Remember when Beau Bridges says “My word is stronger than oak,” in Jerry Maguire and it turns out to be a horrendous lie? I kind of know how Jerry felt now after being subjected to quite possibly some of the worst customer service at the hands of letting agents in this city.

My lease is about to end, so I’m in the market for something bigger. I’m in need of a spare room so I can bounce a tennis ball Steve McQueen style against the wall whilst I think how best to structure rants like this. So, naturally you’d assume if you want something bigger and better and are prepared to pay an equally bigger price, that agencies in this new city centre of swanky apartments would be going all out to snap your hand off right?

Wrong. Very wrong.

The amount of chasing you have to do with these people is unreal. It’s like you are trying to put a hard sell on them. Take yesterday, as one all too typical example. We had time off work, so booked a few viewings (a chore in itself). We get a call an hour and a half before one viewing – a delightfully vague chap who says the builders still have the keys and he’s no timeframe as to when he’ll get them back.

Here’s where that ‘stronger than oak’ thing comes in. He said in no uncertain terms “No matter what, either way I will contact you regarding a viewing as soon as I get them back.” An hour and a half after said viewing was meant to take place – still no word.

So we phone again.

Curiously vague chap answers the phone and this time is delightfully unhelpful and ignorant. We politely point out the error of his ways, which he disregards with a gruff ‘okay’ as if he’s took offence. The offer of a reschedule isn’t forthcoming. Again it’s down to us to do the legwork and push him on it.

And, having dealt with most of the city’s biggest agencies, I can confirm this is no isolated example. They seem to adopt the mindset of ‘You want to live in the city, we’ve got the city properties, bow humbly down in our presence please’.

No doubt the increased demand for rented accommodation across the country has ushered them into self erected ivory towers from where they can call the shots and leave the rest of us floundering. If you aren’t prepared to be subject to short notice cancellations, re-arrangements or downright ignorance then forget about it. Forget, too, that you also have a job, and commitments to juggle.

Another trick employed by these agencies is the Jedi mind trick (last film reference in this I promise). You spot a problem in the apartment you’re viewing, they do their hardest to cloud your judgement and make out it’s no big deal.

Case in point: After hurrying to get to another viewing yesterday, the agent turned up late. Eventually we were joined by the site caretaker who had come to investigate ‘a minor problem’ (which, to our admittedly untrained eyes looked to be quite a major one, given a wall was hanging off next to the shower due to a leak).

Once inside, we noticed an ominous claret stain next to the toilet. This was promptly stood on by the agent once they’d noticed where our eyes were trained. On walking into the spare bedroom, we spotted another. This one was what you’d expect to find if you left a prisoner in a cell without a toilet, or a dog alone for any length of time during the day. Finally breaking at the sight of this we enquired if the carpets would be re-laid. We were told we could ask the landlord, but that he’d probably (like the computer) say no.

In other words, “Yes you can move in, but we just want your cash. Service is extra. You’ll have to fight to make it habitable yourselves – nowt to do with us.”

So that’d include a new sink to replace the stained old chipped one, asking for a repaint on all the filthy and flaking walls, and shifting out the remnants of the previous tenant then? And this is your attempt at getting me to move? Don’t give up the evening job. Most agencies take the first month’s rent from the owner, for their hard work, and then an ongoing percentage if they’re managing the lease. Makes you wonder what they spend that on. It’s not customer service training, that’s for sure.

I’m not expecting Annette Bening’s eager-to-please realty agent from American Beauty (okay that is the last film reference – my word is as flimsy as theirs it would seem) but if large portions of my monthly salary is passing through their hands each month, I expect a service and assurances regarding the roof they’ve painfully and lovingly put over my head.

Is the city’s rental market so over-subscribed that those of us who want to move into the centre have to endure such a soul destroying ‘take it or leave it’ attitude from our letting agencies? All we want to do is move in, contribute to our urban economy, and occupy all those ‘prestigious’ apartments that remain unsold – like, for example, all but 17 of the 123 apartments Beetham’s West Tower in Old Hall Street. You know, the one that’s now in the hands of the administrators…Still, maybe they’ll work a little harder to get it off their books than our city’s letting agencies.

A SevenStreets contributor

Pic: geograph.org.uk

  • James

    It’s not exclusive to Liverpool – letting agents the country over operate this way. Galling that not only do they lord it over their tenants as you describe, but when you actually need them to take control in the case of problem tenants, suddenly they lose any sense of control!! Best of both worlds (for them anyway).

    Look in the paper for private rentals!

  • Rachel

    We went private for our first flat, as I had moved from abroad and didn’t have a credit history here yet. We knew bog all about Liverpool and yet still managed to find a decent flat at a reasonable rent with a marina view. All, amazingly, without the help of estate agents!

    Don’t even get me started on trying to by a house in this city.

  • http://www.djcdesign.co.uk David J Colbran

    I love the concept of the ‘key man’ when dealing with estate agents – often it is code for some older guy, who literally has loads of sets of keys for houses and absolutely no idea about any of the properties he shows you !

