In-depth study sheds light on what landlords think of agents and why they use them – or not

The UK Collaborative Center for Housing Evidence has published an 88 page report on ‘Understanding Landlord Behavior in the Private Rented Sector’.

Authored by Dr Jennifer Harris and Professor Alex Marsh of the University of Bristol the study looks at the landscape of landlord behavior in relation to key decisions that affect tenants’ ability to make a home in the private rented sector (PRS) in the UK.

There is much in the report that will be of interest to lettings and management agents – not least because it highlights that many landlords are in great need of professional help and guidance in letting their properties.

Landlords in the report relied on letting agents to keep them abreast of regulatory changes and for some this was a key motivation for using letting agents in the first place.

The findings are based on a survey completed by 1,002 landlords and on 68 in-depth interviews with landlords, letting agents and experts in the field. The authors say that understanding the reasons why landlords behave as they do is fundamental to developing effective regulatory interventions.

Key findings include:

  • Some landlords have a proactive approach towards maintaining the physical condition of their properties and exhibit financial behaviors that are highly structured and professional. However, a significant proportion of participants did not adopt these practices and a reactive approach towards maintenance is common.
  • Landlords employ both formal and informal means of selecting tenants and assessing their desirability. Informal approaches are based on highly subjective factors such as personal interactions or tenant characteristics.
  • The landlord-tenant relationship is an important factor that frames landlord behaviour. It influences decisions on using a letting agent, selecting tenants and assessments of their own performance and property condition.
  • Most participants felt that regulatory changes lacked clarity and found it difficult to keep up with the changes. The findings suggest that information is mainly being accessed by landlords as a by-product of contacts made to organizations for other purposes.
  • The findings show that letting agents can play an important role in educating landlords and encouraging compliance. However, landlords’ experiences of letting agents can vary, with many reporting problems and issues with their services.
  • Upcoming or recent regulatory changes that relate to improvements in the physical condition of properties were generally positively received. The reforms that strengthen the position of tenants appear to be viewed less favorably whilst holding more weight in landlords’ overall assessment of the reforms.

It is particularly interesting to note that over 60% of survey respondents felt that changes to laws and regulations were not clearly communicated and 70% said that it was difficult to keep up with the changes.

Landlords in England and Northern Ireland and those with larger portfolios were more likely to feel that changes lacked clarity. The largest landlords found it the most difficult to keep up.

Around a third of the surveyed landlords considered online information to be inconsistent, unreliable and difficult to understand. This proportion was higher among the least experienced landlords and those with larger portfolios.

You can download the full report here.

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