You hear often about how letting and estate agents are portrayed by landlords and tenants, new laws banning tenant fees and numerous legislations introduced to impose limitations and better trading practices on agents and inventory clerks.

Some comments and outcomes may indeed be justified because of the bad practices followed by the very few in the industry, but in my experience most letting agents work hard to look after the tenant and landlord although it can sometimes be a tricky balance.

As penned by poet John Lydgate:

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.

The journey of a tenancy is an intricate web of information, legislation and process that has to be followed which invariably includes the services of an inventory clerk.

So what about the humble inventory clerk? What do know about them and their businesses; their working practices, and the contribution they make to the industry?  Did you even know how vital their work is and how much they are involved in the rental process?  

Smaller independents might know their suppliers and clerks well; larger agents will at branch level but beyond that clerks may be seen as just another contractor.

But as clerks, do you even want to be known or heard; are you happy to be sat in the background quietly working away completing reports and not disturbing the balance or do you feel that you should be more front and centre?

For some inventory clerks the role is their job, but for many it is so much more than the provision of a service but about the relationships formed between agent, landlord and the clerk.

It is a special relationship that is based on trust, reliability and quality of work with cooperation, professionalism and communication at the root of the service and (for me) often the glue that binds the lettings process.

An experienced clerk not only provides a report, they provide insight into emerging issues that are as yet unnoticed and are experienced enough to recognise when potential hazards need to be acted upon. Their feedback has been (at times) pivotal in managing a fraught tenancy, being the ‘middle person’ between tenant and agent or the calming influence for a concerned and inexperienced ‘accidental landlord’.

“It is character, not numbers, that make the world go ‘round”; John C. Bogle

I have, though, always found it quite remarkable how inventory reports are viewed in regards to the lettings process as they have the potential to safeguard the tenants deposit and conversely that they can protect the landlords assets by detailing all issues seen at checkout against those noted at the start of the tenancy.

Many times we’ve seen requests for omissions of certain issues at the point of check in, but when it comes to the checkout every single speck of dust or finger mark has to be noted. And for balance; an assertion that all the property needs is a ‘quick tidy up and a wipe over’ at check out can be the norm rather than the exception.

But in order to create a reliable, robust and evidenced report you need a solid starting point; if the inventory is not as detailed as the checkout it will not stand up to scrutiny (ADR process), and quite rightly so as with any evidence it has to be balanced, impartial and factual.

The golden rule is this: If you can see it then so can the landlord, so can the tenant and so would the adjudicator so it should go in the report.

Clearly, though, you cannot list every single individual scuff mark and blemish but you can certainly describe, signpost and reference where such issues exist within the property and it’s about developing a consistent approach to your reporting to be able to convey to the adjudicator (who should always be your primary focus) the condition of the property and any items within so that they can rely on that report in order to make a balanced judgement when it comes to a deposit claim/dispute.

According to recent press; ‘poor inventories are a major reason letting agents are found culpable for not managing a property properly.’

However; quality reports are not as well regarded as they should be for the information they provide and the knowledge and skill base of the clerks compiling them.

Is this down to lack of understanding about the report benefits? Are there too many variations in standards and level of detail, is price the main driving factor? Any of these could be true but what is the solution to raising standards and level of understanding?

For me training is key to not only educate ourselves as inventory providers but also to help our clients understand the need to safeguard the landlords assets, the tenants rights to a home that is safe and fit for human habitation and to support the managing agents core function of providing a valued and expert service.

With all the changes happening to the industry shouldn’t we be stepping up our game as there is a real opportunity for all inventory providers / report assessors and professionals to rise above the parapet and make their voices heard for all the right reasons so that when regulation turns up on our doorstep (which it will) we are both ready, willing and able to perform at the level expected.

But why wait; why not start now and look at your processes, examine the detail of your reports and ask yourself how you can differentiate your service from the rest that will meet with your clients needs and exceed their expectations?

Want to know more?

If you want help, advice, further training or an opportunity to just talk over the challenges within the industry with a like-minded inventory professional you can contact me in confidence here: sian@inventorybase.com

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