A lightbulb moment led me to drag the factoring industry out of the Stone Age

21/10/2019 09:24:38

By Doug MacSween

I always wanted to be a rock star. Or a racing driver. Or maybe even a spaceman. Instead, I’ve somehow ended up with a property factoring company. Why?

It was a lightbulb moment. The day that triggered the decision to do this was about five years ago. I was a hobbyist property renovator, developing a lovely old flat in an unfactored building with a friend. His name is Scott. In addition to the finishing works to our flat, the building really needed attention to the communal areas, especially the extensively damaged plaster in the stairwell. We had also noticed faulty rainwater gear which, if left unattended, would certainly have damaged our masonry, risking water ingress and, worst case, the dreaded dry and wet rot.

Ok, lets contact the factor?”

Problem. There wasn’t one. There wasn’t even an owners’ committee.

It was clear from conversations with our neighbours that we would be facilitating a programme of repairs ourselves.

Hey, no problem. We can do this!”

First, we faced a challenge trying to mobilise the other owners to engage with us on the works and ultimately spent days tracking down and contacting an overseas owner whom we had to convince that the job was critical to the longer-term preservation of the building.

We then instructed a professional condition survey, which demonstrated in clear terms that a reparatory and preventative maintenance plan was essential. With the engineer’s help, we prepared a scope of works, got all the owners together at a meeting (one via Skype), created an owners’ committee and, eventually, kicked-off the process to put right all the things that were wrong.

Up until then, we’d shared many a scornful laugh at the expense of the property factoring industry. Right there and then, we could really have used an effective facilitator. Some months, lots of sweat and the occasional tear later, the job was complete and the occupants of the building would now enjoy wind and water-tight living.

During the next few renovation projects, we learned more and more about the job of the factor, and why an effective factor is an essential partner in any shared building.

We found that factored buildings are usually adequately insured (that’s the law, by the way), are invariably safer, cleaner, better preserved and are more likely to qualify for public funding when major works are needed. A good factor will also have a greater handle on compliance than a self-factoring owners’ committee. For example, did you know that a five-year fixed electrical test and certificate is a common condition for buildings insurance?

All of that stuff is the factor’s responsibility and, if you’ve got a good one looking after your building, they should absorb all the hassle without costing you the earth.

Here’s the background.

In Scotland, over half of our population lives in communal buildings. If you’re considering joining that number and appointing a factor, there is a few things you need to know about the factoring arrangements at your new home.

Find yourself a factor that will be collaborative and will include you in even minor decisions. An effective factor will jump into action out-of-hours, meet with you regularly and readily evidence a proactive maintenance program.

A decent factor will respond to your challenges. Ask them to explain their invoicing policy and billing period. Anything you’re asked to pay for must be completely transparent and disclosed at your request.

Your building must be insured to the correct value, not only for the bricks and mortar but also for all the costs that are incurred during a period of reinstatement. That includes the cost of temporarily re-housing occupants for an open-ended timescale while your building is made safe and put right.

If you don’t know the correct value, insurers are increasingly offering a valuation service free of charge. Finally, find a factor who’s impartial. As with most services that you must pay for, customer loyalty rarely represents good value. If your roof needs fixed, make sure the proposed scope of works is not written by the same roofing contractor whose name you see on every factoring invoice. The last thing you’ll want is a tradesman who has carte blanche to write their own pay cheque.

By now, you’re probably wondering why anyone would want to start-up a company in such an unglamorous industry. That’s easy - it’s all about the tech. We noticed that the factoring industry was, broadly speaking, behind the digital curve and, with more and more millennials owning their homes, the opportunity was evident to provide a modern alternative.

Our mission from that lightbulb moment five years ago was to provide a responsive, agile, dynamic, customer-collaborative property factoring service with which property owners would want to engage.

Before launching, we spent a year behind closed doors building our smart portal, and on January 1, 2016 we were the first property factor to launch a truly online, application-based offering. We called it Community and it allows our administrators, customers and contractors to create jobs on their device and to simultaneously update existing jobs in real time, 24/7/365.

This means that our customers can reach a solution to a problem quickly, in some cases within the hour if our mobile repairs team is in the area. In short, we’re an online agency and a property services provider, in equal measure.
Our commitment is to a sustainable future for our company, our customers and our planet. For that reason, we only ever use paper as a last resort. In September 2019, we completed 95% of our transactions without using a single scrap of paper. We’re in our fourth year now, and have accrued several thousand customers, creating 12 full-time, salaried jobs in the process.

So, five years after the idea was hatched, Scott and I are still not rock stars. But we’ve got a pretty cool company.

It’s called 91BC. And it has nothing to do with the stone age.

Doug MacSween is co-founder and Commercial Director of 91BC Property Services.

If you are in need of a factor, or thinking about a change, you can find out more information here -  https://91bc.uk/change-factor

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