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Rubbish for student lettings.
In my review of legal firm Coffin Mew I began with the rather inflammatory statement "come the revolution, estate agents and lawyers will be amongst the first up against the wall." Dooyoo user Collingwood21 commented "I'll agree... as long as you include rental letting agents within your definition of "estate agents". Having dealt with J W Wood, the only possible response to that comment is "absolutely"
When Mrs SWSt and I were looking to relocate to Durham, we had only a very limited amount of time to find some rented accommodation. Fate conspired against us, and we ended up having to rent from J W Wood. We had to deal with them for a period of eight months and during that time they did nothing to enhance the reputation of letting agents.
Having found a house we wanted to rent, J W Wood got on with the one bit they were good at - taking your money. There were fees for this, deposits for that, guarantees for the other, all of which ensured that we had to write several rather large cheques for the privilege of J W Wood doing little more than filling in a few forms and writing a few letters. It seemed like even breathing within their office attracted a fee.
This might not have been so bad, had J W Wood completed the tasks that we were paying them for. After several weeks of inactivity (and with the date when we needed to move looming closer) I contacted them to find that absolutely nothing had progressed. They were still waiting for references from both the bank and our employers. They were not willing to chase these up (despite the fact one of the fees we had to pay was for a bank reference request to be made) but were absolutely adamant that if they didn't receive them then we would not be able to move in. In the end, I had to spend several days running around negotiating with various parties, discussing ways around the problems and collecting and posting various documents, whilst J W Wood sat on their collective bottoms and did nothing other than take my money. This was an early warning shot that we would face problems, but like I said, we were desperate and didn't have a lot of choice.
Things didn't get much better on the day we moved in. The representative met us at the property just as our removals van was arriving. Despite the fact we had more pressing matters (a van to unload and removals men being paid by the hour), she insisted on making us read through pages of paperwork, sign lots of forms and go through the inventory item by item, room by room. I appreciate that this paperwork is important and needed to be read, but had J W Wood been efficient, much of it could have been done in advance and by post. Worse still, when going through the house to record its condition, she missed several very obvious flaws. We had to point these out, to ensure it was recorded and they didn't try to subsequently charge us for the damage.
Where J W Wood are very efficient, of course, is in making sure they have your money. In addition to the fees mentioned above, all rent (payable a month in advance) has to be paid by Direct Debit and won't let you have the keys until all the relevant bank forms have been completed and signed. They also require an up-front deposit equivalent to one month's rent plus £100, which they keep for the duration of your tenancy and only return if they deem the property to be in suitable condition when you hand in the key. Any interest earned on that money during the tenancy is, of course, retained by them. For some reason, they also require the first month's rent plus initial deposit in cash, which is a real pain when you are talking about such a large sum.
They were also highly inefficient when it came to the perennial problem of repairs. During our tenancy, several things wrong with the house. Some of these were small things which did not inconvenience us too much, others were not. Yet, each time, we had a real battle to get them to actually do something about it, often needing several letters, phone calls or visits to their offices before anything was finally done. One particular problem was reported to them in February and was still unresolved when we left the property over six months later, despite repeated reminders from us. Another issue occurred six weeks or so before we moved out and could potentially have seen us unable to get into our own house. Again, it was unresolved when we moved out. The only time they proved efficient at sorting out a problem was when the oven blew up. This, I suspect, was because of the health and safety implications and the fact that they might have had some liability in law had the house burnt down as a result.
Once we had handed in our notice for the property, if anything the "don't care" attitude worsened. When prospective tenants wanted to see the house, Woods frequently arranged viewings for evenings or weekends (when they don't work), so that we had to show them around. I think out of about eight viewings, a J W Wood employee did one. Again, it begs the question what do they do to earn their money?
The final straw came when we finally moved out. The women who came out inspected the property with far greater care than the one who had done the inspection when we arrived. Having done it, she proclaimed she would be withholding some of our deposit. The problem? There was some light dust on the window sills and skirting boards and - crime of the century - A SPIDER IN THE BATH! Frankly, this was little more than a thinly veiled attempt to milk yet more money out of us. I'm pleased to report that on this occasion, though, they were unsuccessful as we refused to accept this, evicting the offending arachnid, doing a bit of light cleaning and leaving them with absolutely no justification for retaining the deposit.
The problem is that J W Wood is the biggest letting agency in Durham and in a student town, they rent out an awful lot of accommodation to a captive market of desperate students who often need to find accommodation quickly. If you do have a choice, I would recommend you avoid J W Wood.
The ironic thing is that our actual landlord was extremely amenable. Despite the fact that the tenancy agreement said "no pets" he happily agreed to us bringing one into the house; at the end of our minimum 6 month contract, he was willing to let us go onto a monthly one, rather than forcing us to sign for another 6 months which he would have been well within his rights to do. I'm quite sure that had we dealt with him directly, life would have been far less stressful (at least for us, if not for him!) and any problems quickly remedied.
So, there you go Collingwood21 - wishes can come true. Come the revolution, letting agents will be joining estate agents and lawyers against that wall.
© Copyright SWSt 2010