'Prop Int' - Lucy Morton, lettings guru

My job involves meeting many of the key individuals in the property world - which is nice - and I'll use this blog to share what I call 'Property Intelligence' with readers.

So here goes with Lucy Morton, arguably Britain’s best known lettings agent.

Given how little publicity the rental sector gets that’s not such a feat, perhaps, but even in a competitive field of agents it is unlikely that anyone would beat Lucy.

She is a partner in W A Ellis, handling rental property in plush Knightsbridge, and is nearing the end of her term as president of the Association of Residential Lettings Agents and – wearing an ARLA hat – is on the Property Standards Board, too.

In a lengthy interview, Lucy gave me her views not only on the current soaraway London lettings market but on the industry’s big issues of the day. These include:

• Sharp criticism of laws obliging anyone letting to three or more unrelated people to comply with House in Multiple Occupation regulations (now in force), and automatically turning some rental deals into Assured Short-term Tenancies (coming into effect in October but being applied retrospectively);

• She wants lettings agents regulated, preferably via licensing. “It’s shocking that so many remain unregulated.” Currently only 40% of lettings agents are in ARLA and she suggests the government may make it mandatory for agents to join an ALRA-style standards body once 70% voluntarily come on board;

• May will see a big ARLA push to publicise the importance of agents joining the body, and of tenants ensuring they only deal with association members;

• She says the recession has led to tenants asking for references on landlords. “They want to know that the landlord will be able to cover his mortgage payments throughout their tenancy";

• The current central London rentals market is the busiest Lucy has known in 27 years. She cites an example of one tenant who, when faced with his rent being increased from £800 to £875 per week, chose to leave and find a cheaper alternative. A few days later he returned, asking if his old place was still available. “It had let for £1,000 a week” she says. (The good news in this story is that the inconvenienced tenant was a banker);

• Demand continues to grow and stock supply remains strictly limited. Lucy cannot see the situation changing “unless terrorism or mass unemployment intervenes in central London”.

Lucy may run one of London’s oldest agencies (established in 1868) but she espouses modern ideas, and not just about licensing. Her firm is one of the most active property corporates on Twitter and no longer uses a traditional PR but instead hires property pundits to promote and publicise the firm – a canny fusion of roles that might just be how more property players operate in the future.

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