Renter’s Reform: The biggest upheaval in private renting since the 2004 Housing Act
The Renter’s Reform white paper has finally been published and it now looks like things will move quite fast as the white paper appears to essentially be the first draft of the Renter’s Reform Bill mentioned in the recent Queen’s Speech. It is likely to be the biggest upheaval in private renting in England since the introduction of the Housing Act 2004.
David Smith, Real Estate Partner at JMW Solicitors, gives his commentary on the Government’s reform plans:
“Clearly some of these reforms are huge, such as an end to s21, but others are likely to end up being a bit of a damp squib. The elephant in the room however is that most of this stuff will only apply to Assured Shorthold Tenancies. There are long-standing ways to avoid the AST regime and it is likely that some landlords will look to dust these off to continue operating as they are.
The long-awaited abolition of section 21. However, the White Paper seems to be going further than this and simply abolishing all fixed term tenancies altogether, echoing Private Tenancies in Scotland. All tenancies will be essentially periodic from the start, leaving tenants reasonably free to give notice and exit when they wish. Landlords will not have the same luxury and will only be able to evict tenants with cause. Those causes are to be added to, to allow for property sale and moving back in. The detail of the actual legislation will be important here.
Blanket bans on renting to children and to those on benefits. These are pretty unsurprising. I have long said that refusal to rent to people on benefits as a blanket policy was unwise and that every tenant should be looked at on their own terms. More than likely this will lead to private landlords adopting the same approach as some social landlords and simply telling tenants that their income (less benefits) is too low and that they cannot afford the property. It is likely to lead to a surge in efforts to “pre-qualify” tenants to avoid wasting time with applicants who are unlikely to meet criteria. This however has data protection implications.
Rent review changes. This is unclear but it seems likely that all rent review will have to be by way of the statutory s13 mechanism with a longer notice period and the white paper says that increases will only be allowed once annually but this is part of s13 already and few landlords use increase clauses that push rents up more often.
Allowing pets. This really seems like a bit of a crowd-pleaser as the desire for pets by tenants does not seem to be all that large, albeit that it has a vocal lobby. In fact, this is almost certainly going to have to be riven with exceptions which is likely to make it unworkable in practice. It appears that one of the main barriers to pets which was caused by the Tenant Fees Act is also to be reduced by allowing landlords to require pet-owning tenants to buy pet insurance.
A private-renter’s Ombudsman. Inevitably as a solicitor I am bound to say that I think it would be far better to make the existing court system more accessible. However, there has already been a huge growth in this form of privatised justice in the sector and it is clearly going to continue. There appears to be a wider commitment to increasing the use of Rent Repayment Orders by tenants.
Decent homes. It is illogical not to apply the Decent Homes Standard to the private sector. Even more bizarrely the English Housing Survey does apply the standard and measures PRS property based on it. However, it is a pretty low bar and having yet another standard alongside the existing structures does not make much sense, especially if it is not going to achieve much.
The portal. The DLUHC seems determined to say this is not a landlord register. But if it is compulsory then it is hard to see how it is anything else, however it is dressed up. However it now looks more like an advice portal for landlords but with some information from the register of rogue landlords and agents included.
Recovering possession. There is to be new powers to recover possession from ant-social tenants and grounds on rent arrears are to be improved. Bailiff resources are to be improved and there is to be a drive to list initial hearings sooner in ASB cases. But the reality is that the legislation is not really the problem here. It is the total lack of funding for the court system that is the real bar to obtaining possession.
More enforcement. It will be interesting to see the upgrades to council powers. I suspect that fines on civil penalties will be increased but the detail will be important. However, again the problem is more one of lack of funding and a shortage of experienced EHOs rather than a lack of powers. It appears that this will be started by running pilot schemes. Ironically, this is likely to increase, at least temporarily, what has been referred to as the “postcode lottery” on enforcement.
Deposits. There remains a commitment to develop some form of deposit passport to avoid tenants having to have to pay a second deposit when they move home with the first one being returned later. However, this is practically very difficult and I suspect it will continue to be more of a commitment than action.”
