Cumbrian Properties let down a lot of stranded and homeless people this week, when they hiked their admin fee from the standard £110 (plus a mysterious £90 check-in fee which I’ve never heard of before) to a whopping £600.
They got away with it for a couple of days, before potential tenants spoke to the national press. Cat now out of bag, Adrian Hogarth, the MD of this previously respectable family-run firm, said:
“I made an error of judgement. I had staff who worked 12-hour shifts on Sunday.
“I made a decision to increase tenancy fees to cover the cost of staffing to get people into properties.
“I realised on Monday that I should not have done that.”
I know news is news, and editorials are editorials, and mixing the two is only allowed in columns or opinion (or blogs), but all the newspapers failed to explain something important.
What was wrong with his statement?
If the purpose for increasing the fees was to pay his staff for their 12-hour shifts on the Sunday after the flooding crisis, there must be something wrong with either his maths or his business model.
It’s tempting to naively suggest if his staff work longer hours at a time of crisis, they should be able to let more homes than usual. You know: the more homes they let, the more money he makes, works in theory.
But of course, it isn’t that simple. He doesn’t pay their wages with the £110 admin fee (+£90 ‘check-in’ fee). He pays their wages most likely from a budget created at the beginning of each financial year, marked ‘staff salaries’.
Most salaried people accept that sometimes they will have to work overtime. They usually aren’t paid more, but time in lieu is popular and some companies do occasionally pay end-of-year bonuses to workers who have put in an exceptional amount of extra time.
That tiny admin fee makes nearly no splash when it hits the coffers of the company books. Cumbrian Properties probably pays no part of its salaries with the admin fee. It’s no more than petty cash, even at £200 a pop. The money obtained from landlords, home owners, and commission percentages is more likely to have a bearing on salaries.
How not to say sorry
Adrian Hogarth also said:
“We have donated £2,500 to the Cumbrian flood appeal, and have reduced the fees to £200 per property.
“We apologise for the bad feeling this has caused”
You see before you an example of what an apology is not. The gentleman does not apologise for causing bad feeling. He ‘apologises’ for the bad feeling being caused. It’s like when someone says they’re sorry that another person is offended. “I’m sorry you’re offended by my behaviour” is not an apology for the behaviour.
You can’t apologise for my reaction to your behaviour. It simply isn’t possible. You can only apologise for your behaviour. Only I can apologise for my reaction.
Cumbria Properties causes local industry fears
Other estate agents have become worried that their industry is being tarnished with behaviour of this kind, and industry rag Property Industry Eye even ran an article SEO’d to the hilt, in an apparent effort to counteract the publicity. They did well. It was 9th in my search results today for ‘admin fee Cumbria Properties’ and on the first page.
All the estate agents on that article seemed very nice and socially aware, waiving fees and finding temporary accommodation for stranded families. It was hard to understand where agents get their reputation for being hard-hearted scum.
What to think about Cumbrian Properties?
It’s nice Cumbrian Properties donated money to the flood appeal, and reduced their fees back down to the usual almost-twice-as-expensive-as-everyone-else’s prices. But neither of those actions is enough to restore real faith in the company to do right by the people who pay for their services. All you have to do is imagine the thought processes:
“Ooh, an opportunity! Quick, treble the admin fee!”
“Darn it, that was The Mirror. Quick! Drop the admin fee, donate some cash to the cause, and pretend you feel ashamed.”
If you were a tenant, would you expect this company to be responsive to your needs? As a landlord, are you sure you’re not paying over the odds for one service or another? If you’re making a sale with this company, is their commission percentage standard?
Could you really trust them with your property sale?
It’s clear from the Property Industry Eye article that there are lots of other land agencies in the area who are much better at giving the impression of being living, feeling, understanding, and practical human beans.
Why not pick one of them to sell your house through?
Image c/o bbc.co.uk