Do Landlords Really Need To Use A Letting Agent?

Do Landlords Need Letting Agents

I’ve just had one of my tenant’s vacate after 4 years of faithful service. It’s an extremely sad and terrifying moment… because it means I’ll have to start the agonising process of finding suitable replacement tenants relatively soon. As every self-managing landlord knows, that process can be truly gut-wrenching and ghastly. In fact, I want to vomit just thinking about it.

But despite the horror, I still refuse to use high-street letting agents to help alleviate myself from some of the painful donkey work, including finding and managing tenants. Why? But more importantly, do you actually need to use a letting agent, whether you’re a new or experienced landlord?

I’ll give you my thoughts…

Firstly, let’s give the question some perspective.

If any landlord is pondering the idea of either finding their own tenants or managing their own rental property, then there’s obvious desire, but also hesitation. The former is usually stemmed from the prospect of saving a buttload of cheese on agency fees, while the latter is generally stemmed from inexperience and in-turn the fear of entering the unknown. So that means there’s often a debate between Saving money Vs Ease. By and large, that’s what it really boils down to when we’re deciding between self-managing and using a letting agent’s services, right?

So to provide a complete answer I’m going address two different questions:

  • Should new landlords use a letting agent [despite their eye-watering costs]?
  • When & why to start self-managing your rental property?

Should NEW Landlords use a letting agent [despite their eye-watering costs]?

With the emergence of online letting agents offering tenant-find services at puny costs, it’s become easier and more compelling than ever for landlords to go it alone, even for the first-timers and accidentals!

There used to be a time when the price between a “tenant find” service and a “fully managed service” was relatively marginal (2% – 5%), so it often made sense to pay the little extra for the whole shebang.

But times have changed, online letting agents have ripped apart the price differential by a substantial amount, so now opting for the managed package will cost significantly more in comparison.

However, despite that, I would still encourage shiny new landlords to use a high street letting agent to manage their property/tenancy to start with if they’re unsure about which route to take or if they lack a certain amount of confidence.

To some of my regular readers’ that may seem conflicting, because my philosophy has typically involved the demise of high street letting agents and their snake-oil tactics, and I’ve written several shirty blog posts on why everyone should avoid agents like a bucket of anal warts.

So, yes, it’s true. I’ve had very few positive things to say about letting agents in recent times, but I should clarify that my opinions were formed from the perspective of a relatively experienced landlord, and I think that’s a pertinent factor.

I actually believe letting agents are generally suitable for three types of landlords:

  • the inexperienced
  • those that want minimal hassle and involvement with the business
  • overseas/long distant landlords

I believe most other landlords should be focusing on managing their own properties for the reasons I’ll explain shortly. But long story short, the figures don’t stack-up as well when using a high street letting agent and it really isn’t that difficult to take over the reigns (as long as you’re not a complete moron), especially if you’re rigorous with your referencing and find decent tenants.

But let’s keep the argument balanced and remind ourselves why using a letting agent can be beneficial (because it can easily forgotten):

  1. They create free time for landlords.
  2. They work on commission they have an incentive to negotiate the best rent for you.
  3. They can provide a regular stream of work they have access to the best and most reliable tradesmen.
  4. They provide a buffer zone between Landlord and tenant which can help a Landlord avoid promising something they later regret.
  5. They can advise you on repairs and a maintenance schedule to ensure that your property holds its value.

If you have zero or minimal experience as a landlord and you’re unsure which direction to take, then I would definitely recommend using your local high-street letting agent, at least for your first year/tenancy anyways.

New landlords should learn from letting agents

The reality is, at least for most regular landlords, being a landlord isn’t as simple as collecting rent and taking advantage of some poor donkey that can’t get onto the property ladder to pay off the mortgage. Don’t be fooled by the pretty picture I paint of my lifestyle, it’s all smoke screens and mirrors, manipulated to mask the true bullshit nature of my poor and isolated existence.

Behind the glamour, there’s a lot of industry red-tape, so-much-so that it only needs a small case of blissful ignorance to force an inexperienced landlord’s assets to reduce into vapour.

Landlords have a lot of legal responsibilities, which new landlords may not acknowledge or address… and usually don’t, not entirely anyways.

A letting agent will should (see what I did there?) ensure all your legal obligations are complied with.

My point is, working with a letting agent is extremely useful and practical for learning the ropes, and it doesn’t even matter if you have a good or bad experience with them, because you’ll learn either way.

The premium rate you pay during that first year for an agent’s service can quickly be compensated for if you eventually decide to go it alone.

