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Paying for viewings – will it become a reality?

Posted on 2021-09-06

House viewings

Viewing a potential new property has always been a vital and exciting prospect for any renters. So when lockdown restrictions denied people the opportunity to attend viewings, the industry had to adapt.

After months of video viewings, with plenty of tenants having never seen their new home in person until the day that they moved, it seemed that we would return back to traditional viewings when restrictions were relaxed, and everything would go back to normal.

However, due to a surge of interest alongside an undersupply of rental properties available, properties and viewing were in very high demand. In the lettings market, demand is highest it has ever been on record according to ARLA Propertymark, and one property in Scotland was the subject of 78 viewings.

Charging for viewings

Due to this high demand, a new service saw a potential opportunity and was formed in July 2021.

The platform aims to work alongside estate and letting agents to offer premium viewings for properties in high demand. These viewings would give viewers a priority slot, and the guarantee that no offers would be accepted until after their viewing. The viewings cost £30, however there is the potential for that figure to be higher for more popular properties. Non-premium viewings are also available for these properties free of charge, however the dates are pushed back and there are no guarantees of your viewing.

They originally partnered with a limited amount of estate and letting agents to trial the service, where people wanting to view a property could pay to book a priority slot, with an aim to make this more widespread across the market in the future.

Reactions

The news of the formation of this new service divided the industry – some thought it was a good idea to combat issues such as viewing no-shows and uninterested viewers.

However, the majority of reactions were negative, with most expecting the service not to take off or become part of the norm. Sceptics have argued that neither tenants nor agents wanted this, that it was unfair on potential buyers and renters, and that it could discourage some serious applicants.

The Tenant Fees Act

One of the main issues with the service from a lettings point of view was that there were big question marks over whether this violates the Tenant Fees Act, which was introduced by the Government in 2019 to stop tenants being charged extra fees on top of their rent and deposit, and make moving home a more manageable process.

 Originally, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute stated that “Giving no option but to pay the fee is prohibited, but optional fees, like in this instance, are not prohibited.”

This was met with confusion and reluctance from the letting industry, with many suggesting that those agents who were taking part in the early stages  likely to be a test subject in terms of the legal side of the matter, or that it wouldn’t be long before it is banned from lettings.

It didn’t take long for these people to be proven right, when a few weeks later, the Chartered Trading Standards revised their stance on the matter, saying that “guidance states that charging for viewing a rental property is prohibited.”

What it means for tenants

Because of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute’s new position on this, letting agents won’t be able to charge tenants to view a property no matter what.

Given the initial reaction, it is fair to say that the idea probably wouldn’t have taken off and become the norm regardless, but now we can be sure that tenants won’t be paying to view properties.

Despite this, as demand from renters continues to rise, there will surely be more innovative plans trying to change how the PRS works.

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