The point of a letting agent should be to make life easier for you as a landlord – but a lot depends on choosing the right letting agent in the first place.
As with any professional service, it’s easy to get bogged down in complicated offerings, distracted by slick marketing or befuddled by small print.
As both landlord tax experts and landlords ourselves, our expertise goes beyond accountancy. Here are our tips on finding a reliable letting agent for your UK rental property.
Building a shortlist
Much like any service, you should start by working out what you need from a letting agent.
You might live near the property and have some flexibility with your time. In that case, it might just be that you need help finding tenants and handling the vetting process. That’s sometimes called ‘let only’.
Equally, you might be a non-resident landlord working overseas, maybe renting out your flat while you’re away. In that instance, you’ll no doubt want the letting agent to do a lot more for you, from property inspections to repairs. This is generally known as ‘full service’ or ‘fully managed’.
Most letting agents will claim to offer both services but you’ll want to be sure that they have a proven track record in the specific service you need.
I’d suggest starting with recommendations from other landlords. There’s nothing like first-hand experience and if you’ve got friends, relatives or colleagues willing to vouch for an agent, they’re probably a safe bet.
Failing that, the next best thing in the 21st century is online reviews. You might have seen that we have a FreeIndex widget on our homepage displaying our customer ratings – and that’s also a good place to look for letting agents.
As much as the overall ratings, look at the comments, especially the three and four-star reviews. They’ll tend to be fair and specific even if they’re mildly critical. For example, if several reviews mention that they’re poor when it comes to answering the phone, that might be a deal-breaker for you.
It’s also worth thinking about specialisms. Some letting agents work primarily on student lets while others tend to handle family homes, or rural properties, or serviced apartments. Make sure the agent you choose knows the market you’ll be operating in.
Over the years, we’ve found that a good letting agent knows the market in their area inside out, has good tradespeople to call on when repairs are required and is proactive in suggesting increases in rent as time goes by. They will also keep you informed of changes in legislation and help implement them.
Does accreditation matter?
Just as I’d advise you against using an accountant who isn’t formally qualified, I’d also suggest that using a properly certified letting agent can give you additional peace of mind.
In addition, they should also ideally be part of a scheme such as Safeagents (formerly the National Approved Letting Scheme) or a professional body like ARLA Propertymark.
ARLA has more than 9,000 members and holds them to higher standards than the law demands, while lobbying for greater regulation across the industry. It also has its own client money protection scheme which will reimburse you if the agent should misappropriate funds. ARLA’s member directory is a good way to find quality assured letting agents in your area.
Is the price right?
When you’ve got a list of four or five candidates, reach out for quotes or check out the package pricing provided on their websites.
If an agent seems suspiciously cheap, ask why. If there’s a legitimate reason – an innovative business model, maybe, or a deliberately limited service – they should be able to explain that to you clearly.
You might find that the fees are low because more of the cost is being borne by the tenant. Depending on the relationship you want to have with your tenants, that might be something you’d rather avoid.
The same goes for any unusually expensive options. What do the additional fees cover? If there are additional services that really add value – and that you really need – then it might be worth it. But if your fees are just covering the cost of a luxurious high street office and free bottled water, maybe pass.
Check the terms and conditions
However pleasant you might find the person you talk to on the phone or meet at the estate agent’s office, don’t rush to a decision.
Give yourself time to dig for hidden costs and ask awkward questions.
One common complaint among landlords is about unexpected, or unexpectedly high, tenancy renewal fees. These are charged each time the tenant signs on for another six months or another year and usually amount to a percentage of the original finder’s fee.
They’re not wrong, per se, but you don’t want to be caught out. I reckon a good letting agent will highlight this without you having to ask.
You’ll also want to check how long you have to stay with the letting agent under the terms of the contract, and if there are penalties for terminating the relationship early.
Some letting agents will insist that you have to stick with them for as long as the tenant they’ve found continues to occupy the property, while others will let you break after a set period.
Monitor the situation
Even with all those precautions, it’s possible the letting agent you’ve chosen won’t be the right fit.
As soon as problems arise, talk to your agent and tell them what you’d like done differently. It might be that you need to work with a different contact at the firm or move to a different package of support.
In the meantime, keep notes and records in case a time comes when you do need to appeal to a professional body or ombudsman.
Talk to us for advice on any aspect of letting property in the UK – if we don’t know the answer, we’ll be able to find you someone who does.