Why we say NO to cancelling rents!

Cancelling rents would be disastrous for landlords and investors says Ringley Group MD

Cancelling rents for private tenants without reimbursing landlords would be “stealing from people’s pension pots” says Ringley Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring in response to demands for more radical policies to help renters.

More than 4,000 Labour party members recently signed an open letter backing cancelling rent as a policy. The letter argued Labour’s five-point plan to help renters, which included extending the evictions ban by at least six months and giving tenants two years to pay back rent arrears, did not go far enough. Meanwhile, the London Renters’ Union and others are calling for rent strikes, claiming renters are having to choose between food and paying rent.

The government’s ban on evictions has been extended until August 23rd, which has calmed fears that thousands of tenants could lose their homes if the ban wasn’t extended.

However, Mary-Anne firmly believes that cancelling rents in the private sector would punish hundreds of thousands of pensioners, as well as risk halting the current appetite from UK pension funds who are investing billions into creating new high-quality homes for rent. The most recent English Private Landlord Survey estimates there are at least 1.5m landlords in England alone. Of those, nearly half said they invested in rental property to supplement their pension and approximately one-third are retired.

This means if a rent cancellation was to be introduced, at least 500,000 retired landlords would see their rental income wiped out entirely. This would also dramatically reduce rent revenues for pension funds, many of which have suffered losses from retail and office investments and rely on income from property to match their liabilities.

No one can doubt or deny that millions of renters are facing major financial difficulties or anxieties but cancelling rents is not the answer. Some renters may need more financial assistance from the government but cancelling rents or getting the government to pay would be hugely damaging,” warns Mary-Anne.

 Both private and institutional landlords would lose rental income unless the government stepped in to pay private residential rents, which could cost the taxpayer billions and is completely unacceptable.

That’s our take on Labour’s proposals. What do you think?

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too:

What makes a great business leader?

You can listen to Ringley Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring talking about leadership in the property industry in a new podcast

What makes a great business leader? This is one of the topics of conversation between Ringley Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring and host Matthew O’Neill in a new podcast from the Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The network champions the hard work and achievements of British leaders across the political and business spheres and is currently in the process of talking to leading figures in an attempt to understand what leadership means in Britain and Northern Ireland today. The Council invited Mary-Anne onto the podcast to discuss tips and advice on how to be a great business leader and to take a closer look at the challenges faced by businesses during the coronavirus lockdown.

Lord Blunkett, chairman of The Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland said: “I think the most informative element of each episode is the first part, where Matthew O’Neill is able to sit down with someone who really gets how their industry works and knows how to make their organisation tick. Someone who is there day in day out working hard and inspiring others. That’s what leadership is all about.”

Mary-Anne, who set up the business 20 years ago, is a regular media commentator and is frequently quoted on issues such as leasehold reform, building safety regulations and the UK housing market.

At Ringley Group we manage more than 12,000 homes across the country and have advised major residential investors such as Patrizia, Curlew and Moda Living. Most recently, we have invested over £2m in creating a suite of tech products for the property industry, and have just launched our automated lettings platform PlanetRent.

Mary-Anne was delighted to be invited to appear on The Leaders Council podcast in such a challenging time for the property sector. “Speaking with Matthew about the challenges I currently face in my day-to-day role and providing advice to the younger generation was brilliant,” she says. “We’re currently in a very challenging time for the UK’s economy and it was fantastic to give Matthew an insight into my career and where I am now.”

The episode also features an exclusive interview with England’s footballing legend, Sir Geoff Hurst, who remains the only player to score a hat trick in a World Cup Final. So if property, leadership – or football – are topics you are interested in, you can listen to the podcast in full on YouTube.

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too:

Will we be repurposing property in the post-pandemic world?

Could we be about to see a post-pandemic trend for repurposing property in a really positive way?

Repurposing property could be a major post-pandemic trend. Since lockdown restrictions were lifted on estate and lettings agents in May, we are already seeing a growing trend for both renters and buyers to show more interest in out-of-town homes with gardens. And, with more of us likey to be working remotely for some time, properties with space for home-working are likely to become more desirable.

