The phone would ring three times – the receptionist having told me already that John from East Melbourne was on the line. He was a tenant in a property I’d been instructed to sell, and I hadn’t spoken to him before. As an estate agent, it was my role to inform him that yes, his rental property was going to be sold and that yes, we’d be doing our first open within two weeks. A veteran of these conversations, the response from my tenant went almost uniformly in one of three directions.
“No, I’m sorry I won’t let you in my property. I don’t have to.”
“I have concerns about security, so I need to be at every open. And I’m at home on Wednesday morning at 9:30 am or Sunday evening at 7:00 pm, so those are the only times I will allow you access.”
‘The landlord needs to offer me some compensation. Then we can talk.”
In every one of these instances, my first proposed open on a Saturday at a normal time when purchasers could attend went ahead. Principally because as the agent of the vendor I did have the right to enter the property given due notice to sell a home. The landlord doesn’t have to pay any inducement to legally access the home for the purpose of selling – but indeed they may agree to pay an inducement if the home is presented beautifully and with good will.
In retaliation for having done my job as an agent, I have been variously threatened with a knife by a caterwauling tenant in considerable distress, had to speak with police and sign a state dec confirming that I did not steal a computer that a tenant accused me of pilfering. I have had tenants stay in bed farting during open for inspections, leaving bucket bongs in the center of the living room. Prior to an auction, I had tenants involved in a little light latex bondage in their kitchen, seemingly surprised to see me (and thirty enthusiastic auction-goers) pouring in the front door. That was a real doozie, and I called that auction with relish.
Having worked in the real estate industry, I’m keenly aware of both the failings of the real estate industry itself and of the deep disregard for people who work in the industry. Did you know that – on average – every three years 80% of the real estate industry in Australian turns over? When you consider the vitriol aimed at those working in property – in particular, property managers – this should cause little wonder.
When I’m online and see people having conversations about the sheer gall of agents attempting to having open homes in their leased property, I am often saddened. Our community see property managers as bottom-dwelling halfwits who are attempting to do the wrong thing by them at all times. If they’re tenants, they view PMs as inattentive, unfairly exacting in their standards or stalkerish when following up overdue rent. If they’re landlords, property managers are viewed as unavailable, ill-educated and on the tenant’s side.
Given the lack of community respect for what is effectively a vocation (because they sure as hell don’t do it for the money – particularly in property management), the rapid industry turnover makes sense. Property managers – on average – have a portfolio of 220 – 250 properties which they oversee. This means 500 relationships – those with tenants and landlords – and a mountain of maintenance orders, following up of rent arrears, negotiations between parties with the added frisson of occasional abuse. They are usually overworked and quite stressed out.
I’ve often seen online conversations from ostensibly lovely people decrying estate agents for daring to ask to have an open for inspection on a Saturday at their leased property. Cue a stream of replies about ‘leaving the dishes undone and the house dirty, that’ll teach ’em’ and ‘just don’t let them in, they can’t make you’, and I’m left angered. As a tenant, you are required to allow fair access to your property for the purpose of lease or sale once given notice. Just as the landlord must fix problems with a home once alerted to them, tenants must allow public access to their property at fair times for the purpose of re-leasing or selling. Being difficult and aggressive – by either making the agent fight with you to do what they are both instructed to do and legally allowed to do – isn’t a solution. It won’t make the problem go away. Leaving a home dirty and unpleasant isn’t helpful either – all it results in is more and more opens as it takes longer to lease or sell the property.
Undoubtedly, we need to make changes to property and investment laws in Australia. Annual rent increases, short leases and negative gearing all have a deleterious effect on the relationship and respect between landlords and tenants. The property manager or estate agent is the meat in the sandwich between these oft-warring parties. Instead of working out ways to stymie your 23-year-old property manager from making a fair repair to your investment property or making her feel unwelcome to do her job as legislation supports – think about petitioning to government bodies about the rights of tenants and landlords. We probably need longer lease terms, and longer periods between rent increases – it’s not fair to expect people to move home every year. But until those things are amended, the agents you deal with are following through on their roles in the best way they know how, trying to solve problems and make everyone happy.
And if one thing’s certain in this life: trying to make everyone happy makes no-one happy. So: don’t be cruel. Don’t bully and demean a profession for attempting to do their jobs well – remember, these are property managers are confronted by regular verbal abuse and rental properties sometimes destroyed and defaced by hostile tenants. Allow fair, tidy open for inspections without aggression or violence – they’ll be out of your hair as soon as they can. Equally, if you’re a landlord, make reparations on your property when you need to, and be understanding about what ‘fair wear and tear’ means.
Above all – don’t shoot the messenger.