Its Mollie here! This month’s blog post has been left in my very capable hands. You may have run into me during the two weeks I spent at Aquarius Homes completing my work placement. Away from the world of property I am undertaking a college course in Civil Service and aim to work for the Police eventually. I chose to do my work placement at Aquarius Homes as:
- I thought it would be an interesting career to explore and as they are an independent company specialising in the area, I thought why not work at the best.
- I already knew the team and they were happy to take me on!
So, read on to see what I got up to and learnt during my time with Aquarius Homes….
Luckily for me, as I mentioned before, I already knew the team at Aquarius Homes as I am a family friend, and I used to do a bit of cleaning for them on a Saturday morning as a part time job. So, although I was slightly nervous about what the day had in store for me, I knew I was going into a warm welcome which calmed me slightly.
I was met at the door by Nicky, who is the Sales Director, and I quickly learn my first, and arguably most vital lesson – the importance of a good cup to tea! We then spent the next 30 minutes just having a chat about how college was going, what sort of things I was covering on my course and what I wanted to learn during my time here. They devised a formal work experience schedule for me, with the first week focussing mainly on lettings and the second week primarily on the sales side of the business.
After the chat with Nicky, Paul took me under his wing, and he took me through all the services Aquarius Homes offer, health and safety requirements of the business and just a general overview of what happens in the day-to-day running here. I watched the team work as Paul was going through this with me and had a chat with all of them about what their main roles were in the business.
After a catch up with Nicky on how the previous day went, I was introduced to the “back office” processes. This included the estate agency software they use which is called Expert Agent. On here you can do things like book meetings, inspections and viewings in an online diary that each team member can view. The software is also used to record the details of each property for sale or rent and the contact details of clients, events that have happened with each property and loads more stuff that we didn’t get into.
For the rest of the day it was my responsibility to manage the diary for the team, adding in viewings, moving around inspections, seeing what time is free for maintenance people and generally just telling everyone where they were going to be and when. Day 2 and I was already in charge!
Today was a thriller! Ashleigh taught me all about the Data Protection Act, and General Data Protection Regulations and how important confidentiality is. Although it wasn’t the most fascinating subject in the world, it is something that you need to think about at all times, and a lesson I can definitely take with me and apply to pretty much any industry.
I was also taken through the paper filling system used in the office (and the crazy amount of organisation that is enforced!), and I used my new-found knowledge to go through old filing that is no longer needed, destroying documents and recycling all the plastic wallets – saving the planet one poly pocket at a time!
I also was taken through a ‘typical’ tenancy application from anti-money laundering checks, referencing, deposit security, contract creation and the importance of an inventory. I just assumed tenants paid their money and moved in, but there’s a lot more that goes into than that. We then skipped ahead and went through the process of a pretend tenant leaving.
Today started, by learning about the key system and the importance of security. I have never seen so many keys in my life, and kept forgetting the code to the key safe, but apart from that it was quite straight forward. In was then let loose on the world! I accompanied Mark to some viewings. The first property we had a couple of viewings at was a 4-bedroom student house. One of the tenants had forgotten that there was going to be a viewing that day and was still in bed -it was after midday! But Mark and I showed the viewers around the rest of the house, leaving the sleeping students room until last to give him a chance to wake up. That was my first experience of the painstaking embarrassment that you apparently sometimes feel in this job. While we were waiting for the next set of viewers Mark told me about some of the worst viewings he had, had, I was in stitches when the next group turned up – he should write a book!
The second property we had viewings at was a lovely new-build house that I would have moved into tomorrow if I could afford it! It was so new that there was still plastic down on the floor to walk over. The kitchen was the most beautiful work of art I’ve ever seen! There were no visible handles and all the appliances are just hidden away behind the luxurious stone effect cupboard fronts. Best of all were the bi-fold doors that looked out over the garden – I would quite happily do all the washing up for the people that eventually move-in just to spend some more time there!
It was interesting to see how different the viewings at the two properties were, at the first house the viewers had all been students who were just looking at the rooms really and only had a few questions, whereas viewers of the new-build property wanted to know a lot more information and were trying to visualise living there. All the viewings were fun though and I really enjoyed meeting all the viewers who were all really friendly.
My last day of week 1, and I started the day by going to some property inspections with Ashleigh. At first, I thought I was going to feel uncomfortable going into other peoples houses and basically criticising the way they live, but it wasn’t like that at all. We weren’t there to judge the tenants but just make sure that the landlords property is being protected – in other words there could be clothes all over the bed (which there were), and toys on the floor (again which there was), but as long as the walls and windows were still standing, we were happy. The second property we inspected there was an area of mould on the wall in the bathroom, which is apparently a very common problem in this area, and the sort of thing we look for in inspections and try to help the tenants with. My job was to take photos of things such as the oven and shower screens which are things that many tenants loose money from their deposit for not keeping them clean, so one of the reasons inspections are done is to make sure that tenants are advised on these areas so they can hopefully get their full security deposit back at the end of their tenancy. I asked Ashleigh about some of the worst things she had seen during inspections, and I was shocked at some of her stories – she should join Mark writing that book!
