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Contact: 109 Headroomgate Road / St Annes / Lancashire / FY 3BG - or - 49a Lytham Road / Frecklton / Lancashire / PR4 1AB / Tel: 01253 788588

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      14.09.2010 11:06
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      How they remain in business is mind boggling

      PDM are a letting agency based in St Annes (next to Party Animal if you know the town) who cover all areas of the Fylde Coast.

      A few years ago, my mother got a job in Manchester and moved in with me. She rented out her house from August 2008 for two years with PDM as the managing agents. Unfortunately it was not a good experience.

      I knew she had been having difficulties with the company, but it was in August 2009 when I took over dealings with them on her behalf (when she moved to Ecuador) that I realised the extent of their ineptness.

      My main issue with PDM (though keep reading...it's not the only one) was how offensive a lot of their communication was. This was not a permanent rental property: it was our family home for almost 20 years, and this was the first time it had been rented. PDM knew that when we lived there, money was tight and although the house was secure and warm and clean, a rather spacious, it had not been decorated in some time. They responded to this with quotes from inspections such as:

      "The hallway looks immaculate which is a major credit to the tenant, the effect has lifted the mood of the house and makes the house a much more welcoming and inviting home to be in. She has lifted the house into the 21st Century"

      She did this, it now transpires, by painting the wooden panelling yellow. That sort of wood is not meant to be painted, but hey. Apart from that, the only difference is that we had bookshelves in the hall (we have bookshelves in every room). So, in the 21st Century, people don't read? Is that their point?

      "The kitchen is as cold as a fridge"

      Um, no, it's double glazed, and heating comes from the adjoining morning room if you can afford to pay for the central heating (see later).

      "The kitchen door and window, displays (sic) signs of very bad workmanship and is a bad state of disrepair"

      Again...the condition of the house had not changed since the tenant viewed it, and moved in 6 months previously, so to put something worded like that in an inspection report is just petty (and slightly irrelevant...a bit like saying the house had and still has 3 bedrooms).

      "Thankfully when the outhouse was flooded the tenant had rubber soles on her feet as the fridge electric cable was badly frayed and was immersed in water which could have potentially been fatal"

      Again...no mention of the fact that it was the tenant's own fridge in situ.

      "(The tenant) can now only afford to have the heating on for 3 hours a day. On the day I inspected the property her daughter was cuddled up on the sofa with her duvet for warmth"

      Exactly what sort of response were they expecting? That it would tug our heart strings so much the rent would be lowered (it was already far lower than the average for this area, a nod to the decor). The response it in fact generated, was that yes, this was a large (3 reception, 3 bedroom) house, and the tenant previously lived in a small apartment with a pre-pay meter, so had been warned bills would be higher. Privately is also provoked the reaction that any sensible parent might ensure they have enough money for heating before they started replacing carpets (expensive, good condition carpets, that were just not that attractive) and wallpapering rooms.

      The tenant was given permission to redecorate the property (at her own expense) as long as it was left in a condition that could be re-rented, or moved back into. An inspection report from February 2009 stated that there was a leak that had been rectified but part of one of the living rooms could not be decorated until it had dried out. Clearly, we have different definitions of 'dry', since this remained undecorated when the house was left in August 2010... In the state it was left, it could not have been re-rented immediately.

      For several months there was always something wrong with the property that meant no, or very little, rent came through, or an invoice was raised for a significant amount of the total. A new washing machine was needed (though this was only left behind for the tenant because she requested it, and on the understanding that if it broke, it would not be replaced). They wanted a new lock for the garage, a blocked drain fixed, a new loft window. A new shower head was needed for the ensuite, new taps for the kitchen. I have no doubts in my mind that we could have lived in the house for those 2 years with few, if any, of these things desperately needing doing. I don't think PDM ever questioned the tenant on her need for these things: after all, it wasn't their money they were spending.

      One purchase I oversaw was a new shower for the main bathroom after the tenants broke the old one. We were given a few quotes, and my mother authorised 'up to £200'. When the invoice came through it was for...exactly £200. I immediately raised this as suspicious (not least because of the two quotes we'd been given, neither was for a round amount) and was told that a more expensive shower had been fitted but we'd only been invoiced the £200 we had authorised. I still find it hard to believed PDM did anything that left them out of pocket.

      The tenancy ran on a renewable 6 month contract until February 2010 when we said that, as we would want the property back shortly, we wanted it to continue on a periodic, month-to-month basis. We gave the tenant 3 months notice to move out, i.e. more than the required 2 months. She was due out on a Saturday, so the previous Monday I rang up PDM to check an inspection visit had been booked etc. It hadn't, so they agreed to speak to the tenant and then call me back. That call came alarmingly quickly, but was not good news: the tenant was not moving out as she had 'nowhere to go'. I do not know whether this was news to PDM or not, but if it was then they should have spoken to her earlier to arrange the move out, and if it wasn't they should have informed us as soon as they knew. It appeared that, once again, they were acting in support of the tenant, not the landlord who was paying for their services... I don't know whether the tenant or PDM expected us to be lenient, but this was not on the cards. As I explained to PDM on the phone, I evict patients from hospital beds for a living*, and one chavvy family would be barely a drop in the ocean that was my conscience. I wanted the eviction process to start immediately, and they agreed to send me the papers after first detailing their fees for this 'service'.

      We had a slight disagreement over how the forms would be sent: they wanted my mother's signature despite knowing she was out of the country. I had power of attorney, so could sign on her behalf, but they would post, not email or fax me the forms. That was on the Monday. When, by the Thursday, they had not arrived, I rang back and suddenly it seemed that they could be faxed after all. (It turned out they had been posted on Monday...but with no stamp on the envelope. This was not the first time.)

