How Three Oaks fights excessive admin – and the climate crisis – with payment automation

Having worked in the lettings industry for more than 20 years, Darshan Sunger had a very clear vision in mind when he was setting up Three Oaks.
How Three Oaks fight excessive admin – and the climate crisis – with payment automation

“I’ve set up and sold three agencies already. This is my last venture before retirement, and I said to myself that I wouldn’t have more than 100 properties. I want to look after quality, not quantity – and I want to live my life as well. I run my own company, I’ve been a regional executive for ARLA Propertymark for the last eight years, and I’m also a district councillor.”

Interview with

Darshan Sunger
Darshan Sunger
Managing Director of Three Oaks Group, District Councillor & Vice Chairman EFDC, ARLA Regional Executive

By tapping into the power of payment automation, Darshan was able to build a business that gives him space to focus on all those priorities by wiping out excessive admin.

Ironing out issues

Darshan knew that running a smaller agency would be hard work, and decided early on to work smart. As well as a limited portfolio, he wanted a small team and lean, efficient working processes.

But without the right tools, their success was qualified. Darshan’s team were doing all the right things, but inefficient manual payment processes turned out to be a huge time sink.

“My administrator would check to see whose rents were due, and then go to our online banking to see all the payments that had come through. Then she would produce a statement, go back to the bank and pay it, and then file it away. Three hours a day, first thing every morning.”

Weighing up options

Darshan knew technology could help to give him the lean, efficient business that he wanted, but he also knew that he needed to invest carefully. While a good platform could keep his rental business running like clockwork, a bad one could turn out to be a huge sunk cost in time and money. Fortunately, he had an idea of where to start looking.

“I came across PayProp as they’re an ARLA-approved supplier,” explains Darshan. “It’s the one thing I always look at: ARLA suppliers have to meet strict criteria. So that was why I was willing to entertain them in the first place.” However, he still had one big concern that he wanted to address.

"When the PayProp rep came down I was a bit sceptical. I thought it was going to cost me money. But he said no, you’ll save yourself an administrator’s pay, because PayProp will be your administrator. We won’t let you down, we won’t fall sick or take holiday leave, and the platform is available online 24/7. You’ll have full control from anywhere in the world." Darshan Sunger, Managing Director of Three Oaks Group

After three years of using PayProp, Darshan has had a chance to run the numbers himself and see exactly those benefits play out in his business – to the point that he’s ready to evangelise PayProp’s extraordinary value-add when other agents cannot see further than the price.

"One of my colleagues at ARLA said to me that PayProp is too expensive. I said that’s how I used to think too, but think about it: how much would you say an administrator costs? £35,000 a year? Even though PayProp is going to cost you per property, in the long run you will actually save money. For me, in my personal experience, we 100% couldn’t go back to the old way of doing business. It’s not about whether you can afford to do it, it’s about whether you can afford not to have that level of freedom." Darshan Sunger, Managing Director of Three Oaks Group

Among other hidden but real benefits with financial upsides, PayProp allows agencies to redeploy resources more productively. PayProp-powered businesses also provide a high-value service to landlords with rapid payments and automated invoicing; grow their portfolios rapidly thanks to process efficiencies; and improve payment outcomes through trusted same-day payments, automated arrears management, and much more. Darshan focuses on the platform’s iron-clad payment control.

“We’ve got a system that gives us total control. All we’re doing is ticking a box [to approve rental payment reconciliations and distributions, individually or in bulk] and hitting submit. With that one click of a button, you’re doing three things: you’re giving a statement to your landlord of that payment, you’re creating a record, and you’re transferring that money straight away.”

Control anywhere, anytime

Darshan brought in PayProp to save time on inefficient rental payment processes, but it has also helped his business adapt to other challenges. While many businesses closed during the COVID-19 lockdowns, rent payments still had to be distributed to landlords, and so letting agents were as essential as ever. Having a cloud-based payment automation platform meant the Three Oaks team could seamlessly switch to working from home.

"We didn’t even have to unplug the computer and take it, it’s accessible on my mobile phone, it’s got all the information of our tenants. And of course it’s GDPR compliant, because all your data is protected in the cloud environment. I think we would have really struggled without it during the COVID period." Darshan Sunger, Managing Director of Three Oaks Group

Being able to access PayProp from anywhere, on any device has been helpful in more normal times too. Darshan can check in on his business any time he wants, even when he’s on the other side of the world.

“I was in India in October and November 2021, and I could still see what was happening. I knew how much money was coming in, who was paying what, what money needed to be deducted. For CEOs and managing directors, you don’t necessarily have to be in the business, you have to be on the business.”

"With PayProp, you could be anywhere in the world and still on your business. You have a bird’s eye view." Darshan Sunger, Managing Director of Three Oaks Group

21st century lettings

For Darshan, adopting more PropTech for work isn’t just about making his business more efficient and his life easier: it’s also about making the world a better place. As a local councillor, he’s been a consistent advocate for tackling climate change, and using PayProp has helped him to make his business greener and persuade his fellow councillors to do more.

"As councillors, we committed to battling the climate emergency in 2018 and agreed for the whole district to be carbon neutral by 2030. PayProp has also helped us with our contribution towards being carbon neutral and reducing our carbon footprint [at Three Oaks]. As a letting agency, we used to have about 20 filing cabinets. Now we don’t use paper, everything is in the cloud: PayProp, our inventories, everything." Darshan Sunger, Managing Director of Three Oaks Group

Success on your terms

Today, with PayProp handling time-consuming admin like clockwork, Three Oaks is very much the business that Darshan wanted to create. He and his four-person team look after a portfolio of around 100 residential rental properties and also operate a successful sales business. Outside the office, Darshan won re-election to his seat on Epping Forest District Council in May 2022 by a convincing margin, and still serves as ARLA Propertymark’s Regional Executive for Essex.

"I look at PayProp as a partner of my business now. We’ve invested in a digital platform that gives us the power to control our finances. If you think about it, it’s an amazing product." Darshan Sunger, Managing Director of Three Oaks Group
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