Our guest today is Catherine Fellowes, the managing agent at Movease.
We chat about what is an excellent tenant from a property management perspective and what is the proactive approach that a managing agent can take every day.
We discuss property management and why communicating with contractors and managing the expectations of tenants is a challenging part of the job. As per Catherine, the most critical aspect is visiting the tenants, being in person to talk to contractors, discussing the problem, and brainstorming with a tenant quite often.
Movease is a family run company. It was set up 25 years ago by Catherine’s mother, Rosamund, who realised there was a demand for a boutique property management company with a focus on a personal and one to one service, working alongside hand picked contractors. Catherine took over the company six years ago, she has extensive experience in the fields of antiques and interior design and has worked in the financial sector, all of which has proved a valuable training ground for running Movease.
At London Property, we use our experience, expertise, and deep-rooted relationships to connect super-prime property owners and tenants with hand-picked experts. We also aim to inform and entertain Londoners through content across multiple platforms.
Interviewer - Farnaz Fazaipour | Property Investment & Ownership
London Property, Home of Super Prime, where you can find informative educational and entertaining content, covering all aspects of property.
Hello, and welcome to London property, home of Super Prime. I'm your host Farnaz Fazaipour. And today we're in conversation with Catherine Fellowes, who is the best managing agent in London that we have found so far. Welcome to our show.
Thank you very much for having us.
So Catherine, please tell us how you got to where you are today.
Movease was started by my mother 25 years ago, who spotted a gap in the market for a small boutique, personal one-to-one property management company.
We being small, we are agile. Therefore, we don't just do the Residential Property Management, which are the bread and butter. We also oversee house moves, refurbishments, anything to do with houses, tidy up a garden, sorting furniture, anything at least doing we generally will do our best try and do it if we can. Ethos is the absolute personal one to one approach, and tailor made every customer no matter how big or how small the job, every job was important to us.
Let's just explain to our listeners. What is property management? Because we've got two, two aspects to property management there is building management, which is not what you do. Now. You manage individual units or landlords who have let them out but also for for owners that may be away from their home. So let's start with that. Let's talk about what is it that that is actually your job description.
Movease actually encompasses quite a broad range of aspects of property management, our mainstay is managing properties on behalf of absentee landlords be they rented properties on AST basis, or owner occupied and the owners live, say partly in London and partly elsewhere.
We also project manage house moves, small refurbishments, I will say actually do anything do the houses leading towards more unglamorous end of life, such as dealing with drains, plumbing electrics, we all live in houses we all have, we all know the issues that we encounter, and need to get dealt with. And we try to treat every job as thr most important job. And every person that gets that one to one, personal attention, no matter how big or small, whether it be blocked drone or in a redecoration of a full bed house. Every job is important to us.
So managing expectations of tenants is the most challenging part of the job.
Yes, it is. And it is also communicating with the contractors. And making sure that if a tenant has a tendency to be one agent described as slightly, Sparky, that they're aware of that. So when they go in and the tenants at Oh, I've got no cold water, no hot water and in my life is going to end they sort of they will don't worry, we're going to get it sorted, and sometimes tend to come a bit sharp if you know, they're frightened, you know, they don't know what's going on. They just want to live in a house that works. And it's managing expectation. And I think what it really boils down to is actually communication, being clear and responding very quickly to issues which arise.
So there's property management and there's people management is a huge part of your your, your job description.What are the actual legal responsibilities, because obviously, there there is a fine balancing act here. Whereas, you know, you are spending the clients money, the landlord's money, when it's a legal obligation. And the rest of the time you're kind of balancing the temperament of the tenants and their requests and what you actually have to do and you don't have to just can you talk to us about that? What are the actual responsibilities of a landlord, and how a tenant is supposed to act in a tenant like manner?
