Mary-Anne Bowring is managing director and founder of Ringley Group and PlanetRent
It has been a tough few years for the buy-to-let investors
After narrowly escaping the threat of rent controls following Labours defeat in the 2015 general election, the then Conservative Chancellor George Osborne hit them first with reduced mortgage relief and then extra stamp duty, blaming landlords for pushing up house prices and keeping first-time buyers off the property ladder.
The financial penalties have been accompanied by a growing pile of regulation and so it is no surprise that the number of buy-to-let landlords hit a seven-year low in 2019 according to Hamptons International.
Government interference isn’t the only challenge facing buy-to-let investors, however. Responding to the UK’s demand-supply imbalance of rental housing, institutional investors such as pension funds and insurers have poured billions into creating purpose-built rental housing to secure steady long-term income streams to help match their liabilities.
While build-to-rent makes up only a tiny fraction of the overall UK rental market, with the latest British Property Federation and Savills data revealing there are 150,000 BTR homes complete or in the pipeline, this number will only grow.
Yet rather than fearing this new breed of corporate landlord, buy-to-let investors and their agents – should look to learn from the emerging build-to-rent sector, particularly around treating tenants as customers.
Just as important is to look to the tools many of these investors are using and embrace technology that makes their lives and those of their tenants easier.
People often joke property has been a late adopter of tech. This may be down to some of the language we use bricks and mortar for example but online portals such as Zoopla and Rightmove are up there as household names with Amazon, Google and Microsoft.
Yet while Zoopla and Rightmove have made finding a property easier, the actual lettings process is still too often time-consuming and overly reliant on physical paperwork.
That’s why BTR landlords such as Grainger plc and Moda Living had already adopted a digital-first approach to leasing before the coronavirus outbreak. Many BTR operators also have customer-facing apps for their residents that allow residents to do everything from pay rent and bills to report repairs and organise community events.
No doubt, post-crisis others in the BTR sector will follow in taking a digitally-led approach to leasing and operations, as concerns linger around social distancing and consumers become more accepting of virtual ways of working.
That’s why at Ringley we’ve brought forward the launch of PlanetRent, a cloud-based platform that connects landlords, agents, tenants, site staff, accountants and contractors. Crucially, PlanetRent fully supports remote working by giving each party their own easy-to-use portal in which they can access everything they need from their own home.
The fundamental aim of PlanetRent is to simplify and de-risk the lettings process by automating key functions such as compliance and marketing.
For landlords, this means protection against hefty fines for not serving legally required documents, such as the How to Rent guide, EPC and gas safety certificate, to your tenants.
PlanetRent also helps minimise the risk of lengthy and costly void periods by nudging tenants to renew and sorting a renewal in just three clicks if they choose to stay, while properties are automatically marketed should they want to vacate.
For agents, PlanetRent frees up staff by automating mundane processes and allows deal flow to be monitored in real-time. The platform also replaces the need for a whole host of different subscriptions, including accountancy packages, saving money.
Tenants benefit too as they can request and monitor repairs and access their relevant documents and files through their own portal and be confident their landlord and agent are fully compliant.
With COVID-19 making digital nomads of us all, landlords would be foolish to stay stuck in the analogue era. Tech has made other aspects of our lives from shopping to ordering takeout or a taxi simpler and more transparent. Letting a property whether as a landlord, agent or tenant should be no different.