10 tips for choosing your letting agent
This top tip guide from OnTheMarket tells you what to look for in finding a professional letting agent that will enable you to rent out your property securely to an appropriate tenant and for the best possible return.
How to Choose a Letting Agent
The market for renting out residential property has dramatically expanded in recent years with the very strong growth of buy-to-let and the increasing popularity of rental property as a long term investment. According to the Office of National Statistics, 20% of all households in England (4.5 million households) were renting in the private sector in 2015-2016. The sector has more than doubled in size since the 1980s and 1990s and there are now 2.5 million more households in the private renting sector than there were in 2000.
Most landlords will appoint an agent to handle the rental and the choice is extensive. There are considerable numbers of letting agents and the majority of estate agencies operate letting divisions. Given that the agent will be responsible for important long-term financial and legal matters, it is absolutely vital to choose the right one as letting agents are unregulated and there is no statutory standard for service or for fees.
1. Letting agent location
It makes sense to use a letting agent that is located in the same area as the rental property. Most towns have a number of firms who are letting specialists and many estate agencies have letting divisions. Some landlords prefer to use agents who are members of a trade or professional body such as ARLA Propertymark (formally the Association of Residential Letting Agents) or safeagent (formerly the National Approved Letting Scheme) because they should be following codes of professional conduct and have proper guarantees in place to protect landlord and tenant monies.
2. Choose the service level
Most letting agents offer three levels of service. Tenant-find only means that the landlord will be undertaking the day-to-day management of the letting. Tenant find + rent collection means the agent will find the tenant and collect the rent but all other matters will be dealt with by the landlord. Full Management means the agent takes care of everything to do with the letting from start to finish and will only involve the landlord if something out of the ordinary needs their decision. For new or less experienced landlords, full management is often the service level of choice for peace of mind.
A competent and professional letting agency will handle all the paperwork involved in a letting. They will take up references on new tenants, carry out credit-checks, confirm the tenant’s employment details and check that the tenant has the right to reside in the UK. The agent will draw up the tenancy agreement and collate the required gas and electrical safety certificates. Agents can also obtain an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the property. This must be given to any prospective tenant.
4. Marketing, advertising and rent
A property without a tenant will cost you money, so make sure the letting agent will be very proactive in finding a good tenant as soon as possible after they are instructed. Ask the agent which local papers they advertise in. Check that they are listing properties on a main internet portal such as OnTheMarket. Find out if they already have tenants on their books who will be interested in the property. To get you the best return, letting agents will advise on what level of rent can be expected for a property and will be able to show you details of similar properties that have let for a similar figure.
5. Client Money Protection
Letting agents handle deposits, rents and maintenance monies. Landlords and tenants need to be certain that the money is safe and that no-one can run off with it. A reputable and professional letting agency will be able to demonstrate that it belongs to a Client Money Protection scheme. In the extremely rare event of a fraud, the landlord and tenant will be reimbursed for any loss. All landlord and tenant money should be held in a Client Account, separate from the letting agent’s general bank account. Ask for confirmation that this exists.
6. Complying with deposit law
If you choose the tenant find + rent collection or the full management service from an agent, they should be able to deal with matters concerning the security deposit that is paid by the tenant at the start of the tenancy. This money, which is usually equivalent to 6 or 8 weeks’ rent, is held by the agent on behalf of the landlord as a safeguard against the tenant causing damage to the property. By law, such deposits must be registered with a government approved tenancy deposit scheme. Ask the agent for details of the scheme they use and for confirmation that the deposit has been registered.
TDS has launched a Code of Recommended Practice. This Code of Practice sets out the recommended requirements which letting agents and landlords should meet as members of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme.
7. Safety legislation
There are a number of pieces of legislation in place to protect the safety of tenants. Ask the letting agent to ensure that the property is in compliance with the rules. In particular, a property with a gas supply must have an annual maintenance check and a Gas Safety Certificate must be provided by a qualified gas engineer. Most agents can make the arrangements. If electrical items are provided by the landlord, they must be safety tested by an electrical engineer. Again, the letting agent should be able to deal with the matter. Any soft furnishings at the property must comply with Fire Safety regulations. Professional letting agents will advise on compliance. Whilst good letting agents will handle these matters, the legal responsibility remains with the landlord.
8. Repairs and maintenance
Every property needs looking after. Ask the letting agent if they carry out regular inspections to ensure the tenant is keeping the place in good order and to check if there are any maintenance issues. Letting agents usually have a panel of trades people who can be called upon to make repairs, maintain gardens and carry out annual tasks such as clearing gutters.
9. Maintenance float
If a letting agent is managing the property during a tenancy, it is usual for them to have the authority to carry out necessary repairs up to a certain value without reference to the landlord. This will be for such things as a leaking tap or a slipped tile on a roof. The landlord will keep a sum of money with the agent as a “float” and the agent will account for the money as it is spent.
10. Accounting to the landlord
Check with the letting agent the arrangements that they have for accounting to you for the rent received, costs, and charges and how often they will transfer balances to your account.
In June 2017 the Queen’s Speech revealed that a draft Tenants’ Fee Bill was among 27 proposed laws that MPs will be working on over the next parliamentary term. In a further twist, the Bill, put forward just a couple of weeks after the fee ban consultation closed, also proposes allowing tenants to reclaim unlawful fees, which wasn’t mentioned in the initial documents for consideration.
The Government has also followed through on suggestions to tackle tenancy deposits, by saying holding deposits would be capped at no more than one week’s rent and security deposits at no more than one month’s worth.
Note that in Scotland letting agents may not charge fees to tenants, so a landlord is likely to carry the costs of tenant referencing and credit checks.
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