RENTAL MARKET URGED TO 'PLAY IT SAFE' IN 2012 AS FRAUD THREAT INCREASES, WARNS YORKSHIRE LETTING AGENT

A YORKSHIRE residential letting specialist fears 2012 will witness an upturn in the number of tenants and landlords being left out-of-pocket by rogue operators.

In its annual preview of upcoming market trends, Linley & Simpson said that the threat posed by unregulated agents was poised to dominate a year in which a record one-in-six homes will be supplied by the private rented sector.

The independent agency - with branches in Harrogate, Wetherby, York, Wakefield, Ilkley and three in Leeds - warned it had never been as important as now to scrutinise credentials before entering into any agreements.

The UK private rented sector continues to expand as the economic downturn makes it more difficult to buy and sell homes - but it remains one of the biggest to remain unregulated after the Government controversially shelved plans to introduce a mandatory licensing scheme.

Director Will Linley said 2012 would see a far bigger focus on the importance of ensuring the protection of clients' money as well as their health and safety.

"Anybody or any organisation can still set up as a letting agent without any experience or qualifications," he said. " And, as the sector grows again in 2012, it leaves a gaping open door for more unethical operators to enter.

Among Linley & Simpson's predictions for the Yorkshire rental market in 2012 are:

  • Further growth in the importance of the internet - agents will need to respond to the fact that more than 30 per cent of website traffic is now coming from home hunters using a mobile phone or tablet, and develop tailor-made websites for clients browsing on the move.
  • The private rented sector will be responsible for as many as one in six homes in the UK for the first time.
  • The timebomb of demand outstripping supply will continue to tick - without an influx of properties, and banks freeing up more cash for buy-to-let investment opportunities, the private rented sector will come under increased pressure
  • Rising separation and divorce rates will bring about a rise in lets among single people
  • As public sector job cuts begin to bite, many people will turn to renting as they move to new areas in search of work or choose to downsize and sell or rent out their homes.
  • More people will follow the Continental trend and rent for longer
  • The natural 'churn' of properties becoming vacant each month will fall. More tenants are choosing to 'stay put' and not move - adding to the lack of availability.
  • Properties will be snapped up more quickly. The average time that homes are marketed on some of the leading websites, such as Right Move, are now at an all time low
  • Rental yields will remain high. The rate of return for landlords and property investors will continue to outperform savings rates offered by banks and building societies with yields offering up to 9pc available on well-informed purchases of the right rental properties in the right area.
  • Olympic and Royal jubilee 'fever', plus the European soccer championships, will shape moving dates for many this summer.

"If agents or private landlords do not know or comply with strict laws and regulations, homes can be unsafe putting lives at risk, and client deposit money is not protected - as many people are finding out to their cost.

"Research has shown that as many as one million private renters have fallen victim to scams and we fear the rate of complaints will only accelerate in 2012."

For peace of mind, Mr Linley urged property owners and tenants to put their trust only in those letting agents that had met the strict criteria needed to become a member of the new SAFEagent initiative, and displayed the kitemark which offers a cast-iron guarantee that client money will be protected.

He also called upon those agents who meet the criteria to apply for SAFEagent accreditation, to help drive up quality standards and help clients differentiate between the good, the bad and the plain ugly agencies working in the sector.

There is an increasing number of cases involving unscrupulous agents absconding with clients' money, or abusing it as a way of keeping them and their businesses afloat as an interest-free loan.

He added: "Nobody books a holiday with a travel agent who is not properly accredited and registered - but this isn't always the case in the rental market where the stakes are far higher. This has to change in 2012."

Despite the risk of incompetent or rogue agents, Mr Linley said there has never been a better time to be a landlord, or thinking about becoming one.

"Tenant demand is at an all-time high, void periods are at an all-time low, and monthly rents are rising," he said. "And we were able to mark the end of 2011, our 13th year of trading, by achieving a record monthly rent for one of our properties - £4,000 per month."


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