Offices too could be transformed as commercial tenants re-think their space requirements and rely more on technology than on face-to-face interactions, both with colleagues and clients. Research from vertical transportation consultancy, reported by the Institute of Residential Property Management (IRPM) reveals that lasting change could be on the cards for the office sector in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mark Fairweather, managing director of D2E, thinks we could see a paradigm shift in the workplace, working practices, and commuting habits,  with almost half (44%) of workers polled by the company in a recent survey saying they will be asking their employers if they can work for at least some days of the week from home. 

The post-pandemic period may also signal the end of trying to cram more people into less space.   D2E expects the typical space allocation of 8 sq m per person to go up to something like 12 sq m per person on main floors, as more social distancing is needed at work. Lobby and reception areas are likely to expand too, and there could be a greater focus on stairwells and walking where possible, to help workers avoid crowded lifts and escalators.  With fewer people keen to use public transport, there may be more need for bike storage and shower facilities, and D2E also predicts changed canteen layouts for social distancing and increased natural ventilation, as well as a swing towards touchless technology in lifts and lobbies.

With all minds focused on the pandemic, it’s easy to forget that we are still facing a housing crisis. Property specialist Colliers International points to the possibility of repurposing hotels for residential use, creating much- needed homes as well as opening up redevelopment opportunities for the hard-hit hospitality sector.

In the beleaguered hospitality sector, rather than take the financial hit of waiting for a return to pre-pandemic operating conditions, looking at redevelopment options may be a more realistic route for some hotel owners. Colliers suggests this would require a relaxation of planning restrictions but it could provide a solution for local authorities, who could then deliver accommodation in Class C categories such as affordable housing, houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) and care homes.

At Ringley, we have been calling for some time for new and better use to be made of retail developments in our hard-hit high streets. We believe institutionally-led, integrated build-to-rent and co-working space is the answer. Not only should the demise of large swathes of traditional retail drive the institutions to get creative and repurpose their space but, as we are all facing a similar collapse in the value of our pensions, all those who pay into one should demand it!

We are leading the way by launching a white label flexible office management platform called Busy Living at our new co-working space in Camden and will be blogging about this in more detail soon.

We believe that, once the pandemic passes, we may find ourselves facing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to genuinely rethink the way we use property to bring genuine benefits for us all. What do you think?

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Could London-based buyers drive out-of-town housing market activity?

Could Londoners choosing to leave the capital drive out-of-town housing market activity?

Housing market activity is definitely on the up – and London-based buyers could drive activity outside the capital. This is the view from estate agent Hamptons, as it publishes new housing market research. Last week we blogged about a possible ‘lockdown lift-off’ as agencies opened their doors again. Now Hamptons’ figures appear to be pointing in the same direction. “After seven frozen weeks, the housing market seems to be moving up a gear” they say.

The number of potential buyers registering with the agency has more than doubled, with new instructions and the number of offers trebling. This is a positive sign but the market has far from fully recovered and it will take some time before the impact of lockdown on pricing becomes clear.

Early signs are that London-based buyers are going to play a big role in housing markets outside the capital this year. Nearly one in five (19%) applicants who registered in a Southern Hamptons branch in April were from London, up from 12% in April 2019 and 13% in April 2016 when London outmigration last peaked. House prices in the country have lagged behind those in cities over the last decade, which means country homes now look relatively good value.  So as we and other industry commentators have been predicting in the last few weeks, it looks as if there could be an increase in people hoping to move away from urban areas in search of more space and a home with a garden.

“Over the last decade house prices in prime areas of London have risen 79%, almost double the 42% recorded in prime country locations.  This means that the average seller leaving London can gain an additional 953 sq ft by selling up and moving to the country, often the biggest pull for those making the move out of the capital,” says Aneisha Beveridge, Head of Research at Hamptons International.

Despite young people being most like to have lost work or seen their income drop because of the coronavirus pandemic (source: The Resolution Foundation) Hamptons data shows that first-time buyers are leading the increase in demand. In April, first-time buyers made up 44% of those searching for a property to buy, up from 24% in the same month last year. For those first-time buyers who haven’t lost their jobs or taken an income cut, that’s put them in a good position to save.