  • Leanne

    That’s nothing. I actually live in a city centre flat, and I’ve had about five letters from a *leading* city centre agency demanding overdue rental for a car parking space in the building that I don’t rent. I’ve told them every time, and every time, a dozy agent says ‘sorry, it’s a problem with our computer system’ (isn’t it always). The other day I got a solicitors letter saying baillifs are going to come round if I don’t cough up £2k in overdue rent. I had to take the afternoon off work to go round to the agents to complain in person, and no one there seemed to know anything about it. Unbelievable. How these people can be left in charge of getting to their own homes of a night, let alone help others find a new one is beyond me.

  • ChrisCoals

    The even better news is increased regulation has been scrapped by… you guessed it, the new government!

    Between the couldn’t give a fuck agencies, inscrutable landlords siphoning money out of the borough and incompetent, sometimes downright hostile part-time landlords (cheers, buy to let!), it’s a god awful mess.

  • http://twitter.com/BoldAsJam Sophy

    Yup, same problems we faced when moving from renting from a private landlord to going through an estate agent this summer. We were both in the gap between university and starting work, and cannot understand how anyone with a job could fit in the search with so many viewings only being cancelled when you get there.

    We finally found somewhere unfurnished we really liked are have settled in (though we *foolishly* thought that unfurnished would still have all the light fittings and curtain rails included).

    The worst bit, however, came after we’d moved in. We had NOT been told that the flat was also up with another landlord at the same time. A week after getting the keys, my mum and her partner came to help me move, so we head to the new flat. We get there, and the door is unlocked, weird – must have left it unlocked, thinks I. Suddenly, out from the bathroom pops a giant of an estate agent from S***** K****

    SK man: ‘What are you doing here, I don’t have any more viewings today.’
    Me: ‘This is my flat, I signed the contract with ~landlord~ last week, who the hell are you?

    He was SO rude, and tried to refuse to give me the keys to MY flat, on the basis that I had not rung up HIS office to tell them about something I had absolutely no knowledge of. I rang my landlord up, and they had no knowledge of it either, so how I could’ve possibly informed S***** K**** that I was living there, I don’t know.

    This ‘estate agent’ then refused to leave until my mum’s partner began to get angry towards him. If I’d been on my own I would’ve been terrified.

    Sorry for going on, 7 months later and I’m still fuming!

  • http://www.tinnedgoods.com Joe

    Luckily I seemed to have bypassed the kind of mess that a lot of people have found themselves in. I’ve recently moved flats and aside from a couple of organisational mix ups (including once when an agent rang us up two hours after a viewing we didn’t turn up to anyway to say it’d been cancelled – pre-emptive strike!!!) we found our agents to be quite helpful.

    Emphasis on “quite,” though, once we’d put the fees in the administrative chap working for our chosen agency was gruff and unapproachable. We constantly refer to the girl who went out of her way to sort us the viewing to the flat we eventually moved into as the peak of our experience with the agency. Typical I suppose, as she’s the sales person. Once we were hooked in it didn’t seem to matter to them what we did.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin

    My experience of estate agents recently has been fairly poor, though I’m looking to buy. I’m sure they’re not trying to be so disorganised, clumsy, lacking in knowledge or tardy – but they usually are.

    The nadir was only realising that I’d already viewed a property several weeks before when the owner, an elderly widow, opened the door. She didn’t recognise me.

    I’d given the agent a set of parameters and told him to line up viewings for every property within. For some reason he’d sent me to the same one twice.

    Embarrassed, but not wanting to offend, I went around the property for a second time – asking questions I already knew the answer to and cooing platitudes about the place.

  • JTaylor

    This rings true with me after a farce of a week dealing with an agency in the city (A*****L****). Took time off work in the week to view a property. Had to abide by their time as they wouldn’t budge. Had a call off them 45mins before the viewing to say they didnt have the keys yet. Fine. Then told they’d call the minute they did to rearrange the viewing that day. I heard nothing. Called them the next day, they were unapologetic and arrogant. They let me arrange a viewing for today and told me to ring and confirm on the day. So I did. No answer. So left a message and went to the viewing. Got there and there was no sign. So phoned again. This time an answer. Again the same arrogant unapologetic approach. They told us the property had gone. So not only did they ignore the message I left they didn’t even bother to phone and cancel the viewing. Clearly too busy dicking round all their customers. Found this article when searching about bad agencies in the city so thought I’d share my story. Wish I’d looked on the net sooner as it seems this agency has a reputation of being piss poor. Avoid them!

  • Jonny

    hey thanks :/

  • Anon

    We came into a bit of cash last year and had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy a house outright. Despite not having to arrange a mortgage, nor having a chain to hold up the sale we were treated like complete cretins, talked down to, ignored and once even mocked by the delightful lettings agents at S***** K**** to the extent that we called their manager to indicate just how much of a commission their rudeness had cost them.

    Saying that, our experience of the private sector was equally traumatic. Hilariously, our old landlord was recently featured in a double page spread in the Observer extolling their virtuous regeneration of Toxteth. Funny, because I remember them renting out slums and threatening tenants with eviction if they dared complain about the rat, sorry “Field Vole” infestations.

    The housing situation in this country is heartbreaking and it’s the young who are suffering.