b) using their key differentiator to the ‘onbrids’. 

The hot box or its modern day equivalent - come on admit it, who still uses one? Comments below please... 

River Homes had this family on their books already. They were already pre-qualified, the agent knew them, they knew what they wanted and they were simply able to call and tell them what had come on the market. 

What had happened if they didn’t have the applicants? Would their systems have been better or worse than the onbrids? I simply don’t know and I can’t tell you.

So let’s talk about the systems that I used in my week or so that the property was on the market. 
And let me just say, I think this is actually their biggest challenge - the lettings turn around is just so quick. 

Because of this speed, I had just two options. Upad, simply because I know these to be one of the largest online letting agents and the founder, James Davis, is a UK PropTech Association member - he wasn’t aware that I was trailing them by way of clarification. 

Secondly, there was Openrent. I had heard so much about this platform simply as it was so cheap and completely self-service. 

Let me start with Upad. All worked smoothly, uploading images was easily done but I deliberately left off some descriptive elements to see how it all went. Would it be picked up or just published? 

In fact, I repeated this with both Upad and OpenRent. Both are cheap so how can they afford to have an element of manual intervention at the prices quoted (from £120+VAT for Upad and free to list for OpenRent, though more realistically £29+VAT)? Both crazily cheap compared to the 9-11%+VAT I had been paying - over £2,000)

In both cases, the systems worked well but, sure enough, within the 24 hours I was called and emailed by Upad about my listing being incomplete. 

This was done by a senior letting executive, nonetheless, who pointed out the issues with my advert. Nothing from Openrent, but the notifications were pretty impressive. I was now online; just with an incomplete advert (a description with nonsense basically). 

Within 24 hours I was then live with both platforms and on the portals. I have to say I had a number of viewing requests and messages from the Openrent platform but, if I am honest, they were completely and utterly random. 

People moving from abroad, those wanting to offer £1,400 before seeing it (was on for £1,700) and some that I deleted even before reading the whole message. 

Perhaps you get what you pay for? 

Upad were impressive, though, more in terms of their personal service than the number of viewings booked I have to say. They prompted me based on viewing figures of the portals to lower the price at the end of the first week. 

I think, had I not had the offer from River Homes, I would have taken their advice. It was vacant after all. 

The one thing that interested me was the fact Upad didn’t integrate in with a firm like Viewber. This meant, had the viewings been forthcoming, I would have had to conduct them which just wouldn’t have been possible. 

Removing the geographical restriction to me conducting the viewings, it is interesting, when you look at research that 81% of tenants prefer to meet landlords so maybe this is for the best. 

I have to say, in an ideal world, I would still prefer to meet them - they are living in our property after all (I still feel it is ours, despite not living there for nearly 12 years). 

Having said that, I think there is something there for a Upad to consider remote landlords like me. 

Conclusions

I will be doing one more post next week about my overall summation of this experiment as well as some experiments I have carried out on post-letting products - deposit schemes, inventory systems and others. 

I have tried a lot of things, dealt with a lot of people. I wish I could have dealt with more but I, for one, have learnt more in the last two months, than I have talking about it for the last five years. 

Before I finish today, a thank you for all the comments and questions during this time - through twitter and on here; glad many of you have enjoyed the journey. 

*James Dearsley is a leading PropTech influencer and commentator. You can follow him on Twitter here.