When we got back to the office, we wrote up the inspection reports to send to the tenants and landlords and emailed them out. We also organised any maintenance works/quotes needed from issues we found at the inspections.
My final afternoon of week 1 and Nicky showed me the banking system they have in place for their rental properties and how the rent is processed. I helped write up the monthly statements and emailed them out. By the end of the day I was ready for a nice long restful weekend, the office is open on a Saturday, but I was given the weekend off. Being a working adult is hard…don’t tell my parents I admitted that though!
Week two and back in the office, this week I was mainly focused on sales. I started it off going to a viewing with Paul in a lovely house that looked like it had been decorated by interior designers, and then later went with Nicky to a viewing on a house that had not had any work done to it for about fifty years (I now understand why Paul was so eager to do the first viewing!). It was interesting to see the difference between a rental and sales viewings. People viewing a property for sale have a LOT more questions, understandably seeing how much houses cost. The couple that viewed with Nicky were firing questions at her left, right and centre, luckily, she knew her stuff and batted answer straight back at them. I couldn’t believe there was so much to know about a house.
It was an exciting afternoon in the office having received a few offers on a house sale last Friday, the vendors rang up and accepted one of the offers. All the parties involved then had to be told (not so exciting telling people their offer had been rejected), and the process of finding solicitors and confirming funds started. I was surprised to hear that the actual sale of the property won’t happen for at least about 8 weeks – what takes so long!?
Mark showed me how to value a house today. It is all based on the location, size, features and property market at the time. I was shown how to use the property portals and their back-office systems to see what similar properties have sold for recently and use these as a base for my valuations. It was interesting to see how location can have such a big impact on property price, even houses one or two roads away can have very different values. I loved looking at all the houses online though and seeing what they were valued at compared to the price they actually sold.
I then went with Mark to a valuation appointment, met the vendor and had a chat and walk-around the house with them. We then went back to the office, and both valued the house separately. We then came back together and compared the selling figures we had come up with - we had come up with different amounts but that just shows its not an exact science, and it was my first go! Mark showed me how he had concluded on the valuation amount and there are so many different factors I didn’t even think of considering. He told me though, at the end of the day a property is only worth what someone wants to pay for it, and I guess that explains why house prices change over time.
Today, I checked the draft property adverts for two houses which Aquarius Homes were ready to bring to the market. I looked for any spelling mistakes, layout issues with the advert, checked the photos and made sure the floorplan and EPC were in the right place. Expert Agent sends the details to Rightmove, On The Market etc. automatically so it’s important that all the information is correct. Once double checked by Mark, I then made the properties “visible” online and sent the details to the registered applicants who were looking for houses like these. I could then check the portals and Aquarius Homes’ website to make sure the adverts were uploaded.
We then moved onto making the property brochures, which contain more information on the properties. They get these printed professionally, out of house, so they look really fancy. I got to choose which photos went where on the template and used the online advert to guide my property description which takes you through each room of the house. Other information such as the Energy Performance Certificate, council tax band, floorplan, and information on the local area are also included. We also had to make the window cards for both properties, again which get printed professionally. These are basically a simplified version of the brochure and advertise the property in the office window, so it is important to make them look nice – it made me unleash my inner creativity!
Today had a slightly manic start with the team trying to find a plumber to quickly go out to leak a tenant reported first thing. But once the drama had been sorted, it was a nice relaxed rest of the day. Aquarius Homes are planning on redecorating and modernising their office. I looked online for branded blinds and a welcome mat for the door. We also tried to decide on the right colour to paint the walls – no decision yet. We had the old night storage heaters removed as modern electric panel heaters are being installed which should be more efficient and energy friendly. I suggested that all the bulbs should be replaced with LED’s as these use much less energy, the team agreed and Mark bought these online. It was nice to have my opinion valued and acted on.
My final day working with Aquarius and me and Ashleigh went through the marketing schedule for the business (it’s for like 6 months in advance!), how they work with different local charities, and all the social media. There’s a lot more theory behind it than I expected and isn’t as easy as my usual selfie/dog photo I usually post (so follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram!). This is also the day I gathered all my notes and wrote this blog about my time here – so make sure to say nice things about it once its published!
I was lucky enough to be in the office today when a house purchase completed – which means it sold (finally). It is very anti-climactic. Basically, the solicitor calls the office up and says its all gone through and the keys can be released – very similar to a kraken! When the purchasers came into the office to collect the keys it was very nice though, they were so happy, if not a little stressed! I was heart-warmed to be asked to sign the ‘new home’ card that Aquarius gave them though, made me feel like a proper part of the team.
The day finished, like my placement had started, with me sitting down with Nicky and Ashleigh and having a chat about my time here (again with a nice cup of tea!). I left them with a load of paper work to fill in for my course – so sorry about that!
Overall, I enjoyed my time with Aquarius Homes and had a right laugh. I learnt a lot of information about estate agents and the laws they must comply with. Mainly though I learnt about the importance of building positive relationships with applicants, landlords, tenants, and contractors. Aquarius is a friendly and happy environment to work in and I would like to thank them for allowing me to be part of the team.