The responsibilities of a landlord is, obviously you have to have all the legal requirements in place, be it the gas safety certificate, boiler servicing, which is often overlooked, but crucial, so that problems don't happen later date electrical inspection certificate. And that, you know, the building has to be fit for purpose. And if it's not, then I don't want to manage that property. Frankly. There is also managing tenants expectations. Most of my tenants are pretty good and realistic, and occasionally do have requests such as the carpet is totally worn out. They might want and said to me the other day, she has been in the property for seven years. She's a superb talent. It would be do you think I'd be charged to the carpet being replaced? The landlord said, Oh, I wasn't quite expecting that amount of cost. I said well, they've been there seven years, they're not going to move. I said, you don't have to do it, but or do you maybe want to put it off for a few months, but maybe come and have a look at the carpet and see what you think. We went in and look at the carpet is it does need replacing, okay, go ahead with, you know, the stuff that has to be done or emergency stuff that that gets done dealt with. But if there's, you know, what I call the tenants wish list, if it's unrealistic and might sit down as Oh, I'm not sure. We're going to get that passive landlord. But, you know, let's have a think about it. And they might say, Oh, well, maybe I'm being unrealistic.
And then other times, they may have a very valid request, like, you know, the showerhead is completely worn out. I've just scaled it to I mean, I'm the dead of old age, but it's still not working. Do you think we can have a new showerhead? So works out? Well, let me come and have a look at it. Let's see. Oh, actually, yes. Okay, let's get an showerhead. Fine. But again, it's that personal one to one attention. So rather than just sitting at my desk, and clicking Send on screwfix, is actually going to site having look, I think it will actually is a pretty poor quality showerhead. For four pounds extra could get a better quality, long lasting gets, actually, with property management, quite often as buy cheap buy twice. So you buy cheap taps, guess what they're going to bet they're going to break quite quickly. If you buy in a mid range taps. Hopefully they'll last a bit longer than you know. And the day you want the now not to spending less money, not more.
So you're mentioning that this tenant has been there for seven years and is an excellent tenant. So what what is an excellent, no, I mean, obviously, they pay the rent. But what is an excellent tenant in, in your opinion, from a property management perspective, from a property management perspective, an excellent tenant is one who looks after the property, and he respects it, and takes care of it, and communicates the property manager where there's an issue sooner than later. So we can then attend. So while if a taps dripping, we attend to replace the washer, rather than the tap drip in the washer breaking in the ground floor flooding.
And yeah, and also, I think a good tenant is one who's respectful to my my wonderful team of contractors, of which on the whole, they usually are because my contracts respectful to them. Talking about respect, we actually recently did a podcast on the subject of, you know, being the punching bag of the various different parties that are involved with the landlord, the tenant, the contractors, and actually needing to have thick skin to deal with people in this job. So how much of your job would you say is
actually experience? And how much of your job? Would you say? It's a personality trait that you require to be doing such a thing?
It's a very good question. I think it's probably a mixture of both. You need the experience not to provide the answers. You have to think on your feet quite quickly at times. And very often, even if you can't address the issue, at that moment is responding in saying, I'm so sorry to hear of this issue. Let me come back to it. As soon as I have talked to my contractor.
There is an element of yes, a suit, quote, you're being used as a punch bag. But that sometimes that may be because they may have had a rash of their husband, their wife, you walk in you're the cat gets kicked outside of the room. And if you've had a rival husband or wife and then the tap starts dripping, yes is jolly annoying. And
it is it is it is I think is a mixture really,
that is off the people management is a huge part of it was you know, let's be honest, it is a industry built on relationships. And you have to have good relationships with your tenants, the landlords who are actually the most important people because they are the property and contractors who are equally important because of that, then I can't run my business. So actually, if you if you are considering creating yourself a career in property management, you really do need to be a social person who is not going to take things personally, but you're going to look for solutions, and you're going to look at trying to calm the situation down. I think the finding solutions quickly and economically for the landlord is one of the most important elements of the job. No one wants to sit and look at a broken appliance for weeks on end.
