“ Real Estate Service „
I am not surprised that somebody has already seen fit to name and shame the lettings department of Squares in Leighton Buzzard. I too have had an outright disgusting experience with them, and would recommend extreme caution if you have to deal with them.
Unfortunately, they are probably the biggest lettings agent in the local area! I found myself viewing flats with them simply because I was travelling from Kent to find accomodation, and they could show me the most suitable properties in one day. I expect they get a lot of business this way, not least because the poor reputation they have locally means they have to rely on outlying leads!
To be fair, I had no problems with the sales agent. He was cheerful, helpful and flexible (aren't they all?), and I agreed to rent a new-build property on a six month shorthold tenancy agreement. I visited the office and signed up every form necessary, and left for Kent feeling relieved that I had something sorted.
My first inkling that something was awry was in the credit-check process. I was keen to get my deposit paid and a move-in date arranged, as I was now commuting round the M25 to Buckinghamshire, and couldn't wait to move! After two weeks of my chasing (not Squares'), I had to get my employer to email a scanned reference and copy me in, as Squares repeatedly told me they hadn't received the faxed version. They were actually unprofessional enough to suggest that the HR dept at my company was both incompetent and also lying to me, which was frankly outrageous!
Eventually this was sorted out, and a move-in date agreed. On the day, I went to sign the agreement, and picked up the keys. I was also required to set up a standing order, which I did. I received an Energy Performance Certificate for the flat, and when I asked for an Electrical Safety Certificate and Gas Certificate to be provided, I was told that the Gas one was on top of the boiler in the flat, and they would post me a copy of the Electrical Certificate. I also asked them for an inventory, as the flat was fully furnished. This too they said they would post, as they didn't have one to hand.
The Gas Certificate, predictably, was no-where to be found. When I phoned, the administrator said she would post out a copy, along with the Electrical Certificate and inventory. When I called again a week later I was told the inventory was still "being typed up". Considering I had first agreed to take the property at least seven weeks previously, I found that a bit ridiculous. I phoned back to speak with a manager, only to be told by the hopeless administrator "I am the manager". Defeated, I decided to give them another chance to send the stuff out...
But then matters took a more serious turn. I had been in the flat for only a couple of weeks when I decided to use the grill for the first time. Typically, this was at 1am, a late-night cheese on toast attack! I switched on the grill (which was incorporated into the main oven) to heat up, and set about cutting bread and grating cheese. In the space of five minutes, the room was filled with black smoke, the smoke alarm screaming at me and my eyes streaming. I shouted my boyfriend in, and he tried to see where the fire was, but it was between the oven and the hob, and there was no way of putting it out. We closed all the windows and doors in the flat, and went outside to call the fire brigade.
I have never spent a longer 10 minutes than the ones I spent in my pyjamas and a coat and boots, freezing cold looking up at the flickering blackened window of my flat imagining the worst! The fire-engines woke all our neighbours because double-parking meant they couldn't get through the estate, but nobody offered us a cup of tea or shelter - just lots of twitching curtains, and a woman who came out to ask us how long we would be disturbing her!
We were left with a blackened Kitchen/Lounge, a gaping hole where the oven had been, and sore throats and nausea from ingesting the smoke and dry powder used to put out the fire. The fire officer told me that the blaze had been caused by a build-up of fat above the grill, which had ignited when I switched it on. He said there was no way that the build-up could have happened in the few weeks since I had been there, and offered me assistance should I need it when dealing with Squares.
Because the flat stank, we couldn't go to bed that night, so the OH and I set about scrubbing away the soot and powder as best we could, in order to clear the air and make it habitable. I phoned my boss at 9am to say I needed the day off as I had to deal with the agents, insurers, cleaning etc, and then phoned Squares. At first, they were super-concerned and apologetic. They said they were desperately trying to get in touch with the landlord, and advised me to keep receipts for any expenses incurred, eg cleaning, take-away food etc.
Despite my tenancy agreement bearing a womans name as landlord, a man turned up who said it was his flat, and asked to have a look at the damage. We let him in as he said he was the estranged partner of our landlady, and seemed friendly and concerned rather than aggressive. He had a look round and said he would get in touch with the insurers asap to get the kitchen sorted out, and apologised to us for the fire's occurrence.
I think at first everyone was afraid I was going to sue! In fact, I just wanted to get back to normal as soon as possible. I cleaned the whole flat as best I could, although the carpet and curtains in the kitchen/lounge were still grey and smelly, and the walls needed repainting. My only real problem was the lack of the oven - the OH and I had just moved in together and faced the prospect of tuna sandwiches on Christmas Day! Three weeks after the fire, I had heard nothing further from Squares regarding repairs, so I hardened my relaxed stance a little, and started to put some pressure on. I was told the insurers would assess the damage in January (this is despite me already having taken two days off work to allow said insurers access to take photos) and until the claim went through I would be provided with a replacement oven. This turned out to be a seventies combi oven the size of a large microwave, which took up all my surface space and was not pat-tested. When I complained, I was told by Squares that the oven was being provided purely as a "goodwill" gesture and therefore did not have to be of any particular standard or safety-checked. She said (although she put the words in the mouth of the landlord) it was " case of put up or shut up". Charming woman.