So if the government decides to add some stimulus to the housing market by offering a stamp duty holiday like it did in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, some first-time buyers may even find they are in a better position to get on the housing ladder than they were two months ago.

Hamptons also keeps track of trends in the rental market. Its monthly lettings index shows that restrictions on movement throughout April meant that most tenants decided to stay put. That meant those homes that were available to rent last month took longer to let than usual due to the fall in demand. It took 29 days on average to let a home in Great Britain last month, the longest time recorded in April since Hamptons’ records began in 2013.

It’s also becoming clear that the income squeeze is impacting rents. Hamptons says rental growth continued to slow last month, with average rents in Great Britain falling for the second month in a row. Rents on renewed tenancies fell -0.5% year-on-year in April, yet London and the South East were the only regions to record falls.

But activity has rebounded quickly. Hamptons registered 13.4% more applicants so far this month compared with the same period last year. That means just under six applicants looking per rental property, up from just over four a year ago.

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Is this the start of the housing market recovery?

Would you be confident enough in the new government guidelines to put your house on the market?

The housing market recovery could already be underway. That may be optimistic but it certainly looks set for a rapid post-pandemic revival. Early indicators are better than expected, with Rightmove reporting online property searches surging back to normal levels immediately after the government reopened the housing market last week.  The property website told Landlord Today that within 24 hours of restrictions being lifted in England, almost 5.2 million visits were recorded. That’s up 4% on the same day last year and is the busiest day for enquiries since last September.

With effect from last Wednesday:

  • estate agents’ offices are open
  • viewings – whether virtual or in-person – are permitted
  • show homes are open
  • and removal companies and the other essential parts of the sales and letting process are re-started with immediate effect.

All good news. But it’s far from business as usual for agents and customers. With new government guidelines in place, potential buyers and sellers, as well as property agents, are having to rapidly adapt to a new normal.

Here’s what the government says. “In the first instance viewings should happen virtually. When viewings do happen in person, we’ve set out a clear plan to ensure the safety of those already in the property itself, those considering moving in and the estate agents and lettings agents”.

The new guidelines are that:

  • Visits should be by appointment only. Open house viewings cannot take place and speculative viewings where buyers or tenants are not serious yet, are highly discouraged.
  • All parties must follow strict social distancing guidelines.
  • All internal doors should be opened where possible.
  • The current occupier should vacate the property for the duration of the visit, going out for their daily exercise, going out to the shops or standing in the garden, if possible.
  • Everyone involved in the process is advised to wash their hands on entering the property. And, once the viewing has taken place, all surfaces in the property including the door handles, should be thoroughly cleaned.

Miles Shipside from Rightmove thinks the guidelines are stringent but correct. The recovery of transaction volumes will rely on the fact that prospective buyers and existing and future sellers feel safe enough to get the market moving again, he says. We agree. Our Manchester-based lettings business Life by Ringley has adapted quickly to virtual viewings and they are now on offer to all our clients. We don’t see this changing and in fact, it may simply become the way we do business. It’s quick and easy and helps customers make a quick decision about whether or not they are interested in a particular property. Estate agents are rolling this out to their customers too and in a few years’ time, we will probably all wonder why we didn’t do it sooner!

It remains to be seen whether the surge in online interest from potential buyers will translate into a housing market recovery. If so, will we see new trends emerging towards out-of-town homes versus urban locations, as people fear that living cheek-by-jowl with others may increase their chances of catching a virus that shows no signs of simply going away? The next few months will be interesting, as well as challenging, for the housing market.

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Does your home pass the lockdown test?

With the lockdown easing, homes with their own outdoor space and good wif-fi will be in demand

Does your home pass the lockdown test? Not something many of us had considered before 23 March this year – unless you happen to be one of those survivalists with a bunker full of canned food and bottled water! During the last seven weeks, access to food hasn’t been an issue for most of us. Even vulnerable households have been well served by supermarkets delivering to their door. But what has become painfully obvious is that many people are living in very confined spaces with little access to fresh air – let alone outdoor space. With more pandemics predicted, in future homes with gardens and reliable broadband are likely to be in demand.

