The online estate agency´s role in how homes are bought and sold looks set shape the evolution of the property industry in the coming years. Established in 2014, Purplebricks was the first to adopt the “hybrid” model, bridging the gap between using the experienced local knowledge of traditional agents with the convenience of online and mobile access. As a result, with a current market cap £746.63 million, the company has been able to position itself solidly in what is a massively competitive sector and remove itself from some of the negative murmurings regarding this non-traditional sales route. Comparative research by Which?, for example, demonstrated that vendors using Purplebricks had to reduce their asking prices the least compared to other online estate agencies and, interestingly, online/hybrid agents sell on average 38 days faster than traditional agents.
With the company now bringing its expertise into the rental sector, we asked Lettings Director Richard Jacques some questions about what differentiates their service, their local experts´ role in securing solid tenancies, valuation, marketing, keeping up with legislation, property management, evictions as well the recently-launched “investor app”.
(1) Can you tell us a little bit more about your role at Purplebricks? I am the Lettings Director and Head of Investment for Purplebricks Group PLC. I oversee the entirety of the UK lettings operations, from front end property listing to comprehensive property management of the UK portfolio. In addition, I head up the investment division across the UK and international operations sourcing and controlling investment sales.
(2) With a seeming abundance of online property lettings services appearing across the marketplace, how does Purple Bricks Lettings differ? We’re a hybrid estate agency – we combine fantastic people with convenient and transparent technology. Purplebricks is a proper estate agent, but one that’s open 24/7 and with much fairer fees for landlords and tenants, something we passionately believe in. We recently carried out a mystery shop of 284 agencies around the UK and found the average fee for admin and referencing was £257 per tenant for a standard rental agreement for a property. We charge a flat fee of £118.80 per tenant and we do not ask for renewal fees. We also offer a much fairer pricing structure for landlords.
(3) Can you let us know a bit more about who your “Lettings Experts” are and how they can help a property that may be struggling to rent out or in a particularly competitive / saturated market place? Our lettings experts are highly qualified Local Lettings Experts (LLEs), trained to ARLA standards, who have operated in their local areas for a number of years. They offer the best possible guidance to local landlords on price, legislation and tenant suitability.
(4) Do you work with single let landlords/ladies only or can HMO or studio let property owners use this service also? We have a variety of services, from single let products to portfolio tailored services.
(5) In terms of rental figures, can you provide some background as to how the valuation process works? Rental valuations are produced by reviewing three core areas: local comparable, historic lets and tenant demand. We use these in conjunction with our expert local, specialist knowledge.
(6) Could you talk us through the marketing, viewing and contract singing process adopted at Purple Bricks Lettings? All lettings properties are marketed via the Purplebricks website, Rightmove and Zoopla and are sent out to our extensive internal database of tenants to maximise interest and let success. Viewings are conducted by our local experts, who discuss the required stages and offer support and advice to tenants. Tenancies are progressed by our-in house tenancy team, with contracts being signed via DocuSign.
(7) With lettings-related legislation continually evolving, how can landlords be assured that they are adequately compliant? Purplebricks group PLC is a member of ARLA, the Association of Residential Lettings Agents and abides by all ARLA best practice. Landlords can be assured that the very best industry standards are followed by qualified ARLA agents across all areas – from tenancy through to management.
(8) Observing that you offer part and full management services, how does the tradesmen / contractor management process work? Say, for example, a repair needs to be done urgently or a boiler has broken down – how can it be ensured that the works are executed quickly, efficiently and at a competitive price? Many a landlord/lady reading this would have had some kind of weekend emergency situation which can often be very difficult to get around and organise. It would be interesting to see how Purple Bricks could help make such a scenario less stressful. All contractors go through a rigorous due diligence process before being invited to join the Purplebricks panel. We consider various criteria, including: price competitiveness, customer service, reviews and technical ability. The most appropriate contractor would be selected in emergency situations to ensure that works were carried out quickly and effectively, via a pre-authorised fund agreed at move in by the landlord.
(9) Should the worse case scenario occur, and a landlord / lady is required to evict a tenant – can this entire process be managed using the Purple Bricks Letting Platform? How would it be ensured that everything is undertaken correctly and in line with the law? In the worse-case scenario, landlords deal direct with ARLA qualified tenancy experts and are kept up to date throughout the whole process. It is essential that in these cases, landlords keep in touch with their agent, so they can ask questions and work towards solutions quickly. These situations are few and far between though, as comprehensive tenant referencing and first point verification allows only the best tenants to enter Purplebricks properties.
(10) Noting that landlords can review and print monthly statements and contractor invoices on the platform, are there any intentions for Purple Bricks to collaborate with evidencing / invoicing / bookkeeping services such as Xero or QuickBooks to facilitate what can often be an ongoing management headache? We are always looking at new and innovative ideas to bring to the lettings market. We are working on a variety of products as we speak, which we’ll communicate later this year.
(11) From a broader perspective, does Purple Bricks have a view on the future of the lettings industry given the increased likelihood of buy to let “professionalisation” in the coming years with the Section 24 (of the Finance Act 2015) and lenders taking a stricter approach to underwriting buy-to-let loans? The lettings market is changing for sure, however there will always be a need for rented property. The age of first time buyers is continuing to increase and the Government’s lack of assistance with deposits means people still need a place to call home. Investor rentals fill a void that cannot be filled by any other demographic at this time. We welcome any regulation that helps ensure quality homes are offered for competitive prices.
(12) Finally, it would be great to hear about the Investor´s App and how our readers can take advantage of it moving forward. The Purplebricks investor app (My Investment Expert) was launched in February 2017 to allow local investors to find off-market investments nationwide, at the touch of a button. These properties are unique and not available on the open market, they have gone through a strict due diligence process to ensure that meet an investment standard and produce a return. Plus, they are only offered to members of our investor network. The app allows users to get tailored-made investment solutions without the need to employ property sourcers or compete on the open market. And it’s all free to users registered with Purplebricks. Readers can download the app on iTunes here and on Google Play here.