Acorn Properties is a fairly large letting agent in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne. They rent to both students and professionals and are situated excellently to attract students.
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Acorn Properties, based in Jesmond, are a major letting agent for properties around the city of Newcastle upon Tyne, managing a large number of flats and houses across some of the most popular areas to rent in the region. I was a tenant of Acorn's for five years, so I feel I am now in a position to offer a detailed, long-term perspective on the company and what it is really like to be one of their clients. Way back in 2002, we originally chose to rent from Acorn for the simple reason that they were the only agency we could find that would accept us as tenants; the reason for this being that most agencies will (or at least, did at the time) rent student properties to households consisting entirely of students, and "professional" properties to people who work, but no one seemed to be prepared for tenants that were a mixture of the two. I was, at this time, just about to embark on my PhD, whereas my Significant Other had just finished his master's degree and had a job starting in the very near future. Agencies for student houses wouldn't accept him as a tenant, and agencies for professional properties wouldn't accept me (despite the fact that I had been awarded a research grant, and could therefore prove I had a reliable income sufficient to pay my rent for the next three years). Acorn Properties were happy to accept us as long as we had a guarantor for our rent, so we viewed a number of their properties, and eventually moved into our flat in Heaton in September of that year. We were very excited about this move, as it was the first time we had lived together and it felt like a new beginning.
Unfortunately, our first day in our new flat turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. We moved in on a Sunday afternoon, and arrived to find that not only had the promised professional clean of the property not happened, but the place had been partially repainted since we viewed it, and ladders, paint tins and tools had been left scattered around the place by whoever had been doing this work. We spent much of our first afternoon clearing up the painter's mess and then cleaning the flat properly, before we could even go about the business of actually carting all of our things inside. The painter actually turned up the following morning and let himself in, seemingly bemused that we had arrived over the weekend, despite the fact the move-in day had been given to the agency as that Sunday some time before. He collected his things and left, as the arrival of us and our stuff meant he no longer had the space he needed to carry out the decorating work, so for the next five years, we were to live in a half-painted flat. This was to be my first taste of the wonderful world of Acorn administration - disorganised, uncommunicative, and apparently unable to reconcile the word "properties" with the concept of "people's homes".
One of the first things we learned was that once you are a tenant of Acorn's, they arrange for a property inspection every quarter. Initially, this was carried out by someone from the maintenance branch of Acorn, and involved a five minute poke around the flat to make sure we hadn't trashed it in the previous three months, but no real checks as to the condition and structure of the building were done. A note was then taken of any repairs that needed (and there were always repairs needing to be done, given that the flat had last been refurbished in 1982), which were then by and large not done, so the process simply repeated itself three months later. After about three years, Acorn moved on to using an outside contractor to do this work, a very pleasant and more professional man who seemed to pay more care and attention to the state of the property than his predecessor ever did - although he didn't have much more success in compelling Acorn to carry out their repairs than we did.
On the face of it, regular inspections like these seem to be a good mechanism for both tenant and agent. However, this is only the case if the tenant is listened to, and work needing to be done is properly recorded and acted upon, and this rarely seemed to be the case. The broken back gate that was reported at our first property inspection in late 2002, for example, was still left unrepaired when we moved out last December. On the other hand, we did have a new boiler fitted as a result of the inspector reporting the poor state of the old one - but Acorn failed to tell us about this, so the first I knew about it was when I arrived home from university one afternoon and found workmen dismantling my living room (where the old boiler was) and my kitchen (where the new boiler was to go). Not only was this disconcerting, but I had no water until the workmen left that evening, and no hot water for the next two days while the work was completed. I was later told that for a landlord or landlord's agent to stop hot water to a tenant's property with no prior warning was illegal, but at this point it was too late to act on the matter. Illegal or not, it was certainly rude and inconvenient.
