A look back at the London rental market in 2020

This year has been very difficult for landlords – of course, this will come as no surprise.

2020 started out very well, with strong, stable rents and good demand from professional tenants. The rental market was buoyant throughout the capital and a shortage of stock was our main challenge.

Then the Coronavirus pandemic hit and the UK went into a complete lockdown at the end of March. While some rental demand remained (often from NHS and other keyworkers and those whose tenancies had ended so had no choice but to move home), we saw a flood of rental properties coming to the market as some professionals left central London and moved back to be with their families. We also received many new property instructions from owners of vacant Airbnb and other short let accommodation, suddenly empty due to the shutdown of the tourism industry. Add to this the downturn in the number of students coming to study in London this year and it’s not hard to see how this has impacted rental demand.

This downturn in demand has created a surplus of rental properties and caused rents to soften. So, this year our priority has been to ensure landlords recognise the importance of reducing void periods, rather than look for an increase in rent. And fortunately, most of our landlords realise that these are not ‘normal’ times and that our advice is key in helping them retain existing tenants and find a new tenant for their rental property as quickly as possible.

Keep calm and carry on!

While many estate agents in London shut down completely during the lockdown, our staff continued to work on rotas from our branches and from home to maintain as complete a service as possible for our landlords and tenants.

Our directors remained at the helm throughout as we devised new ways of working together from our different locations. Our 20 strong team of tech, web and marketing staff have led the driving force, increasing our exposure on top property portals such as On The Market, Rightmove and Zoopla and boosted our social media and PR campaigns to maximise the visibility of our rental properties to potential tenants. As regular media contributors, we have been very active in the news and you can keep updated with all our property industry comment by visiting our Press page.

Online 24/7

Technology was a vital tool. We launched a new series of investment focused webinars, enabling us to keep in touch directly with clients. These also attracted a lot of new investors who were eager to hear more about the impact of Covid on the property market. During these 1 hour sessions, our own directors presented their views and we also welcomed top industry speakers with whom we have close connections, such as the Berkeley Group, Barratt London, Rightmove, Maybank plus mortgage brokers, education and immigration specialists and tax experts. Our webinars have proved so successful that we are going to continue with more in the new year so watch this space!

Our teams have worked tirelessly throughout the year and another service that we have expanded has been the use of live video tours and virtual tours for our properties for rent and for new homes for sale. These have been instrumental in helping tenants and buyers who cannot be present to view a property, to take a look around as if they were there in person. This means properties can viewed online safely, even in the middle of a lockdown.

Working with tenants experiencing hardship

We have worked closely with tenants experiencing financial difficulties, expanding our accounts team to assist with the complex process of handling tenants’ rent arrears and other issues for those who had lost their jobs or who had been furloughed and so had a lower income than usual.

Of course, the furlough scheme was a lifesaver for many but we have felt the full impact of tenants’ reduced salaries in quarters 3 and 4 of 2020. We have been working closely with tenants, thoroughly investigating any hardship issues to find a working solution satisfactory to both tenants and landlords.

This strict approach has prevented any fraudulent claims and our rigorous tenant referencing procedures (carried out by a professional referencing company) has ensured that we have not let any properties to fraudulent applicants whose change in circumstances could mean that they are unable to pay their rent.

This has saved landlords from real headaches and financial difficulties themselves and we are very proud that our conscientious approach has ensured our landlords receive the highest level of service in these challenging times. We have not charged any extra fees for this service and many of our overseas clients in particular, have shown grown great support of our efforts regarding this.

Strengthening our international teams

Expansion remains very much our objective, even in these difficult times. This year we increased the staffing levels at our Hong Kong and Singapore offices and relocated both to new locations to assist our growing client base in these regions. We felt this was particularly important in order to enhance our service to clients here as they appreciate regular contact with our team of rentals and sales consultants in their own time zone and rely on this expertise to help them achieve their investment goals.

Expanding our London branch network

The last few years have seen us continue our strategic expansion programme, opening new branches in some of London’s most popular new residential developments. And this programme is continuing despite the pandemic – later this month we are opening our new branch at the Berkeley Group’s Royal Arsenal Riverside in Woolwich while in January 2021 we will be opening our new branch at White City Living (next to the Westfield London shopping mall). If you have a property to let in these locations, we will be only happy to take your instruction, please do contact us.

Looking forward to 2021

So, at the end of 2020 we are seeing a very different landscape to the one at the beginning of the year. Clearly, no-one could have predicted these events but there are real causes for optimism now. The first, of course, is the introduction of three new vaccines which look likely to be rolled out very soon. And this will be a gamechanger for all of us, enabling Londoners to get back to their ‘new normal’ with a more positive outlook than we have seen for months.

So, while this is undoubtedly one of our hardest and most challenging years since our business was founded in 1958, we are confident our experience has helped our clients navigate a path through this storm. As for the new year, we will be keeping a foot firmly on the gas pedal, maintaining our good service levels and focusing on getting our properties let as quickly as possible.

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About the Author

Established in 1958, Benham and Reeves is one of London’s oldest, independently owned property lettings and sales agents. With specialism in residential sales, corporate lettings and property management in prime areas of London, the company operates from eighteen prominently located branches and five international offices.

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