Google Ads are an effective marketing tool if optimised correctly
The first port of call for most potential vendors looking to instruct an estate agent would be Google, so an effective Google Ad campaign can be worth its weight in gold when it comes to putting your brand in front of the right audience.
Ben Sellers, Co-Founder and CEO of Starberry, part of the nurtur.group, says that Google Ads can be a really powerful marketing tool with a high ROI for estate agents, helping them to generate quality traffic and leads that convert to good business. “A well thought out and put together Google-Ad campaign can breed amazing results for any estate agency, provided of course they take the time to create engaging advertisements, known as Google Adtext, based on their potential leads online behaviour,” he comments.
According to Sellers there are a number of key aspects and simple strategies that agents can use that will elevate their Google-Ad campaigns and increase their effectiveness.
Understand your target audience and what they are searching for
Sellers says that property professionals should take the time to research their audience and set out clear goals for the ad-campaigns. “Understanding your audiences will help you to make more cost-efficient decisions surrounding the copy being used, copy that should be based on popular keywords searched by your audiences,” he adds. “Also, to avoid irrelevant leads and only attract the most qualified, you must understand what you’re paying for. Campaign insights, offer valuable information that present the results and allow you to ensure your ads are optimised.”
As mentioned, selecting the right keywords is paramount to the effectiveness of the campaign. “The ideal campaign will target the primary keywords that the intended audience is searching for in a specific location. Using tools such as Google’s ‘Keyword Planner’, an agent can pinpoint the most popular keywords and implement these into their campaign. This will push the campaign-ad in front of the desired potential leads,” says Sellers. “However, keyword strategy doesn’t end there. Estate agents looking to be more targeted in their approach should also investigate the use of ‘negative keywords’. Selecting the keywords that you don’t want your ad-campaign to appear for, which in turn weeds out any unqualified leads.”
He notes that another strategy when selecting keywords is the use of the right keyword match type. “When selecting keywords, it is possible to select one of three categories, which are broad, phrase or exact match. Broad is generic and can push your campaign in front of a user anytime a search phrase contains a chosen keyword but with phrase and exact, you can have a more precise targeting method, which is more likely to only capture the best leads,” Sellers explains.
Responsive Search Ads
This strategy allows you to create an ad with only ever the most relevant messages being shown to customers. “By entering multiple headlines and descriptions, Google-Ad campaigns can create a responsive ad that tests multiple combinations overtime to pinpoint the highest performing version,” adds Sellers. “The automated editing impacts copy structure also, as responsive ads are highly compatible across devices, restructuring copy to ensure the important message is always on display.”
“Making sure each ad is relevant and appropriate to the potential lead based on their location and behaviour is important to the success of the campaign. The predominant method of maximising the localised nature of Google is through Geo-Targeting. This uses location data to push the most suitable ad to the potential lead based on their locality,” Sellers comments.
Sellers adds that this refers the frequency your ads are displayed based on where, when, and how people search. Bid adjustments are a direct resolution towards cost efficiency, ensuring that you are not paying for your ads to be shown to irrelevant searches. Certain clicks are worth more depending on the time of day or location. The key is incremental bid adjustments, which increases the value of your location bid the closer a search may be and decreases the further away it is.
“Using these strategies will help agents to take the initial steps towards cost effective, high performing ad campaigns. Enhancing your Google-Ad campaigns will ensure you are attracting the most qualified leads that have the highest potential of being converted into business for your agency,” Sellers concludes.
Andrew Stanton is the founder and CEO of Proptech-PR, a consultancy for Founders of Proptechs looking to grow and exit, using his influence from decades of industry experience. Separately he is a consultant to some of the biggest names in global real estate, advising on sales and acquisitions, market positioning, and operations. He is also the founder and editor of Proptech-X Proptech & Property News, where his insights, connections and detailed analysis and commentary on proptech and real estate are second to none.