Lettings agents – part 1 – what are they for?

Toby’s friend had a small flat he wanted to rent out and thought that between an ad on Gumtree and a little card in the newsagent’s window, he should be able to find some tenants and they would be the right sort too!

No, no, no! His friend needed disavowing of this delusion. Unless you have masses of time on your hands and experience of how to market a property and exactly how to go about checking the background of any potential tenants, then you’re on a hiding to nothing and it would be better to use a lettings agency.

Many people hear the term “agent” and think of someone looking to make some easy commission. No doubt that is true of a minority of agents in any sphere of business but, particularly with property ones, it is worth looking at the diverse range of services they provide.

Obviously, one of the most important things they can offer you is an ability to market your property widely and more prominently than you can probably do it yourself. They would, in all likelihood, put it up on Rightmove and Zoopla and it would have a professional polish.

Someone would come in and take photos with a sufficiently wide angle to better capture each room.

A good agent will measure up and schematise the interior of your property to let, resulting in a proper floor plan that would be included in the online listings. This is a handy thing to have for other purposes (eg local authority property licensing).

They can turn up with their clipboards and shiny suits to show prospective tenants around when perhaps you are tied up with your day job. This might be a changing trend though as more of us are tending to work from home post-pandemic and can probably sneak in a viewing amongst our work tasks.

When people show an interest, the smart agent will initiate a bidding war between the interested parties in order to boost the price level.

Once you have accepted, conditionally, an application to rent, the agent will carry out background checks and also request corroborating evidence of the tenants’ status with respect to citizenship, work, guarantors and references. This all sounds good but is where you need to show caution because the basic process is quite flawed. 

The agent will provide proof of job details, bank account statements, check on residency status (are they legally allowed to be here) and so on. At this stage, it is worth carrying out some further checks yourself because most agents do not have the inclination nor time to go in depth. One thing Toby always found useful was to hunt around on websites containing details of company directorships. After all, you don’t want tenants who on the surface look Class A but who, on closer inspection have set themselves up as Acme Holiday Lets Ltd!

When said tenants pass all the checks and it is agreed that a tenancy can proceed, the agents will draw up a tenancy agreement for you. 

At this point, you can pay for all the services provided thus far and leave it at that or have the agent manage the let for you, for a percentage fee. If your time is expensive and/or you have several properties, this might be the path you choose to follow. If not, you still have to give the agent a tenant finders fee in the form of a percentage of the annual rent.

Before your tenants move in, the agent can carry out a proper deep clean of the property and/or get a third party specialist to do a proper pre-move inventory (in order to provide a  baseline against which any deposit with-holding issues may be measured).

Finally, do not ignore the other services an agent can offer you that you may not even have thought of. Because your agent may be managing so many properties, they will have access to a pool of reliable tradesmen who put things right and even groups of builders. This means that if you are struggling to find a handyman for a small job or are looking to refurbish because your place has become shabby, they may be able to help. 

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