Some weeks after this, I received my copy of the inventory (!!!). In it, I was advised that I had rented an oven "cleaned to a professional standard" and would be expected to return the same. I couldn't believe that (a) they had left the oven in, and (b) they actually had the gall to say the oven was clean when I got it! I phoned the office in disgust only to be told that I wouldn't be expected to professionally clean my oven when I left! Oven, what oven? All I had was a crappy "goodwill gesture" that you couldn't cook a turkey-leg in, let alone a turkey.
January came, and so did the insurance woman. A few weeks passed and I had to take yet more time off to let in people to measure up the kitchen for repairs and redecoration. By mid-february there was still no sign of any work starting, or of a new oven turning up, and I was getting increasingly fed up at having to take paid holiday to sort out access which I believed Squares should had provided. I wrote a long email of complaint, requesting compensation for the fact that my rental agreement was based on the flat being fully-furnished when in fact I had a non-functioning kitchen and for the inconvenience of living in a fire-damaged property for four months. I asked for refund of 25% of rent paid, which was generous of me in the light of the fact that the Kitchen/lounge was the only living space in the flat other than the bedroom.
I received an email back from Squares saying that I could only complain by letter! I printed off my email, and posted it by hand into the branch that evening.
Four days later, I recieved a letter back from Squares stating that they could not accept any liability for any of my complaints. They blamed their own administrative failings on the "manager" who had now left (as if that makes them not responsible!) and said that they strongly refuted the claim that they had rented me the flat in a hazardous condition. In my view, an oven so dirty it ignites when you switch on the grill is hazardous! As proved by my house-fire! As agreed by the Fire Officer!
I wrote back to give notice on the flat, as my six months was coming up, and I just wanted out. I told them that I would consider legal action once I had exited, and I am sure this is the reason why they returned my full deposit and waived the check-out fee of £130.
One final rudeness came when I was negotiating with another agent for a new abode. I gave Squares as a reference. After all, I had done nothing wrong, my rent was always paid on the dot, I left the place in perfect (fire-damaged) condition. The new agent called me to say I had to phone Squares and pay an Admin Fee of £25 + VAT for them to provide a reference. Unbelievable. Even more unbelievable is the fact that once I'd paid up, they issued a reference saying they wouldn't re-let to me!!!!! I had to explain the whole fire situation to my potential landlord - fortunately he could see that I was the injured party, and this was partly because of Squares' appalling reputation amongst local landlords and tenants. Happily he decided to ignore Squares and let me rent the lovely cottage I now occupy!
I never pursued any of this any further, which I probably should have done. The situation became so stressful, and the attitude of Squares so agressive and unhelpful, that I just wanted it all to be over. My best advice to anybody needing to let a property in the Leighton Buzzard area is steer well clear of this shoddy outfit!
Squares is an estate agents based in Leighton Buzzard and Milton Keynes that claims the reason for their success is the quality of service they give. My experience of Squares however leaves me questioning how they can possibly consider their customer service to be a measure of their success.
I have only had the misfortune of dealing with their lettings department so I can't comment on the sales department however based on the terrible experience we've had I would suggest avoiding this company like the plague.
Initially we were very impressed with the representative who showed us around what was to become our new home and were confident we'd made a good decision. However once we had handed over the deposit we were left in the incapable hands of the lettings admin team who have given us nothing but grief from day one. We were in a bad situation as we had to relocate from the other end of the country at short notice otherwise we would have pulled out before signing the tenancy agreement, however we needed to move and felt we wouldn't be able to find anywhere else (with a different agent) as quickly as we needed.
From the outset we had problems with the rude and unhelpful admin team. There was a long delay in finding out whether or not we'd passed the credit check which was as a result of them losing the results and the check having to be done twice. The lady we were dealing with told me on a number of occassions that we'd passed only to tell my partner a few hours later that they were still waiting for the credit check to come back. We also had problems with the fact that she claimed to have spoken to my partner when she hadn't, she even went so far as to argue with him telling him she remembered speaking to him because she remembered his accent. While we were waiting for confirmation about the credit check we spent a ridculous amount of time chasing the admin team and left numerous messages for them to call back but never received the call backs.
Once we eventually signed the tenancy agreement and moved in we had to chase the admin team once again, this time to give us the inventory. When we chased it up we were told that we had already signed it and it was on file in the office - it later transpired that the inventory hadn't actually been drawn up when we were chasing it so how they had a signed version on file is beyond me!
Since then we have had numerous problems with the house and while I understand that it is the landlords responsibility to fix these problems, it is the letting agents who should be organising it all. However when we have complained about problems the admin team have been extremely slow to respond and not actually done anything to help. We have been living with a cold shower since we moved in but have been told that we can only have it fixed if we pay half and agree to sign up for a longer tenancy agreement. This is obviously the landlords stance however it is not an acceptable stance and not something that the letting agent should condone as they are there to represent the tenant, not just the landlord.
I could list a number of other incidents which have led me to feel that the staff have real attitude problems. Overall our experience with Squares has been a nightmare and in my opinion the admin team in the lettings department need some training in customer service. We have found them to be very rude and unhelpful and I would recommend avoiding them at all costs!!