An article in Inside Housing this week raises some important points about the way many of us live, particularly in urban areas. With thousands of households across the country living in flats, both in the private and social sector, and Parker Morris space standards a thing of the past, much of our housing stock is small. Many households have little or no space for home working – which is now the new normal for many of us – and even less for indoor exercise. Not all flats have a balcony or shared private outdoor space, and not all of us have access to a fast, reliable broadband connection.

As Alison Inman, former president of the Chartered Institute of Housing writes in her article: When people are asked to list the things that have helped them cope with the lockdown, among the most mentioned are gardens, access to outside space, and keeping in touch with family and friends over the internet”.

It’s likely that this won’t be the last pandemic many of us experience in our lifetimes. So Alison makes a good point when she says whether or not the homes we rent and sell would pass a ‘lockdown test’, should be part of the way we think about and design our properties.

In London, more than half of all homes are flats. How do we give tenants and buyers access to fresh air and outdoor space, indoor space that’s big enough for our children to play and exercise without going stir-crazy and enough room for a desk; all supported by wi-fi that’s good enough to support home working, while making developments stack-up financially? It’s a big ask.

Our view at Ringley is that, as the High Street continues to collapse and we prove that working differently is an option, our call to re-purpose the ground floor of buildings for co-working, community and amenity space is as important as ever.  Maybe even more so now that lockdown has helped many of us realise there is a different way to run our businesses.

Grown-up workspaces can be physically but not visually separated from play dens for children and hangout zones for teens, as society learns to come together in new ways.  These spaces should not be subject to tax in the same way as income-generating spaces and subject to business rates, but made part of a new national wellbeing strategy.

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Lessons from the lockdown – how might our housing needs change?

Homes with gardens and workspace are likely to be at a premium in future

Lockdown is bringing property problems to the fore. With more of us spending all our time at home, all those little gripes that could have been easily ignored in normal circumstances are now becoming painfully obvious!

Maintenance issues, a lack of storage space and too much noise are top of the list of homeowners’ and renters’ complaints, according to new research from the Homeowners Alliance published this week.

The HOA survey shows that when we’re looking for a new property to rent or buy, we tend to focus on the important physical characteristics of the property (beyond location and number of rooms). Top of the list are sufficiently sized rooms (66%), a private balcony or garden (57%) and good natural light (46%). However, more than half of renters and more than 40% of homeowners wish they’d paid more attention to other aspects of the home they picked to rent or buy.

The HOA reveals that:

  • 25% regret not paying attention to a lack of storage space;
  • 21% wish they’d looked more closely at maintenance and repairs, including the condition of the roof, electrics, boiler, plumbing, heating, damp and insulation; and
  • 21% say they are now more conscious of noise from neighbours or traffic.N

So once the lockdown is lifted, how might the Covid-19 outbreak change our homebuying and renting habits?

First, there is likely to be renewed interest in homes to rent or buy outside busy urban centres and properties with gardens will be at a premium. Buyers and renters are likely to want to avoid crowded cities and town centres and live in a home with private outside space.

Also, larger homes with flexible space and properties with home offices and a good wi-fi connection will be top of many wish-lists as more of us continue to work from home. This will have an impact on commuting too, so properties further afield may attract higher prices than they have in the past.

These potential changes in our housing needs and buying habits could also drive architects and developers to re-think the way they design our homes – and landlords who would normally focus their portfolios on towns and cities may reconsider their investment choices too.

In a very short space of time, the global pandemic has made us all reassess the way we live our lives – and the need for social distancing may not change anytime soon. Chances are that the ‘new normal’ will filter through to our housing preferences too.

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

How will property management change after COVID-19?

Will it be business as usual after lockdown or will there be long-term implications?

How much will change for property management as a result of COVID-19 will depend on the extent to which each managing agent has already digitised their offering.

At Ringley, we have long had portals for clients, owners, tenants and contractors. We already use open book accounting with instant updates to spending against budget and every invoice is online, together with arrears reports, legal debt-chase action, risk assessments, insurance, quotes in progress, cleaning specifications and more. We also have e-post opt-in, e-signing for key documents and apps to power inspections. And our lettings business Life by Ringley has been using video viewings for a while now. So we have moved pretty seamlessly to remote working and our customers should have noticed very little change in the way our services are delivered

That said, apart from the way we work day-to-day, post-COVID-19, there may be changes to the wider workplace that couldn’t have been foreseen a couple of months ago. So what will be the next normal? The pandemic will surely accelerate the decrease in space requirements per person. It is also causing the analysts among us to review and find more ways to exclude paper and print from our processes.

