Choosing a Letting Agent
Your property is probably your largest asset and for many landlords, a letting agent is an absolute necessity. While some property owners choose to manage their properties themselves, many choose to entrust their properties to a letting agency.
There is no formal regulation of letting agents and property managers and a number of landlords in Lincolnshire recently discovered that a local agent had disappeared along with a large sum of landlords' rents and tenants' deposits.
If you decide to employ a letting agent there are several important factors that you should consider. Your final choice will of course depend on your individual situation - but here are some top tips to help you find the right agent.
Ten top tips for finding a good agent
1. Look for membership of a professional body. These include;
- The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA)
- National Approved Lettings Scheme (NALS)
- National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA)
- Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
- The Housing Ombudsman Service (HOS).
Membership criteria may include length of time trading, trained staff, a code of practice and the safety of clients money. A professional agent will have the legal knowledge to draw up tenancies and serve notices properly to safeguard your asset and liability.
2. Ask how long the company has been trading. A new firm may be more hard working or innovative in marketing your property, but do the staff and management have the experience and expertise to look after your home? Is the business stable?
3. Choose an agent who specialises in letting properties in your area, or to a specialist market. Letting to students or tenants in receipt of benefits, for example, requires additional skills or contacts. An agent who has let several properties in the same neighbourhood will know how to set a suitable rent level and the kind of tenant your home will attract.
4. How safe is your money? Check that your agent keeps their client money separate from their running costs, does not use your money to pay for another landlords' repairs, and protects tenants' deposits correctly. Ideally, choose an agent whose client money is bonded. Many agents can offer specialist insurance to cover buildings, contents and rent guarantee. If you are worried about the risks of letting, these can offer peace of mind.
5. Ask how large the company is. Do you prefer to deal with a small, independent firm where the owner is familiar with you and your property when you contact them, or would you feel safer with a larger company with several offices and a larger staff base to handle matters quickly?
6. Check the company's reputation for customer service and handling repairs. You remain liable for any hazards in your property even if you use an agent. Keeping the house in a good state protects your asset, and a stable, professional agent will not avoid asking you to do repairs. An agent who responds quickly to repairs requests will retain good tenants.
7. Ask how they reference tenants. They must be fair and transparent and not discriminate against tenants from different background. Ask how they check that the tenant has the means to pay the rent, through income or benefits, and if they check they have not caused damage or nuisance at previous addresses.
8. Follow personal recommendations from other landlords who have received a good service. Check the agent's website or marketing material for testimonies and customer feedback, or join your local landlord forum to meet other landlords.
9. Find out what fees you will pay. You may choose different levels of service
- let only;
- rent collection; or
- full management with a rent guarantee.
Many agents offer introductory offers, but remember in the long term you get what you pay for. Consider what fees your tenants will pay and if you are happy that these are fair.
10. Follow your instincts. Do the company's staff inspire confidence and have your best interests in mind? Choose an agent who you feel comfortable doing business with.