It is thinking in one's feet. I think a can do attitude is really important. And never walking in with a grumpy face or saying no can't do anything about this. People don't want to hear that. You know they're paying a lot of rent for a decent property. And you know that they want someone who's going to walk in with a smile on their face and say, yes, absolutely. We'll get that sorted out as soon as I possibly can.
I'll come back to you
And I've got a solution when the contract is coming. And in the meantime, you know, when will be messaged and landlord saying we've got a problem here. Has it happened before if it's a new property or if the property management long time said, this is a problem, this is a reoccurring problem the appliance or the boiler whatever is old, it is false economy to keep repairing it, let's just replace it and have a happy tenant. Yeah, no, I understand that. To me, it seems like, you know,
your secret to your success is actually that you do visit a lot of tenants when they report a problem. Yeah. And would you would you say that, that to you is a fundamental part of your process absolutely is the most important part is visiting the tenants being there in person talk to contractors, discussing the problem together, brainstorming quite often with a tenant to who if they're interested in it or not. But going to site, seeing what the issues are doing the property inspections, talking to the tenants, finding what's going on their lives is very important. It may be that if they're having relationship issues, are they going to stay there Do I need to keep an eye on the property what's happening?
It again, it's, as I said before, it's it's a relationship based industry. And going to site for me is one of the most potent elements to see what's going on, stay at the house or flat as in seeing what the issues are, you know, and just building a relationship with the tenants. So you build a mutual trust. And, you know, often friendship, which is, the relationship is really important. It just makes your job so much more pleasant when you actually nurture that human element. If they ring, you can say, Oh, how's your dog? How the children getting on? What your summer plans? Oh, gosh, how was your holiday to X, Y and Zed. And again, it's the personal touch. And it's knowing a bit about the tenant that being nosy one doesn't have to be intrusive. I don't know what they have for breakfast. But I do note, if there's what they're gonna get on their lives in it's anything that one needs to just slightly look at the block of back and one's mind. For the future. Yeah, I find that actually I always call a lot of property managers, FYI guys, because I find that, you know, the, the level of involvement, personal involvement is so minimal, that it actually allows for a lot of things to go wrong, a lot of miscommunication and then a lot of people getting heated up. And the reason I call them the FYI, as is because they just forward emails, FYI. And then it's up to you to decipher, you know, through the train of conversation, what's actually happened, whereas the solution, you know, it almost feels like I've ticked the box, I've told them, yeah, well, you actually haven't you just sent them a really long email that started three months ago, you know, from the building managers and then it became personal thing and then the landlord and, and it just goes on, and I think that you know, you kind of hit the nail on the head, when you when you talk about it almost property management becomes much more person managing thing then property managing because that kind of, you know, it can be X number of things. Yes, but the moving environment, the moving ingredients are actually the people in it, they are, I have set my heart sinks, when I get forwarded an email, Zack, what we say FYI, and there's a chain of what 21 emails and I wish my major actions, I'm going to be dropping dead of old age, if I get to the bottom of this. What are the salient points? What do I need to do what I need to pick up from this and what is dealing with. And I'd much rather send my email my landlords and email with, you know, 1234, this has happened, this is what we've done. Going forward, this is what you should be aware of, you know, with best wishes rather than a turgid chain, from a building manager to the contractor to the tenant back to me back to the tenant, back to the contractor back to the building manager. I'd rather send the landlord, this is, you know, Scott, this is what's happened.
