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Over half of agents have let a property using only virtual viewings in the last 12 months, leaving them open to complaints.
55.07% of the respondents to our member survey, said they had rented a property in the last 12 months using only virtual viewings. Only using virtual viewings leaves the agents vulnerable to complaints, under the Consumer Rights Act, as the tenants may not be conscious of all the details regarding the property.
Sean Hooker, Head of Redress at the Property Redress Scheme, explains, “Virtual viewings have several great benefits such as helping to filter out customers who aren’t sure the property is right for them; minimising unnecessary disruption to current tenants; allowing potential tenants to view properties at a time convenient to them; and eliminating travel time for both themselves and the agent.
“However, caution should be exercised, especially when the tenant is at the stage of signing on the dotted line, paying a holding deposit or rent in advance. Tenancy agreements are consumer contracts and the consumer protection regulations, give tenants security against mis-selling, misleading actions, and omissions.”
The private rented sector has had to learn to adapt to an ever-changing environment in the past year and it will also be affected by the ‘new normal’. Agents stated that in the last 12 months they had learnt to work remotely, be more flexible and work online.
Current guidance from the Government during the transition from Covid restrictions states that whilst there are no legal limits on the households which may view a home in person, they continue to recommend that tenants take advantage of any opportunities to view homes remotely before committing to view in person.
“Agents should be embracing new technologies to enhance the consumer’s experience, but they need to make sure they are still complying with the many regulations governing the private rented sector,” says Sean Hooker. “When it comes to virtual viewings, these are a useful tool for agents to showcase properties to a lot of interested renters, however agents should ensure that serious prospective tenants have the opportunity and are encouraged to see the property in person; as well as to ask all their questions and that they are provided with all the material information they need to make an informed decision to enter into the tenancy.”
“Whilst it may suit some tenants not to visit the property, sign everything electronically, pay online and even to pick up the keys from a key safe box, without seeing a single human-being before moving in, an agent must ensure their documentation and information is absolutely watertight.
“If a complaint comes over my desk and the consumer has not been provided with the correct information, an agent is likely to have to pay compensation or even have to unwind the tenancy. They may even in extreme cases find themselves referred to Trading Standards for further action.
“I would recommend all agents make sure they provide prospective tenants with not just information on the rent and property description, but information on other factors including the cost of utility bills, broadband connectivity, and external factors such as what the neighbourhood is like and local facilities, such as public transport and shops, before the tenant commits to the tenancy. Sometimes this sort of information is only apparent when the tenant sees the property with their own eyes, or in the case of potential noise disruption, hears it with their own ears.”
Trading Standards is working on guidance which is due out in the near future. The Property Redress Scheme has been part of the steering group of the Improving Material Information in Property Listings Project set up by Trading Standards (NTSELAT), involving the major property portals, trade bodies and civil servants, to help produce guidance for what is advertised and displayed for properties online.
Our member survey also showed that the pandemic is speeding up the adoption of technology by agents. Over half of respondents said they had also started using electronic signature technology.
The results of the Property Redress Scheme member survey were published as part of its annual report last week. The findings are available here: https://annualreport.theprs.co.uk/member-survey-2020/
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Property Redress Scheme is approved by Government under the Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competent Authorities and Information) Regulations 2015