Why is Dot Dot Dot a member of the Property Ombudsman scheme?

January 15, 2021

Dot Dot Dot has been a member of the The Property Ombudsman scheme for a few years now, and you might have spotted the Ombudsman’s membership logo on some of our communications. Our Chief Executive Peter Brown explains why Dot Dot Dot a member and why we think it’s important.

Whilst Dot Dot Dot is not an estate agent, there are similarities between our day-to-day property management activities and the activities that you’d see any letting agent carrying out:

  •       making sure property is safe and ready to be lived in,
  •       advertising property and explaining the options,
  •       being clear and transparent on pricing and costs,
  •       marketing properties,
  •       vetting applicants fairly to find the most suitable occupant, and
  •       moving them in so they can make their chosen building their home. 

Several of our long-held company values and the way that our team always strive to do things – holding ourselves to high standards, treating everyone fairly and in a straightforward way – are reflected in the Property Ombudsman’s codes and its instructions to all members. So one of the appealing things for me about joining the Property Ombudsman scheme was that it gave us a considered framework for treating customers fairly. 

We’ve found that it’s been useful to reflect the Ombudsman’s requirements in our own processes because this gives us an additional way of making sure our values translate into action, and therefore shapes how our customers experience working with us.

We also think it’s a positive thing to be a part of a scheme that is improving standards across the lettings industry, even if the way we need to do things as a property guardian social enterprise is sometimes different from agents in the mainstream lettings industry. We’ve consistently championed over a number of years why we want all guardian properties to be safe, enjoyable and comfortable homes that meet all required legal standards. It’s important to us that we help drive up standards across the property guardian sector because we believe this benefits everyone involved. We see our Ombudsman membership as complementary to our approach in this important area.

We believe we are the only major property guardian provider to have signed up to the Ombudsman scheme. We hope that being a member of the Ombudsman scheme and what this signals is reassuring to everyone that is considering doing business with Dot Dot Dot – whether a property owner or someone looking for housing as a property guardian. 

Over the years that I’ve led Dot Dot Dot, we’ve seen increasing regulation and higher standards in many aspects of the property rental sector (electrical safety, property licensing) alongside a suite of stronger consumer standards (restrictions on the fees that can be charged, capping of deposits). These represent improvements to the private rented sector and provide a set of important minimum standards that give customers confidence, especially to those who are housed regardless of tenure type. 

Dot Dot Dot has always taken the approach that these standards apply to what we do – certainly we have seen ourselves following the legal requirements more willingly compared to some property managers. We welcome anything that helps to improve health and safety of the buildings which people call home, and we see that improved standards give guardians and property owners confidence in the property guardian sector.

It’s also a legal requirement for all property agents to be a member of a redress scheme, so, should it ever be needed, the Ombudsman’s high quality and independent service is available to our customers in the rare event a complaint could not be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

If you’d like to find out more about how we work, you can sign up to our monthly newsletter, Meanwhile Thoughts, here.

On the ground: Bringing guardianship to larger properties

January 15, 2021

In our ‘on the ground’ series, our Director of Services, Mark Ackroyd, explores some of the details of how our service works. In our first article we looked at the ways in which Dot Dot Dot can tailor guardianship contracts to meet the specific needs of individual clients. This month, we explore how we handle the first stages of a guardianship contract, with a focus on large or more complex buildings.

Guardianship can be a very effective solution for larger properties. Examples of properties where Dot Dot Dot has provided guardianship include landmark office blocks, former schools, colleges and care homes. Currently, our largest project is a former hostel housing up to 90 guardians at Booth House in Whitechapel. 

These properties can require long timelines for development. In the interim, they can prove difficult to secure and suffer quickly from dilapidation. Guardianship can offer a cost-effective way to tackle those problems, but many property owners are concerned about how this would be delivered given the complexities of larger buildings.

Our first ‘On the ground’ piece explained how we use each client’s individual priorities to guide our approach. Using that knowledge, our approach to larger properties has three phases: 

  • Devise a safe and suitable plan of occupation
  • Find the quickest and most-cost effective path to occupation
  • Deliver value to the client at each stage

1. Devise a safe and suitable plan of occupation

This phase can begin even before a client has decided to use guardianship, and is unlocked through a Dot Dot Dot site visit. Our aim is to establish whether we can meet the client’s needs for the property via guardianship, and if so, how that could be structured in the property. One of the aims of an initial visit is also to establish quickly where guardianship will not be suitable so that clients can quickly move on to other solutions.