You know, this is a solution. And talking of that is always backing up a phone call with everything in writing, I think you said in one of your previous podcasts, which has listened to the other day, how important is everything in writing is a really good point. It's crucial. Because if you're in a business where, you know, you can be open to I don't want to say abuse, but you can be open to abuse. People can just say, right, who am I going to pick on you? Because everything's gone wrong. As you said, I've just had a fight with my husband. Now this is the leak is going on? The kids are not doing their homework. I'm just going to shout at you now. So if you're able to defend yourself, it's kind of like your arsenal, isn't it? Defend yourself by saying what actually, I appreciate. It's really stressful right now for you. But if you look back at the email I sent you on Tuesday, you will see that you were going to send me a video and tell me if it happened again, or whatever it is. So, you know, I think that you know, for, for me certainly
to be able to you know, we always learn from what other people do. And if I was to
Look into the marketplace after the very many decades that I've been in NC right. That company does this really well. It almost feels like most people do property management because they have to. And they've left the property. And the owner is saying, Will you manage it? And they say, sure. But actually, it's the last thing on earth that they want to do. And they kind of
react rather than being proactive. So how, you know, obviously apart from the legals that you make sure that everybody's got their legal aspect. So what is that kind of proactive approach that you take on every day? I think it's thinking ahead and thinking, Okay, right. So it's the summer, let's get the boiler services done now. So come the autumn, when people turn their boilers on, they've been serviced, they're in a good place, they're going to work rather than, Oh, gosh, is October, I need to get that boiler serviced, oh, the turn the heating on Oh, it's not working because x, y, and Zed. And it's, it's thinking ahead. And, you know, I mean, I like I like talking about contractors. And if they're quite miserable, let's do a couple of Border Services. Now, it may be a month earlier, but then we've got March the way is a quite a period, in particular, the tenants away, try and get things like the gas safety, boiler service, all that sort of thing done in the head. So there's lots and lots to do is keep disrupting tenants constantly with visits is intrusive for them. And if they're happy with one to go in while they're away, then we never try and do that whenever we can.
And is, I think also trying to preempt issues off so you can't preempt with properties in F is really this leak. But you can do is for instance, we look at a lovely property which has on the top floor, half a flat roof, which we now as a partial yearly maintenance programme. We see every year, just as a matter of course, as part of the annual maintenance. So there's no water ingress when there's a very heavy rainfall show used to be. So we learned from that that actually, think ahead, reseal the roof every year. So then it won't leak and therefore it won't damage attendance, possessions, and cause ill will and upset. And now I'm going to take away from you what you just said that flat roof was the key word, because they're not draining that. So that's where things will go wrong. Yeah. So if you've got a roof that can naturally drain away, then you're going to have less of a problem. So these are the things you learn. So gutters are unblocked. Right. It's also what we do yearly maintenance, a lot of properties, we will routinely go and check the gutters, take them to summer. We try and do all the flat roofs in a check window sales in a row hazard spectrum. Oh, that Windows is looking a bit grotty, better get that dealt with for next winter. That you know,
facia board is looking very ancient. Let's get Nick to go and have a look at that. Because that could be problematic. Water could get in under that. And then you're gonna have water coming down the walls. I was gonna say so it's very much not a desk job. It is actually you got to get out there. Yeah. And I bet you that many of our property managers that might be listening to this will probably say, Oh, I only go out for inspections. Because a lot of people don't do that. And that that is really where things escalate. And then if you are on site, as you say, then you can notice these things that you can plan for ahead of time. Seasons hit in and and all the people who dealing with borders are busy because everybody's ball has stopped working, and then you're struggling to get somebody around there.
So do you do you have an onboarding process for people when you take on a property? And is there a time that you say, I mean, you did mention earlier that if something hadn't been managed or run properly, then you'd rather not take on that, that management but is there an onboarding thing that you do? So if we're lucky enough to be referred on and asked to manage the property? I will go and have initial inspection. Find out if it's ever been before what issues have been if they're known, if it's owner occupied, that's pretty easy to find out. And actually even if it's tenanted if the tenants are there tried like meeting tenants they're usually quite quick to give them war and peace if there has been issues or not as a case maybe it's also finding on the gas safety is done where we are the electrical inspection certificate. What sort of order the roof is in external masonry external woodwork is a building Todd, is it going to need refurb in the next two years has budget been provided for for that is going to leave refurbishing?
And, you know, really, what if the tenants looking to move out? Are they going to be staying there? All sorts of questions. Again, it depends on the product trends and landlord.
