[Author – Tim ODwyer]
An ABC radio presenter recently recounted during her programme her parents’ “nightmarish encounter” with a real estate rental manager.
Mum and Dad rented a house for some years, met the owner, were good tenants, painted a couple of rooms and “it’s all been sweet”.
Then the manager left. The new woman advised the couple that the rent was going up $10.00 a week. They refused to accept this, but still signed a fresh lease after changing the rental figure back to the current one. They kept paying the old rate, and soon copped an arrears notice. Then the owner dropped in. “Just visiting.” He knew nothing of the rent increase or the notice.
“It turns out” the presenter continued, “they’d been lied to.” Both landlord and tenants had “been spun stories by this woman in the rentals department …playing both sides off each other”.
I was invited by the presenter to comment on air. The first question was: Do rental managers have to represent both parties fairly?
While explaining that their job essentially was to collect rent and manage properties on behalf of landlords, I remarked that “some” real estate rental departments seemed to hire “dragon ladies.” The ABC presenter quickly interrupted: “Some of them are lovely, I don’t want to tar them all with the same brush.”
Nor did I, but suggested that “some” became dragon ladies because they occasionally had to deal with “tenants from hell” (as seen on current affairs programs). “The majority of tenants are not that way,” I said.
I also mentioned “landlords from hell”, and sympathised: “The meat in the sandwich of course is the agent.” Most agents, I conceded, did a good job which was, by law, to act only on the owner’s instructions.
The presenter spoke of “a huge sense of mistrust” after some managers took ages to get back to tenants about queries or complaints.
“There’s a lot to be said,” I responded, “for agents being in the middle between tenants and landlords. It’s not a bad thing for the tenant to deal only with the agent and for the agent to deal only with the landlord.” If tenants doubted whether the agent’s actions were authorised by the owner, I explained, they could contact their landlord direct.
I could see the point, however, of managers not giving owners’ details to tenants: “That’s protecting the landlord from noisy, grumpy, unsolicited calls.”
After I signed off, the presenter said her parents’ experience “cheesed” her off. Property owners, she felt, should appreciate responsible tenants who paid on time without “an obstructionist real estate woman in the rentals department.”
Before long “Pamela” from the Real Estate Institute wanted a right of reply. First off she sledged me: “I had to call in when I heard Tim talking in those terms about a generalisation about the industry in a very unflattering way … I think it’s very unfair for Tim to be categorising the industry as dragon ladies.
Then she said there were always two sides to every story. It was “not uncommon”, she claimed, for owners to issue instructions to the agent then have a different attitude to the tenant – “a little good-cop-bad-cop.”
The presenter responded with her own experience. She had rented for 16 years, and found only two rental managers who “weren’t obstructionist”. The rest were “very difficult to deal with.”
When asked about the poor reputation of this section of the industry, Pamela said she had heard a lot of comments about sales, but not much about property management. “When you’re in a policing role you don’t always win friends,” she explained. Informing tenants they weren’t maintaining a house or their rent was late did not always “engender favour.”
Next came another shot at the messenger: “The percentage of complaints to the percentage of tenants is fairly low and I think for Tim to make a categorisation that they’re all dragon ladies employed within the industry is very unreasonable and unfair.”
“We’ve got better trained professionals out there than we’ve ever had,” she continued, praising the “quite extensive training” conducted by the Real Estate Institute on all aspects of property management.
She summed up this way: “If you’ve got a happy tenant, you’ve got a happy lessor and you’ve got a happy agent.”
The presenter described “something of a little hornet’s nest” as listeners began calling in.
“Amy” said young rental managers with not enough life experience were “way too aggressive”.
“Ted” thought 90 to 95% of people had “horrible stories” after running up against agents. “I would rather lose $10,000 to $15,000 on the sale of my house than ever have to deal with a real estate agent again,” he growled.
“Sharon” said one property manager was “rude … just offensive … the authentic dragon lady,” yet another was “fantastic”.
Estate agent “Sean” said property managers lied “quite often.” Most were “quite unskilled and untrained”, agents didn’t “want to put training into them” and few had actually read their Code of Conduct.
“John” had a bad experience with an agent. He went to Fair Trading which said it wasn’t worth its while to pursue his complaint.
Finally “Patricia” asked where landlords could go to report agents not doing their job.
“Probably the Office of Fair Trading,” suggested the presenter.