That is not to say that repairs were never done by Acorn. They sometimes were...just not always very well. I could give you a dozen examples, but my favourite (which makes me laugh in retrospect) was when we had our doorbell fixed. Living in an upstairs flat, a doorbell was fitted with the buzzer in the living room to make sure we could hear when someone was at the door. As the doorbell didn't work when we first moved in (and wouldn't respond to a change of batteries), we asked Acorn to come out and fix it. They did this work while we were both out (communicating with us was never their strong point), and we arrived home to find a second doorbell had been fitted to our flat - a cheap radio-operated one that sent a signal from the door to the new buzzer in the living room. Unfortunately, the radio one was set off by the doorbell of a flat across the road, the radios of passing taxis, and by some mobile phones being used in the street outside. So at this point, we had two doorbells: one that rang when there wasn't anyone at the door, and one that didn't ring when there was! Needless to say, we used the door knocker for the rest of our tenancy and kept both of the doorbells taped down to stop callers using them. This sort of ineptitude was regularly repeated, and our flat became something of a patchwork quilt of shoddy repairs and poor workmanship (and that is not even mentioning the damage some workmen managed to do to the flat). On one occasion, workmen who were supposed to be fitting our new washing machine (and couldn't do the job as they weren't plumbers) actually went back and told Acorn the work had been completed so they could get paid - therefore delaying the work for us for another fortnight while we waited for Acorn to sort it all out. That was the level of service Acorn provided: cheap and not at all cheerful.
While we never met the current landlord of our flat, we did have the pleasure of meeting the former one (who had done the decorating in 1982, I might add). The circumstances of this encounter were a little odd. This former landlord, who I shall call Gordon (for that was his name), still owned the downstairs flat after selling ours to the current landlord at some point in the past. He knocked on our door one evening in 2005 to ask whether we knew why there was water leaking through the ceiling of the kitchen in his flat. This was just after we had had the aforementioned debacle over the washing machine, and it turned out that inept plumbing had caused a leak at the back of the machine, which then seeped down through the floorboards and came out of the light fitting in the room below. This was eventually fixed after a justifiably irate Gordon shouted at Acorn for damaging his property through their incompetence. A similar problem occurred later on in our tenancy, however, with the leak this time coming from the bathroom: yes, Acorn had "fixed" the old sealant around the bath in such a clever way that it started to let water through where it had never happened before. I understand that the amount of damage caused to the downstairs flat was this time so substantial that it took weeks and a large amount of money to fix, and it drove Gordon to selling the flat. Here was a man dedicated to being a responsible landlord (something I doubt Acorn and our current landlord would understand) giving up on a valuable part of his business as a direct result of Acorn's inability to manage their properties adequately.
At some point in 2006, Acorn Properties moved to new offices at their current location on St George's Terrace. I couldn't say the exact date, as the first we knew of it was when we went to their offices one Saturday morning to discuss some problems we were having (another issue we had was that they were poor at answering the phone, even poorer at returning calls, and non-existent when it came to answering voicemail and email) and found they weren't where they used to be. They had actually managed to move office without telling their current tenants of this new arrangement - how is that for customer service? When we did actually track them down the following weekend, they seemed unabashed by this action, and made more vague noises about passing our concerns on, without actually doing anything to help us with our problems. I always wondered if they were this rude to all their clients, or just to ones that had given them years of loyal custom.
But I suppose for the sake of fairness I should try and highlight some of more positive aspects of being an Acorn tenant as well. I suppose there must have been some for me to stick around so long - or that might have been just because there were no other rental agencies to move to while I was still a student, and my first job was a short term contract, so it wasn't worth moving house in case my next job took me out of the area (which it did). After much racking of my brains, I have come up with: the rent didn't go up in all the time we were living there, Acorn did manage to return my phone calls on a handful of occasions, we got the full security deposit back within a month of moving out (although that was probably my nagging rather than anything else, now I think about it), and service was gradually improving over the last few months of our tenancy. By "improving" I mean they answered the odd phone call, and some of the staff even started to behave like professionals, so you could almost get the impression that they were doing something more than just taking your money each month. Almost. They may have started out as a zero star company, but by the time we moved out, they were more like a half star company (maybe I would have given them a whole star if they had done any of the outstanding repairs in the last four months of our tenancy). But due to dooyoo ratings, a full star is what I have to give them.
59 St George's Terrace
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne & Wear