What do the new ASA guidelines mean for letting agents

When you have a property to let how do you tell prospective renters about it? You advertise it on your website, through the portals, in the window of your shop and even in some old school printed material like a newspaper or brochure, right?

Advertising rental property

So when you advertise that fine new rental property, what are you actually telling people about it? You want them to know the number of rooms, the sort of place it is, you’re likely to add some pictures too. And of course you need to let the folk know how much it’s going to cost them. But up until recently, most letting agents were simply stating the monthly or weekly rental fee on their advertising, and not including any details of any additional fees that may be charged. New ASA guidelines (Advertising Standards Authority) are changing all of this.

Non-optional fees

The new ASA guidelines, sent out in a letter from the CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) to all letting agents concern the ‘need to prominently include information about non-optional fees around rental prices (the “asking rent”) in your marketing communications in all media.’ The question you need to first ask yourself is – do you charge tenants any of these ‘non-optional’ fees? Think hard now! This includes fees for drawing up or amending contracts, check-in or check-out fees, administration costs, credit or reference checking, and any other costs that your new tenant will end up paying you. If the answer is yes (very likely), then you need to be making these fees prominent wherever you advertise the rental costs of any property.

ASA complaint

The reason these changes have come about is that earlier in 2013, a case was brought to the ASA in which an advert on rightmove for a rental property was complained of as misleading as it did not state the compulsory administration charge that would be made. The ASA upheld this complaint and as a result marketing of rental properties need to adhere to the new guidelines.

Deadline for changes

The letter from the CAP discusses various ways that the changes could be implemented, and give a deadline of November 1st for them to be done by. So you really should have acted by now, but if you haven’t, then it’s time to talk to your webmaster and get your website up to scratch.

How to act

The first thing you need to do is create a page on your website about the fees that you charge. Are they dependent on the property price? The number of tenants? Or are they fixed regardless? Whatever the case, create a page that clarifies this and get it live on your site. Now where you list out your properties, on every rental property you need to add some text, preferably on the details of each property, linking to this page. Soho estate agent LDG have added ‘+fees’ next to the monthly cost of any given property, and this hyperlinks to their page on fees.

Alternatives

This is not the only way to comply with the ASA guidelines. A quick browse across other estate agent sites will show you that some companies have chosen to add different wording, such as ‘tenants fees apply’ or ‘deposit and fees apply’, to link to the page explaining their fees. If you do charge a fixed fee then you can be explicit and state what the fee is on each property.

Portals

The letter from the CAP states that ‘Rightmove, Zoopla and Primelocation will insert a hyperlinked “fees apply” statement next to the rental price in their full page ads. This will link to a pop-up page containing generic information about the range of fees that could be charged.’ We’ve checked, and they’ve all added this to their rental property listings. So if you don’t charge any non-optional fees then you need to let them know.

Compliance

It’s really important for letting agents to comply with the new ASA guidelines. Compliance shows you’ve got nothing to hide, and that the fees you are charging are transparent and valid. They are guidelines, and not laws, but post the November 1st deadline, the CAP may look at action against any agents that haven’t followed them. If you haven’t done anything about it yet, then get your web and marketing team talking about it today.

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