Ringley Group MD Maryanne Bowring believes that, for the foreseeable future, it is doubtful whether any company can expect all their people to work in the office five days a week: “To me, it seems simpler to have a whole department out at the same time, rather than not knowing who to expect in the office each day. More casual arrangements are not the most efficient way of working,” she says.

“However,” she adds: “I do know that while we are all working in isolation, many of our people are reflecting on the value that attending the workplace, sharing lunch and being part of a face-to-face physical team brings”.

What has changed for you during lockdown? Leave us a comment and start the conversation.

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

COVID-19: “Essential” cladding work will continue, confirms Minister

Essential safety work to replace unsafe cladding on high-rise buildings will continue during the COVID-19 emergency, following a commitment from Mayors around the country to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP yesterday.

The Mayors of Greater Manchester, Sheffield City Region, London, Liverpool City Region, and the West Midlands have all pledged to ensure vital safety work can continue on high-rise blocks with dangerous cladding, where necessary social distancing rules are being followed.

A number of sites across the country have been leading the way, adapting their procedures in ways that include:

  • having decontamination areas on-site, enabling workers to hose down overalls before safe disposal
  • providing additional toilet and washing facilities, reducing the number of workers gathering together
  • splitting up work teams with a view to minimising the risk of infection.

Where work continues on-site, detailed guidance is available from the Construction Leadership Council on further reducing the risk, including measures for maintaining high standards of hygiene.

In March, the Ministry of Housing appointed construction consultants Faithful & Gould to advise anyone planning and doing ACM cladding remediation work. The company will also help identify and increase awareness of safe practice under current COVID-19 restrictions.

The National Fire Chiefs Council has also published revised guidance for blocks with a waking watch in place, in the context of COVID-19. The NFCC is conscious that with people staying home for an extended period of time, there are likely to be more fires in blocks around the country. The guidance can be downloaded from the NFCC website here.

Key points from the guidance are that:

  • every effort should be made to maintain the waking watch at any premises in accordance with the guidance. 
  • any premises with a waking watch should review their fire risk assessment and be in regular communication with the waking watch and residents.
  • Where one is not yet in place, a Common Fire Alarm should be installed.

The NFCC believes that anyone providing a waking watch should be considered a key worker, as they are providing vital public services and critical safety functions in order to keep homes safe.


Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Safety checks on lifts still in place, says HSE

Six-monthly safety checks on lifts must continue

Block managers and residents have voiced their concerns in recent weeks about whether or not the safety checks in their buildings that are required by law should still go ahead during the COVID-19 outbreak, given the need for social distancing.

The HSE has responded this week to questions about lifts, confirming that blocks must continue to meet the requirements of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) and twice-yearly safety checks should still be carried out if at all possible.

The safety body does recognise how difficult it may be in some circumstances to carry out the required checks and tests, so it has set out some guidelines to help ensure that equipment remains safe to use, which you can read in full here. It’s important to note that the guidelines refer to “places of work” rather than specifically addressing the needs of residential buildings, but the rules are the same.

So, despite the problems being caused by COVID-19, it’s business as usual where lifts are concerned. But the HSE does say it will take “a pragmatic and proportionate approach” where blocks don’t comply with the statutory requirements if the breach is a direct result of the coronavirus outbreak.

This means that anyone who is considered a ‘dutyholder’ for the purposes of LOLER (and this could include building owners, block managers or RMC/ RTM Company directors) if challenged by HSE, must be able to demonstrate that they have made all reasonable attempts to have safety checks carried out, made a thorough assessment of the increased risk and taken appropriate action to manage it.

Finally, lifts that can’t be tested by the required date should only be used for “essential work” and where they can still be operated safely. Unfortunately, the HSE is not clear what that essential work might include. The Institute of Residential Property Management (IRPM) has asked for clarification on that point and we will pass that information on via this blog once they report back.