Why Do Letting Agents Invite Such Big Crowds of People to Viewings?

In the close-to four months that Lucky Khambule has been searching for somewhere to rent, he has been to nearly 100 viewings, he says.

“What has struck me is the sense that so many people would be viewing the one house,” he says. Often, there will be a line of 40-50 people that snakes up the road. Sometimes there are more.

Many of the people queuing don’t have much chance of getting the place, so some wonder why letting agents call so many people to view the property in the first place.

The Queues

Khambule says that when he first saw the housing queues, when he started looking for accommodation back in April, he thought they must be waiting for something else.

He couldn’t believe that so many people were waiting to see an apartment.

After each viewing, the landlord or the agent indicates that they will get back to him. Some do and some don’t, but he has never been offered a property.

He often sees people at a new viewing who he’s seen at a previous one. “It’s a full-time job, it’s frustrating,” Khambule says.

While some viewings are by invitation, others are open, and then there is no limit to how many people might attend. “Why show it to fifty people if you are looking for one?” he says.

Why?

The number of applications for rental properties has skyrocketed in the last year, says Stephen O’Grady of City Homes.

“It’s crazy, even though it’s summer months, which are normally the quiet months, you are still getting massive numbers,” he says.

Despite the large numbers of applications, most estate agents say it’s unfair to invite 100 people to trek across town to see a home.

Says O’Grady: “That is rude to take 100 people to a property. Ninety-nine of them are not going to get it. It’s a ridiculous waste of people’s time. It’s just heartless.”

Estate agents usually have a process for shortlisting people, he said, but not everyone does. “I’ve heard of young lads who think it’s funny showing a million different people a flat.”

The fairest system, as O’Grady sees it, is to shortlist people on a first-come, first-served basis. That’s how City Homes does it, he says.

“Typically, we would take the first 20 people and invite them and around half of them will show up,” he says.

He is aware that people are desperate at the moment in Dublin. When he put up an advert recently for an apartment with two single bedrooms, he got an application from a couple with three children. “Your heart would break for them,” he says.

After he gets the details from everybody who comes to view the places, he passes the information over to the landlord, who makes the final decision. “We don’t make the end decision because we don’t own the property,” he says.

Other estate agents said that they used a similar first-come, first-served cut-off point; another said they ask for more detailed applications, and then shortlist based on those.

But not everybody does that.

Pat O’Dwyer of O’Dwyer English Auctioneers in Clondalkin, said he doesn’t shortlist at all. He has had 100 people come to view properties in the past, he said.

But that’s because he invites all the applicants to viewings and gives them a heads-up to expect a high attendance, he says.

“If I was to go to a house and I saw 100 people in front of me, I would be so annoyed,” he says. “It’s awful what is happening.”

But he thinks that it is fairest to invite everybody along. “Some people might say they are not being invited to the viewing because of a or b,” he says.

He likes to meet people and talk to them before making a recommendation to the landlord, he says. He asks a few questions and gets photo ID and references, and then slims down a shortlist for the landlord.

It isn’t that he enjoys having a large crowd. “We hate it,” he says. “But what I’m saying to you is if someone comes up with a better way.”

Risk of Discrimination?

It can seem impossible for tenants to work out why they might get called for a viewing, or not, why they might get asked for more details, or not.

Aine Libreri says she is searching all over Dublin and the surrounding counties, but so far, she hasn’t been invited to any viewings.

Libreri works full-time in retail and volunteers with a soup run to help those who are homeless. She lost her own accommodation when her landlord sold up in 2013, she says.

She spent a few nights in an unofficial hostel run by the Irish Housing Network and slept a few nights in her car, she says.

Mostly she has rented rooms from friends and stayed with family members over the last few years. She has looked for accommodation before, but this is the worst she has seen it, she says. “It’s impossible now. It’s an absolute nightmare.”

Khambule says he has no idea how letting agents and landlords decide who gets the house. “I don’t know how they make the decision about who they take,” he says.

“In my situation, I am on the HAP scheme. They always say they are okay with that, but I haven’t had any progress,” he says.

Letting agents say they are conscious of making sure that the process they use to select tenants doesn’t leave them open to allegations of unlawful discrimination.

Under the Equal Status Acts, they are not allowed to discriminate against people on a number of grounds: from gender to race, family status to disability.

That’s why they don’t use an application form to shortlist, as they could be accused of being prejudiced, says O’Grady. “If you have a pre-application process you are as an agency showing a bias … that is not in accordance with the law.”

He points to a recent case where an estate agent was sued for telling a lone parent that the landlord wanted a couple. (O’Grady thinks this was unfair as the agent was acting on the instructions of the landlord.)

Threshold Legal Officer Gavin Elliot said the national housing charity is getting more and more reports of agents asking for greater personal details from tenants: multiple job references, car number plates, bank details. “Almost personal essays,” he says.

It could be more dangerous for letting agents to collect all that information, as it leaves them more open to accusations of discrimination, he said.

O’Dwyer said that is why he doesn’t shortlist tenants before the viewing, for fear of legal implications.

He thinks his method is the fairest way and rejects the idea of a first-come first-served basis. “Do you put that in your ad, [that only] the first 20 will be responded to?” he says.

While he doesn’t shortlist before viewings, he does respond to all emails as it is rude to ignore them, he says.

It is only fair on the landlord if he meets all applicants, too, he says. “We act for the landlord, and I’m duty bound to find him the best tenant.”

Each time they put a house up online, the phone rings all day long, he says. “We are getting to the point where we are afraid to advertise them,” says O’Dwyer. “It’s a nightmare.”

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Author:

Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

Reader responses

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Andrew Murphu
at 28 June 2017 at 09:05

Nearly every city centre viewing I went to at the begining of the year was followed by a effectively a phone auction, where I was rang and asked if I would be willing to pay 1.5x the advertised asking price for a property. They get that many people down to increase desperation and the size of their auction pool.

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