As we make our way through this next and hopefully final lockdown, the Government remains committed to keeping the housing market open and letting agents can continue to work from their offices.
Just a few weeks ago there were calls from some quarters for the housing market to shut down again as it did in the first lockdown.
As we write, cases are falling and the vaccine is rolling out. It now looks unlikely that a further lockdown of the housing market will take place. It just goes to show that circumstances during the pandemic can change at breakneck speed.
For letting agents who have closed the office or decided that some tasks should be carried out at home to maintain social distancing, here are The Letting Partnership’s top checks to ensure your business stays on track during these difficult times.
For established letting agents these will be checks they carry out on a regular basis, but it’s always useful to have a handy guide.
For new entrants to the market we think this will provide a useful checklist to ensure their client accounting is ship shape – even when the office is closed.
The five main areas to check are:
1 – Inventory check
If letting agents work from home, they will need to take home items such as card readers, log-ins and bank secure keys. Create an inventory of these to map out which employees have them to avoid any confusion when a return to the office takes place. It will be important to ensure these are all accounted for and that any missing items are cancelled with the bank immediately.
Consider who will need access to which account, but remember that once the team returns to the office, they should check who has access these accounts and consider whether this should be removed once employees are back in the office.
2 – Does it all add up?
When working remotely don’t forget to check your sums regularly. Take the current number of managed lets, then multiply this number by the average rent per month. Now add any move in monies received. The next stage is to download the client account statement in Excel or csv for the last month using online banking. Total up the payments in. The two figures should be very close.
3 – Balance report
When working remotely, don’t forget to run the trial balance report, or equivalent, from the client accounting software to ensure client accounting is running like clockwork. This report should match up with the bank statement. Does the balance report show £30,000 in the bank? Then check the bank statement shows the same amount.
4 – Double check
Detailed reports will be available to download from your deposit protection provider. Agents should compare the number of deposits registered with the number of AST tenancies they are currently managing. If the business collects and protects tenant deposits on behalf of ‘let only’ landlords, make sure the number of deposits protected is proportionally more than the rents collected for managed properties.
5 – Be vigilant
Letting agents should always carry out spot checks for unusual activity but this is especially important when working remotely. There are software audits which detect unusual changes in bank account details across client accounts. These audits can pull up who changed the bank details and even whether the details then reverted back to the original. Agents should also be mindful of employees changing bank details when it’s not their responsibility to do so or keep an eye out for changes to bank details taking place at unusual times.
Agents should be aware of cyber security too. If employees are working from home, they should make sure their laptops or PCs have suitable malware and virus protection. Carry out a security, virus and malware check now and make sure their machines are password protected.
Making mistakes with client money could mean complaints from unhappy landlords and tenants, and letting agents facing fines or even losing their business, so it’s crucial to be prepared to carry out these checks when working remotely to ensure the business stays on track and operates like a well-oiled machine.
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