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Student Landlord-Maintenance and The Quotes Culture

Quotations from tradespeople can avoid budget bursting invoices.  But is student landlord-maintenance as simple as it sounds…?

What is different about student landlord-maintenance? In Canterbury there are three main universities.  So in this city, during summer vacations, most tradespeople are busy renovating private student properties and student halls of residence.  Students live in academic year-tight compartments. These partitions are separated by student vacations: summer, Christmas and Easter.  Some university students also return to parental homes during reading weeks.  This can enable some basic maintenance of student accommodation in Canterbury during their absence with their consent.   Any major maintenance is controlled by, and must revolve around, academic years. Encompassed within each off these academic years are scheduled student vacations.

Letting agents involved in Student landlord-maintenance should avoid works of two kinds: works during term time, and work exceeding a landlord client’s budget.  Only cleared funds held by letting agents, should be relied on, especially for larger jobs, for which quotations are essential.  Exceptions include emergencies known as ‘agent of necessity’ work.  In such limited situations student letting agents are permitted to authorise emergency maintenance works without a quote or even a client landlord’s consent.

Large works contrast with small works in more ways than simply time and cost.  Any works, large or small, must be capable of completion within long and short student vacations.  Some works may be staggered in phases.  Time is of the essence and time is the enemy of lettings and estate agents in Canterbury.  Why? Because requests for quotations hamper work’s completion. Quotations often delay start and completion dates causing complaints. Further, tradespeople are normally extremely busy during student vacations, regularly working overtime to complete other client’s student halls or student house works. Unlike large-scale, student landlord-maintenance projects, small works, can cost proportionally more, merely by requesting quotations. It is probably propitious to simply trust both the letting agent’s discretion and trusted contractors to quickly attend to small jobs and await retrospective invoices.  Retrospective Invoices from trusted contractors are invariably in line with other works-invoices, for which a quote was provided.  These latter invoices therefore act as price control tests.  Significant variation of costs for vacation works would immediately raise questions about any high charges when compared with similar recent works authorised via quotations.  This simple due diligence should result in a successful challenge of a greedy contractor caught overcharging. It is more prudent at the outset to provide landlords with indicative costs.

Busy trades’ people are disinclined to quote at all. During busy seasons, overworked contractors perceive requests for small-works quotes to be indicative of ‘slow payers’ likely to ‘rely on rouses’ to avoid payment.

Letting agents are often used as a buffer. Landlords with insufficient funds may disingenuously trot out the mantra ‘get me a quote’. This may be a simple way to delay authorizing student landlord-maintenance. At no cost this ‘buys’ landlords time, either until funds are available, or until capable of deciding. Only a minority of landlords fit this description.

Demanding to know the cost of minutiae worth less than an agent’s or contractor’s time to procure, betrays scant regard for their time. The 80:20 rule reveals 80% of an agent’s time is spent on 20% of such landlord’s properties. Student landlord-maintenance can betray little appreciation for the time lost by busy contractors to: collect keys, attend homes, find and pay for parking, take notes, return keys to agents, drive back to a contractor’s home/office/site, type quotations and send data to letting agents. Contractors assume there are at least two other contractors repeating the same fruitless folly to secure the same worthless work. So with only a 1:3 chance of getting the work, tradespeople avoid wasting time to provide free quotations, when the last thing they need is yet more work.

Only a contractor’s loyalty to letting agents induces them to embrace the quotes culture. Logically, why would contractors: leave paid employment, to give free quotes, for work of lower value, than that lost on the work they must postpone, in order to quote for work they do not need, to indulge a landlord unlikely to use their services? Contractors resent losing money with poor prospects of success. Their quoted prices can betray the hidden costs of providing “free quotes” to enable student landlord-maintenance.

Paradoxically, having secured 3 quotes, landlords may ultimately instruct friends.  This would allow “mate’s rates”, bolstered by evading tax and VAT, to facilitate work costing less than the lowest quote. Small savings by landlords seldom compare with the huge cost of a letting agent’s lost administrative time. Some contractors refuse to quote for such student landlord-maintenance. Who can blame them? Likewise agents avoid such landlord business. Arranging three quotations often results in only two being provided within say a week. So additional quotes are required and the farce continues.

Tenant complaints and requests for maintenance might be quickly resolved by immediately authorizing work. Students may have postponed arrival dates prior to completion of upgraded accommodation. Additional delays can result in compensation claims! Opportunities to avoid such claims are lost whilst awaiting quotes for student landlord-maintenance. Meantime, tenants might abandon a tenancy and report defective property conditions to authorities. Student tenants might demand refunds of advanced rent. So getting contractors to just go and do the most important work is likely best to avoid further complexities.

Landlord inaction fuels tenant compensation. Get me a quote, and get me a claim!

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