So I imagine that you know, apart from the fact that that you joined, you're your mother in the business but growing up you must have actually absorbed a lot of valuable information. Just
from your mother getting on with her day job? Yes, I think yes, absolutely. And I think it was a lot. And also, before I joined her, I was lucky enough to do a variety of careers. The background that mostly in interior design, also toder been in the finance world has been invaluable training for running a business.
And jet working with smaller businesses rather than large businesses means that one's had a very good training and thinking one speed and thinking not thinking about someone else's job. Well, you know, paper shredder needs emptying. Well, guess what? Let's do it. Or, you know, someone's coming in quick make a cup of tea for them? Or like popping is changing echo, here's a ladder if it's safe. Yes, let's do it. Oh, do we need any other Bob? Okay, that's all to one. And I think working for small businesses, you do think in your feet, just you just have to if the team of three, and they both look at each other and thinking, okay, who's gonna fill up the paper and the photocopier is good. You just get on with it. So I would imagine that, you know, as with most family businesses, when the younger generation come in to help they overtime, get more and more responsibilities, and the older generation kind of sit back in an advisory role and do less. But what would you say? Is the capacity? Are you at maximum capacity? Or would you be
able to take on a lot more properties than you already have we, we would always have to look at taking on more properties. But we know our market, and the the what I call the super, super high end with an awful lot of technical things in them are probably beyond us, because we just don't have the scope all the time to really be absorbed a huge property except could take up all our time. And then our smaller properties, which some of you were looking after 20 years, I would feel Mike could be losing out as a result. So we'd like before taking a property or see I was discussing my mother, quite often and a couple of my contractors who'd been working with a long time as well.
But the really, really, you know, some of the very big properties with complicated lighting systems, we might just think twice about taking on. Because I think it probably no one has to be realistic and no one's limitations. And know that their property management companies out there who will do a better job, because that's what they're geared up to.
I hope so because I'm still looking for one. But the question for you is this. So
I agree with you, I think there's super homes are kind of like wanting many hotels, and there are a huge amount of responsibility and you know, a big learning curve, and everything is automated from the underfloor heating to, you know, the eye recognition doors or whatever have you so they are getting, you know, more and more complex. And you almost think, well let me go and find someone who manages hotels and see if they've got a department for dealing with little hotels. But the reason I'm asking you this question is because we had a US investor who wanted to come into the buy to let market this is going back to 2016. Now, and the way that they wanted to come into the buy to let market was to go out there and buy a large scale residential property management company. To which I said Would there isn't one.
And although I think that over the last seven years, we've seen a change in the market in the sense that we're going a little bit more towards the American large scale landlords, whereas, you know, traditionally, here we've had the estates owned by families for hundreds of years, and they've been the biggest landlords and they do most of their stuff in house. So outside of the big super homes that are many hotels, do you think that there is a way of scaling the kind of bread and butter management as I would call it? So you know, the normal houses that have been, you know, traditionally built and maintained? Is there a way that you think that without losing control and without losing quality, one could actually get to a point of managing 1000 units?
To be honest, I simply don't know.
being brutally honest, I just don't know the thought of management 1000 units actually fills me with horror. Because how do you give 1000 units the personal one to one unless you can that be arrogant have clones who are equally fussy about going to each property and overseeing even a simple boiler valve being changed.
I don't know if one if you could do that. So worry about scaling up a company is the then you losing the personal touch, and also the knowledge base of as that tenant went to Cornwall last week holiday
I need to check in with them, you know, and then suddenly you get, you know, you're looking after I don't know, properties elsewhere, private prison row. And they've become numbers rather than
in a database rather than actual Oh, is that so and so's home? They bought it for two years ago, they never rented it out, their children will take it to take it on at some point.
So that really is the secret to success is the fact that it is really hands on and really personal. Yeah, for me, yes. And for movies. So potential, potentially, it's not actually a coincidence that there isn't a large scale property management company doing it well, possibly. But on this occasion, I'm happy to be proved wrong. I mean, either maybe there is, and someone's doing it really well. Yes. So please get in touch with us and let us know because we're looking for you. If you're out there, and you're managing 1000 units, and you're doing it well, you got really happy tenants, we want to hear from you. Okay.