Using a combination of our own expertise and, where relevant, external experts, we will devise an approach that allows safe residential occupation. Our approach is strongly focused around achieving a safe basic standard for the property. Fire safety and provision of core facilities are major areas for consideration, and we look across the range of hazards set out in the HHSRS. These will be familiar to most property managers (e.g. electrical and gas safety, water management, safety of windows/doors/access, asbestos management).

What may be different, though, is that we do not need to conform to conventional specifications for refurbishment, and can instead be imaginative in finding ways to adapt the space and its facilities. What can we borrow, move, switch off or repurpose? Are there areas that can simply be isolated or decommissioned? What are the critical areas to protect? What can we modify and what needs to be preserved? With advance knowledge about how we work with our guardians, we can also be more specific in our risk assessments and plans.

2. Find the quickest and most-cost effective path to occupation

For large or complex properties, the first step is normally to obtain reports, surveys and quotes based on the risks and issues that we have identified. This can typically be done in a few days, and in many cases will run alongside active works.The fire risk assessment (FRA) is a key report in fixing our occupation plan and schedule of works, but there can be a range of more detailed in-house and independent assessments. The scope of these checks will depend on the property and on any existing knowledge or documents shared by the client.

In a typical project, the scope of work is surprisingly limited: service the core systems (e.g. gas, electrical and fire safety); complete minor adaptations (e.g. a shower installation); and undertake small remedials (e.g. lock changes, door adjustments). Cleaning or clearance may also be needed. For these projects, we may have agreed a full commercial proposal up-front with the client and will carry out reports and works in parallel, closely managing the schedule to move to occupation in one to three weeks.

For larger projects or properties in need of more work, we may break the mobilisation phase into three stages. This approach allows Dot Dot Dot and the client to manage costs and risks in a more structured way.

  1. A detailed package of reports, risk assessments and quotes
  2. Works toward initial occupation
  3. Final works to achieve full occupation

In more complex projects, typical works include electrical and gas improvements, alteration or replacement of fire systems, changes to partitions or firestopping, installation of basic kitchens, or remedials to larger structures like roofs.

Where this kind of work is required, we work hard to avoid delays which can equate to cost for our clients. Our presence on site may already be enough to mitigate security and management costs in some cases, and our team works quickly. Using a combination of existing contractor relationships and flexible local procurement allows us to work to tight timelines. We also have a heavy on-site presence, actively working with contractors to make quick decisions and solve problems before they cause delays.

This stage is also not a ‘standstill’ on other aspects of our work. With our core operational team involved in setup, and our marketing team engaged early to recruit great guardians, we ensure a tight transition from ‘work in progress’ to ‘guardians in occupation’. 

3. Value at every stage

As projects become more complex, the timelines are inevitably longer. In some cases, early reports and assessments could even rule out the eventual feasibility of guardianship. That’s why, in complex projects, we aim to deliver value to our clients at every stage.

The early work to assess the property will yield a package of reports, risk assessments and quotes that can assist in any future planning. This is particularly useful where property owners lack documentation, or where a property has deteriorated significantly. 

Even if a project does not proceed, initial works can ease the ongoing management of the property, since these will often focus on core ‘hygiene factors’. Examples of the early-stage improvements that yield immediate benefits could include:

  • Clean and clear
  • Environmental hazards identified or made safe
  • Utilities supplies identified and rationalised
  • Water system drained or controlled
  • Basic access/security issues resolved

As noted above, we put a strong focus on reaching the point of initial occupation. This will typically begin to unlock core security, social impact and cost savings benefits. Our plans may include reaching a basic level of occupation, but then continuing with additional works that will increase occupation and therefore improve cost mitigation or other benefits.

Of course, Dot Dot Dot’s goal is always to move rapidly to an effective guardianship solution. But we are mindful of the risks and schedules that impact property owners, and work to ensure that we can unlock value regardless of how a project may change course over time.

The steps described here will be familiar to many people who are involved in property management. What may be different is that, for Dot Dot Dot, property works are not an end in themselves, but are part of our delivery of a flexible and urgent service. Our diverse experience across hundreds of properties and dozens of clients helps us to cut through complexity and respond to the needs of the project and of the client. 

If you want to find out more about how we work, you can sign up to our monthly newsletter, Meanwhile Thoughts, here.

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