      A few days later I received an email from PDM, forwarding a message from the tenant (complete with her email address and phone number: clearly Data Protection is legislation yet to reach their offices). This asked for confirmation that we would release the full Bond (deposit) on the day she moved out as she needed it for her next property. I still believe PDM should not have asked me that (they were the managing agents, and we were paying them to deal with this sort of query) but I responded to say while no guarantees could be made until we had seen the property, there would be no delays assuming everything was in order. This was, however, not the end of it.

      PDM charge a 10%+ VAT management fee, which is reasonable and in keeping with other agencies round here. Less usual is the fact they paid us by (hand written) cheque each month. One month while I was in charge the invoice arrived with no cheque attached. I rang up and was told it was a mistake and that it would be sent out immediately. It wasn't. I rang back and was told we had been paid into a bank account. We hadn't - they didn't even have the account details. Then I was told they would need to cancel the original cheque as they believed it HAD been sent (despite there being no staple hole in the invoice as there would have been). Eventually, about 2 weeks late, we got the cheque. Not being a mortgaged property, it wasn't a massive issue, but for anyone who was making payments on it, it would have been problematic.

      Cheques had other issues. At the end, we did not receive the final rent cheque. I rang up to query this and was told it should have been sent out but now couldn't be as, and I quote, 'the person who signs the cheques is on holiday for 2 weeks'. I explained, in my best NHS manager voice, that this was unacceptable, and the employee agreed to investigate and call me back. The next day is transpired a cheque had not been sent as the tenant had not paid her rent and would not be paying it. I firmly believe that this was in response to my answer regarding the return of the Bond, and that PDM had encouraged the tenant not to pay it, explaining there was nothing we, as the landlords, would be able to do.

      It was clear then, and in other interactions, they either had no clue what was going on, or were deliberately holding back the truth. I'm sure they grew to dread my phone calls in those days, but it went both ways, and seeing their name on my caller ID or in my Inbox sent a shiver down my spine and threatened to put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day, even if I delayed opening the email.

      We were left with the Bond (just one month's rent - now I would insist on 6 weeks) to cover that final month's. This meant there was no extra money to take if there were problems with the property (there were a few: it wasn't left clean, the lawn mower was broken etc). What I think is most outrageous is that when they released the Bond to cover the final month's rent, a week after she moved out, they took their commission out of it. So that's a commission for, among other things, collecting the rent, which they took despite evidently not providing that service in that month.

      The tenant finally moved out on a Sunday. Since PDM couldn't/wouldn't work on Sundays they said they would get the keys on the Monday. My mother, now back in the country (and slumming it, living with me) drove to St Annes for noon to collect them. PDM didn't have them as 'the tenant was ill and had been unable to come into the office'. They did go and get them later that day (and naturally the first thing we did was change all the locks anyway) but it went no way to redeeming their service. I went in with my mother the next day to collect the final copy of the key and this was handed over without an apology, or even the request to sign a form saying it had been collected. There was one girl in the office. We asked her about the Bond (now a month late, since it was serving as the final rent) and she said she would have to ask. That was the sort of response I got a lot.

      You might think that we had one bad experience, or that PDM offer a poor service to landlords, but are a tenant's best friend. That, as it turns out, is not the case. A work friend of mine moved to St Annes and rented her first apartment here through PDM. Over dinner last week, when I mentioned PDM in passing, she rolled her eyes and muttered, 'Don't get me started'. Obviously with an opener like that, I had to. She told me what had gone on - how she'd moved in to an apartment with bare wires hanging from the ceiling and it had taken them months and months to get a light fitting in place. How she'd reported a faulty appliance and, again, it had taken them a positive age to respond and get it fixed. The most frustrating thing for her was when she received a notice to say she was being evicted as, though she'd been paying her rent, the landlord had not been paying his mortgage. She had a week to get out. She spoke to PDM and it emerged that they had known about this issue for some time, but that 'all the tenants were in the same boat' so she had no grounds to fuss so much. Why, a whole building of people looking for immediately available, similar priced rental property in the same town makes it SO much better. They then told her she had to move into another of their properties as she was mid-way through a contract with them... My friend is smart, and knew this was nonsense, but it's still wrong that they should say things like this. In the end she moved into a lovely new place through a different agency, and realised how good they can be: friendly service, immediate response to problems, the sort of thing you'd automatically think to expect had you not had the 'pleasure' of a PDM letting first.

      PDM are quite simply one of the least professional companies I have ever had the misfortune to deal with. Some examples:

      * They consistently spelt names (both ours and the tenant's) incorrectly. On several documents they also got the property address incorrect. One of these was the tenancy agreement...

      * They have a primary school grasp of the English language. We have not had a single letter from them that wasn't without one example of dubious grammar or punctuation

      * On multiple occasions they sent us mail without the correct postage. This resulted in it being delayed, and us being charged a handling fee by Royal Mail

      * They operate from Hotmail and Yahoo email addresses...it may not affect the service they offer, but it hardly looks good

      * Their Facebook page, which I think is just hilarious, describes them as:

      "A wonderful wonderful company that everyone should use!!! All the staff are amazing and the friendliest people you will ever meet and also very proffesional (sic)."


      The overall image they portray is of a bunch of children playing at being in business.

      We had a horrific experience with the company and it seriously put me off renting out my house (though I am doing so out of necessity more than choice...though obviously with a different company).

      I know that the number of Dooyooers who might ever need a letting agency in the St Annes area is not massive, but my feelings about this company are so strong that I feel the need to warn them, and anyone else who reads this through a Google search, that in order to save your sanity (and keep check of your finances) PDM should be avoided at all costs.

      http://www.pdmlettings.co.uk/


      *I don't really evict patients from hospitals. I facilitate timely discharge. I was just using poetic license.

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