It doesn’t matter whether you are thinking of becoming a landlord for the first time or if you already have an existing property portfolio, having a good letting agent on your side is essential to your success.
The problem is that the rise in popularity of buy-to-let investments has brought with it a slew of poor quality agents. Many of these so called ‘experts’ are interested in little more than taking your money, which is something you’ll naturally want to avoid. So, how do you sort the wheat from the chaff? Well, this handy list of tips should help you do just that!
1. Check their accreditation
The first thing you need to look out for is whether or not your letting agent of choice is a member of the National Approved Letting Scheme. Any agent worth their salt will be a part of it, and they should have their connection to the scheme prominently displayed in any literature they send to you. Remember, letting agents are not required to be regulated by law, so you should seek out those who are proactive in joining schemes that prove they are reputable.
Other reputable, professional bodies to look out for are:
- The National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA)
- The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA)
- The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
There are other schemes to keep an eye out for, too. Check to see if the agency you are looking at is a SAFEagent. If they are, it means that they will be part of the Client Money Protection (CMP) Scheme which safeguards your cash and is officially recognised by Government.
Members of the Property Ombudsman will give you added peace of mind as well, as this ensures that both you and your property are always fully protected.
2. Check their insurance
While the Client Money Protection Scheme goes a long way, you’ll still want to make sure that your new letting agent has the correct insurance cover, too. Ask them whether or not they have professional indemnity insurance and to what level they are insured.
Professional indemnity insurance covers the agent in the unlikely event that they are sued, but it is also a solid indicator of a properly run business.
3. Check that their service matches your needs
The service offered by letting agents can vary, so it is important to check what they offer will be right for you. Knowing what you want from your agent is the first step, so take the time to explore your requirements before making enquiries. Do you want to take a hands-on approach to your business? Or, would you prefer to have someone manage your property for you? Every landlord has different requirements, and only you can answer the question of just how involved you want to be.
Once you are aware of the level of service you need, you will be better placed to make the right decision for your business. Many agents offer a three-tier service option list that will look something like this:
- Let only – Perfect for those landlords who are treating their investments as their primary source of income and main business. Professional landlords have the time and knowledge to manage their properties themselves, so Let Only is often the preferred option for them.
- Rent collection – Some landlords are happy to handle the day-to-day aspects of property management, but wish to remain hands-off when it comes to the financial side of things. Rent Collection suits this type of investor perfectly. It’s also worth bearing in mind that many tenants will prioritise payments to an agent above an individual. This is largely due to the fact that they know agents will pursue missed or late payments immediately.
- Full management – This top tier service level is the ideal choice for anyone who wants to have an investment that practically takes care of itself. A dedicated management team will deal with all of the day-to-day tasks associated with being a landlord, leaving you free to do as you please!
4. Check to see if they deal with the legal stuff
Being a landlord isn’t as simple as buying a property and finding a tenant, there are a few legal requirements that you have to fulfil, too. Things such as gas and electrical safety regulations need to be taken care of, as do the Right to Rent checks that came into force earlier this year (Feb 2016).
Meeting these legal requirements can prove to be a headache for the uninitiated. Therefore, finding a letting agent who will take care of them for you is essential if you want to be 100% certain that your business remains compliant throughout the duration of the tenancy.
5. Check their marketing efforts
Having an empty property is every landlords’ worst nightmare, so it’s important you feel confident your letting agent will do everything within their power to find you a suitable tenant - fast. While every agent will make promises to that effect, there are ways in which you can check things yourself.
Look out for how the agent markets other properties that they already have on their books. Do they rely solely on one form of promotion? If they do, then the likelihood is that they will not be reaching the largest audience possible in your area. Good quality letting agents will have a presence everywhere, from the high street to social media.
6. Check that they make checks!
It’s unfortunate, but a fact; some tenants will not look after a property as if it were their own – despite the fact that they have to live there! Good letting agents will vet prospective tenants before placing them in your property, lessening the chances of you ending up with a tenant from hell.
It’s also worth asking how regularly the agent will inspect the property across the duration of the tenancy. Staying on top of things and making regular inspections will help to keep your tenant in line and ensure that your investment remains in good condition throughout.
7. Check the charges
When it comes to fees, the amount that you’re expected to pay can vary dramatically from agent to agent. Make sure that you are fully aware of all fees you may incur so that you won’t be landed with any nasty surprises at a later date. These may include:
- Vacant property fees
- Individual service charges (such as drawing up agreements, taking inventories, etc.)
- Renewal commissions
- Admin fees
- Estate agency fees (this will be triggered should you choose to sell to the tenant and can be charged whether you use the letting agent or not to handle the sale)
While you should definitely be careful about the fees that you’ll be charged, it is equally important to take a look at the bigger picture when you come to make your final decision. Opting for the cheapest agent for that reason alone may lead to trouble, so make sure that the level of service is up to scratch, too. As with so many things in life, when it comes to finding the right letting agent, you often get what you pay for.
8. Check their policy on repairs and maintenance
Should you opt for full management, it is absolutely vital to find out exactly how your agent will deal with any repairs or general maintenance that may be required in order to keep your property in good order. Good quality, established agents will have a ‘book’ of reliable contractors who will be on hand to take care of any issues that may arise.
9. Check their reviews and testimonials
The final check you need to make is what others are saying about the agent. The very best way to get the lowdown on the agent is if you know someone else who has used them in the past. Word of mouth is a strong validation of an agent’s credentials and can give you great peace of mind when making your final decision.
These days, however, you do not necessarily need to rely on friends and family for recommendations. The Internet can be a great place to do your research, so check the agent’s social media channels and the many agent review sites that are now available online.
Making these nine checks before you choose which letting agent to go with will help you make the most informed decision possible. If the agent satisfies all of the above points, and you feel as though you can work with them, it’s probably safe to assume that you will be in good hands.
If you are thinking of letting your property in or around East London or West Essex, Petty Son and Prestwich should definitely be on your shortlist of letting agents. We have been serving the local area for over 100 years, so no one knows the local property market like us. Pop in and have a chat, or get in touch with the office closest to you via phone or email. We can’t wait to speak with you.