New Disability Horizons contributor, Conrad Hodgkinson, talks about his website, the Accessible Property Register, which aims to promote accessible home to rent and for sale.
In 2003 I made a throwaway remark that was to change the lives of myself and my partner Christine. About that time, we were trying (and failing) to find a house that would meet our access needs. Christine has a progressive condition and has been quadriplegic for the last fifteen or so years. Having arrived to view a property only to be confronted by yet another flight of steps; yes, the estate agent had assured us that it was accessible. I casually remarked: “what’s really needed is a website that only advertises accessible property.” And so, the Accessible Property Register was born!
Accessible Property Register website
The aim of the website remains very straightforward: to identify wheelchair accessible property for sale or rent and post an advert to it on the website. In most ways the site is similar to any other mainstream property website; you can search by area, property type, price, etc. The difference is that we only accept adverts for properties with the minimum of wheelchair accessibility. So we are exclusive; and proud of it!
So far we have been pretty successful. We are now able to identify virtually every accessible property advertised for sale or rent anywhere in the UK and get it posted on the website within a couple of days. We also advertise wheelchair accessible holiday accommodation.
The feedback we get from site users is lovely, although the statement we probably hear most often is; “what a good idea. I wish we had known about you earlier!”. Reaching this stage has not been straightforward, but we have learned a lot in the process. But there is so much more we could do; this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Many properties that would be suitable for wheelchair users remain invisible because they are not identified as such, sometimes through lack of awareness, but also too often because of reluctance to publicise access (some think this will put people off!). Sadly, this is an even bigger problem with property for rent than for sale.
Working with private landlords and estate agents
We make it as easy as possible for people to place adverts. The site is set up so that adverts can be posted directly onto the site and are live immediately. For private vendors or landlords, i.e. not going through an estate agent, it’s free to place a property on the website, as are all other site services.
But the majority of property in the UK is marketed through estate agents or commercial letting agents, so the key to improving identification and marketing of wheelchair accessible property has to embrace this often derided group!
As yet, I’m sad to say, we have hardly dented the surface. We do have a few agents who work with us, notably in Leeds and Sheffield, but mostly we have been pretty unsuccessful in persuading agents that there are commercial (as well as social) benefits to be gained in promoting access positively. For example, where we have links with agents we can recommend them to our vendors.
Plus, it’s essential that we emphasise how large a chunk of the market disabled and older people constitute, and that (for many of us) access will be a big selling point.
It’s also sad that it seems equally difficult to persuade social housing providers to work with us. The reasons here may be different, perhaps a fear that open advertising of social housing with wheelchair access will create further pressures on a scarce resource. Whatever the reason, the cumulative effect is that we are able to identify far less accessible property for rent than for sale. My heart sinks when I get phone calls from disabled people looking for somewhere to rent; I know I’m almost certain to have to disappoint them.
The Accessible Property Register is not a charity. From the outset we were determined to run the site as a business, but it’s not easy. We do charge commercial businesses and organisations to advertise, but the actual returns are pretty small. After nearly ten years we have just got to the point where costs of running the site are more or less balanced by income. That’s providing we don’t pay ourselves anything, of course! And that I forget the £21,000 I’ve personally put into developing and promoting the site over the years.
To make the site a commercial venture we need much more input from estate agents and social housing organisations in the form of paid advertising. We also need sponsorship, so if you have ideas on how we can get more involvement from the commercial sector, please don’t hold back; we’d love to hear from you!
By Conrad Hodgkinson
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