Industry News

Engage – Delivering on digital expectations

landlords and housing associations are looking to meet the demand within tight margins. This growth is set to increase throughout 2017 and into 2018, putting huge pressure on landlords to balance the growing expectations of tenants with the service they provide. Private landlords are facing more


challenges than ever before - rents have seen their first annual drop in six years, falling fastest in London by 4.3 per cent over the year to an average of £1,246 a month. Couple this with an increasingly competitive marketplace and ending mortgage relief on buy to let properties, and there is even greater urgency on landlords to implement more efficient processes and cut costs.

Digital expectations Both the private and social housing sectors can’t escape the need to keep up with today’s digitally connected environment, where consumers are used to accessing the services they want at the swipe of a finger, especially millennials. A tenant is after all a customer and has the same expectations of service quality whether they are buying a washing machine, booking a flight or renting a flat – they want digital access and reasonable pricing. Statistics from Forrester show that 70 per

cent of consumers prefer to use a company’s website to find answers to their questions rather than spending hours on the phone. It is therefore no surprise Gartner predicts that by 2020, 85 per cent of a customer’s relationship with a business will not involve interacting with a person. Despite this, when it comes to making

efficiency savings do landlords see digitalisation as a top priority? Quite often other aspects such as:

reducing building overheads on any Build to Rent projects, asking for large tenancy deposits or using lettings agencies with cheaper management fees, are prioritised with the anticipation they will deliver significant cost savings.

i Cutting costs but mproving experience

As with all digitalisation projects the reasons for the decision to go ahead aren’t solely focused on the cost savings, even though in isolation they alone can be significant. Digitalising services greatly enhances customer experience, empowering the customer to have more control and to be kept frequently updated - leading to a higher level of satisfaction. It also facilitates better transparency of processes behind getting a repair logged,

the options for making the repair, booking the repair to be made and the completion of the repair. This never leads to a situation where tenants are left wondering what’s happening and feeling neglected or frustrated by poor communication. Organisations such as Soho Housing have

implemented the ENGAGE portal to help engage customers online. As a result, tenants have 24/7 access to the portal which in relation to repairs allows them to go on the website or mobile phone app and complete a self-diagnosis. A photograph or video can also be

uploaded to help describe the issue. This information can then be sent directly into the repairs management system or routed to the repairs company. The tenant can then close the repairs ticket once it’s been completed. Soho reported that in the first six months

28 per cent of maintenance requests were made through the portal and this was set to increase. Organisations are now setting themselves targets to save 40 per cent in the administration of tenancies using customer portals and automation.

The digital future Organisations like Soho Housing are transforming the housing sector by using self-service to adapt to the growing expectations of millennials (those who will be renting for longer than any generation before them) who have grown up in a world where practically everything can be done online. Private landlords, councils and housing

associations are under considerable pressure to create and maintain efficiencies. With lots of different options available to them not everyone chooses to integrate their services and provide online alternatives to save costs. However, those who do are preparing for

the continued dominance of digital communications and future proofing their organisations. This will continue to pay dividends in terms not only of cost savings, but time, effort and enhanced customer experience.

Article written and submitted by Peter Watson, Director of Engage Prop Tech

s the number of people living in rented accommodation is continuing to grow year on year,

PRS rents fall in most parts of Britain

Average rents across the UK have fallen for the first time in more than seven years, as part of a general housing market slowdown sweeping out from London to the rest of the country. The average rent on a new tenancy starting in May

was £901 a month, down 0.3 per cent from the May 2016 figure of £904, according to the latest data from HomeLet. This is the first fall in average rents recorded by the company since December 2009. The biggest falls have been in the capital where

typical new rents have fallen by 3 per cent in a year, down from an average rent of £1,572 a month in July 2016 to £1,502 in May this year. Four other regions of the UK saw rents on new

tenancies fall during May – in the north-east, the south-east, Scotland, and Yorkshire and Humberside with falls from 2.3 to 0.6 per cent recorded. Rent falls have followed a similar drop in property

values. Martin Totty, HomeLet’s chief executive, said its figures suggested landlords “are now facing a difficult balancing act between ensuring rents are affordable for tenants in a low real wage growth environment while covering their own rising costs”. Meanwhile the Nationwide reported house prices

fell for the third month in a row, for the first time since the height of the financial crisis in 2009. Its monthly house price index showed the average house price fell 0.2 per cent between April and May. Commentators have suggested that a weaker sales market has prompted some homeowners to let out their homes rather than putting them up for sale, increasing the supply and forcing rents down.

HA investigated by HSE over gas safety

An East Anglian housing association is being investigated for possible health and safety breaches, which left more than 1,000 homes without a valid gas safety certificate for up to two years. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into the Luminus Group follows action taken earlier this year by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), who downgraded the HA’s governance rating to a non- compliant G3. The Huntingdon based landlord was found to have

more than 1,000 homes without a valid gas safety certificate, for at least part of the previous two years. Luminus staff face the possibility of a custodial sentence or a heavy fine if they are prosecuted as a result of the HSE investigation. Luminus said all of its homes are now compliant

with gas safety requirements. It added: “There has been a comprehensive review

of policy, procedures and systems to prevent the issue reoccurring and appointments are being booked eight weeks in advance. “A dedicated helpline was set up, as well as a direct

email reporting link by residents to the group chief executive. The HSE has been informed of the gas safety matter and the remedial actions taken.” Luminus has also appointed three new board members following criticism of its governance by the HCA. | HMM July 2017 | 23

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