So, one to watch, really, I think with with property management, because I think, as the regulations become more complex, then people are actually looking to outsource property management with their properties. Whereas, you know, decades ago, people might be like, Oh, I'll look after myself. Yes. Now, you're actually exposing yourself to quite a lot of potential, even criminal offences if you're not managing your property properly. Yes. And I think also, landlords in a lot of them have fairly busy lives, high powered jobs. And actually, for them dealing with a property they let out, you know, the tenant knocks themselves out. They have to get new set of keys cut, they have to ensure locksmith, whatever whatever the issue is in a for them, it comes to the bottom of their list of which was fairly demanding priorities. And after that, they might think, do you know what I just need to find someone who can take this on for me, I didn't have time or you know, I'm moving abroad. What I do is my house who manages it, I want to manage myself. I can't manage it, the timezone and five hours difference, I can, but then I have to rely on a lot of goodwill on the tenants, to meet contractors, the contents are rightly paying for a service, they might not want to wait until morning for a plumber to turn up to do boiler service and gas safety.
On the subject of people moving abroad,
how, I guess it's a lot more systematic when you're looking after a property that's not tenanted, so when people are leaving, and they put you in charge of looking after their property, I'm assuming that that can be quite systematic, like, Okay, I'm paying the bills, you know, I'm missing the cleaner, or the China is working on these days, I'm checking. So you know, just before we thank you and say goodbye to you, can you just talk us through? What does that look like for the absentee owner, who's actually not letting out their property, but they want their property looking after, again, it varies from owner to owner and house to house. Some owners, you know what groceries pressing into their fridges before they arrive. Others just want you to go and once a month, turn the taps on, you know, turn the lights on. And if that's the case, I tend to go to different times a day and evening. So if no one's watching the house, they can see people get in and out and realise that it's not actually as occupied as they thought. And I will quite often go past unoccupied houses early evening turn lights on, then go back three or four hours later, if I'm on my way back from being out, and turn the lights off. Just says lights go on and off at different times of the day or night to in case anyone's keeping an eye on housing and all this maybe we'll have a quick look at this when no one's around.
But again, it varies with the unoccupied houses. Some, as I said, some work together frequently meet cleaners, others work together once a month, or they might go there and the next one will come in past light bulbs gone in the stairwell. I can't reach it. Can you deal with it? As you know? Yeah, sure.
I've been here. I kind of get some repainted on can you get me some quotes is that Absolutely. When we get the work done if you go ahead, because obviously we don't have to do it when you're going to be there. Because it's not much fun. If you've got to have some knobs and you come to lunch and have a fun time. And guess what you're tripping over paint brushes.
Again, it's a boss and communication, and tailor making our approach to whatever a person wants.
Rather than just doing a one size fits all. I think it would be a shame to scale you up and lose this amazing service that you give to people. And I think for all our listeners, you heard it here first, the best property manager in town. So thank you so much, Catherine, for joining me on your podcast. And, you know, we'll keep in close contact and no doubt we'll be tapping into your expertise, again in the future. And obviously our listeners can find you in our experts directory and reach out to you to find out more about your services directly with them. Super, thank you very much. It was really interesting listening to Katherine and you know, although there was a lot of topics there that we kind of understood each other. Based on our experience in the past. I think it's really refreshing to hear that
that you don't always have to hate the job. And you don't always have to be frustrated, there is actually a method in the madness. I do make it make it actually a pleasant experience. I do love. I'm lucky enough actually something I love, love doing and I get out of bed and it's an everyday fan tastic I'm going to find a way to scale this business up with you. It was really great talking to you. And we hope that to our listeners, you now have a go to person if you've got any property management questions, queries, or need any services.
Thank you, Katherine.
Thank you very much Farnaz.
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