10/06/2015 11:57 BST | Updated 10/06/2016 06:59 BST

For Fees Sake!

Avid readers of the property pages will be aware that letting agents' fees are once again in the press - for all the wrong reasons - following the decision by a landlord to take a certain London based agency to court over their propensity to levy charges.

Not knowing all of the facts, it wouldn't be fair for the NLA to comment on the virtues of the case, or even single the company out by name. Besides, there are certain 'F' words which are not to everybody's taste.

This is not the first time the agency has faced legal action regards its fees: a few years ago renewal fees were centre stage; now it is contractors' fees combined with agency commission. In fact, if press coverage is to be believed, it would be hard to fabricate such a perfect storm of alleged overcharging and a client so perfectly placed to hold the firm to account. Apparently the landlord in question is not only a lecturer in competition law, but was formerly employed as a case officer by the Office of Fair Trading.

As interesting as the case itself is, hinging on the fairness of contractor charges, the commission that the agency levies on those charges and whether a conflict of interests exists as a result, the main talking point amongst the landlords I've spoken to is why people continue to use this agency when rarely a good word seems to be uttered about them.

A great many landlords in the Capital are keen to point out that they would never use them, employing some colourful language which wouldn't be polite to repeat. But thousands do, willingly, every year. Of course, the fact of the matter is disgruntled customers readily share their pain and bad news stories are just more interesting. When you do track down satisfied customers, willing to talk in private, their answer is they let quick and achieve good rents which off-sets the reputation. End of story. Perhaps?

But, as we emerge from the shadow of the General Election, I couldn't help but notice a similarity between the conversations groups of landlords are having about letting agencies and the debate about how wrong the polls got the election result.

Consider this:

When polled or in conversation, a minority of people admit voting Conservative. Party members are popularly derided for their background, manner and opinions. The polls always underestimate their share of the vote and people (particularly when in groups) tend to identify more closely with social democratic policies. However, as 7 May demonstrated, when push comes to shove, A LOT more people vote Tory than ever admit they do.

Likewise, when discussing certain letting agency chains, people deride their fleet of company cars, ridicule their designer offices and explain their disdain at the very notion of granting them a listing. However, the company has persevered for 34 years, is debt free, administers more than 18,000 tenancies and claims to open 5- 10 new offices every year. Surely the numbers cannot lie.

So two questions remain: (i) is Foxtons* the Conservative Party of London's private rented sector? And; (ii) why are so many people too ashamed to admit allegiance to either?


*Sorry, I had to say it once, and I have been reassured that a Mini won't appear unless you repeat their name three times.