After you have gained experience as a landlord

Most tenancies are fixed for 12 months, and after that year I would expect a landlord to have gained some limited experience:

  • you will have learned about the industry, even if you didn’t intend to. You won’t be an expert, you may not even be competent, but you’ll be much better equipped than you were when you first asked the question of whether you should use a letting agent or not
  • You’ll be in a better position to answer the following: “do you still want to manage your own property?” You may just realise you want minimal involvement and prepared to pay a letting agent to manage your property. Or you may even have a nightmare experience with an agent which will scar you for life and forever stereotype the bastards.

When & why to start self-managing your rental property?

If you’re on the fence about ditching your letting agent and taking over the reigns, I’m not going to advise you on whether you should or shouldn’t bite the bullet, even though I make no efforts to hide the fact I’m a gigantic supporter of landlords managing their own properties, because I truly believe the perks massively outweigh the drawbacks.

Instead of giving you direct advice, I will give you a bunch of extremely compelling reasons for why you should consider making the leap of faith (and why I did).

1) Letting agents are expensive

Perhaps the most obvious reason to run a country mile; they’re ridiculously expensive, and not in a fair ‘value’ kind of way, mostly in a snake-oil conniving way.

On the surface, their flashing prices can often seem compelling, but the small-print and the super-long T&C’s are often riddled with absolutely cowboy and astronomical fees for absolute nonsense.

Moreover – and as already touched on – with the rise of “fixed-fee” Online Letting Agents, high-street prices just doesn’t make sense anymore.

High-street agents will argue that their one-to-one service is superior and can’t be matched by online agents, but I completely disagree. Yes, once-upon-a-time online letting agents were better geared towards experienced landlords that simply wanted to list their rental onto Rightmove to generate enquiries. But times have changed and for the better.

Online letting agents have revolved; many of them now offer cost-effective fully-managed services that are actually remarkably suitable for new and first-time landlords.

For example, take a gander at LettingAProperty’s premium ‘Complete’ fully managed package, for £99 per month. Just to note, this package includes ‘Rent on time’, which means you will receive rent on time even if your tenant doesn’t pay, and the package also includes home emergency cover:

Letting AgentRatingContractNotes / IncludesPrice
Rating

4.9

Review Centre
Duration
Month by month
Notes / Includes

Complete Package

Solution for Rent Collection & Guaranteed Rent, Home Emergency Cover and Legal Cover!

  • Advert on all major property websites, including Rightmove & Zoopla
  • Rent paid on time - paid to you on time even when the tenant doesn't pay!
  • Full tenant referencing (2 x people)
  • Digital tenancy agreements
  • Deposit secured
  • Holding fee service
  • Dedicated advisor
  • Guaranteed rent
  • Legal helpline
  • Legal expenses
  • Eviction support
  • Home emergency cover
  • Dispute resolution
  • Free tenancy renewals
  • Read about my fantastic Experience With Letting A Property To Find Tenants

*Landlord pays one-off £149 upfront, and then £99 per month.

Price
*£149 + £99pmInc VAT

Promo running
Visit Website

LettingAProperty isn’t the only online agent that offers managed services that are suitable for novice landlords (and, to be fair, experienced landlords simply wanting a managed service), but their package is a good example of one. Here is a list of other online letting agents that offer managed letting services.

2) Tenancy renewal fees

While this reason does come under letting agents overall cost being overpriced, I’ve singled-out this particular cost because I believe the tenant renewal fee crosses a moral line. The fee is unfair, unnecessary and unwarranted. Anyone that adheres to applying this fee won’t receive a penny of mine. Pffft.

3) Letting agents are just as helpless as everyone else if something actually goes wrong

The bottom-line is, in the unfortunate situation where a tenant falls into arrears, the letting agent won’t lose sleep over it. They won’t even spend a moment worrying about it. In fact, they’ll probably charge me extra for serving the eviction notices, so they may even welcome the occasion.

In reality, if a tenant ignores the eviction notices and refuses to pay rent and/or vacate the premises, there is nothing the letting agent can do. So all that money I’m paying them to manage my property can often seem like money down the drain.

My point is, agents will happily and easily handle the mundane tasks that anyone can do, but if the situation turns sour, I’ll have to take control and do the worrying, so what am I paying for exactly? Oh yeah, rent collection and occasionally dealing with repairs, which isn’t actually that much work.

4) I’m just as capable of finding tenants

Letting agents don’t have access to a magical list of prospective tenants that anyone else, like you and me, cannot access. We can all reach the same audience by using an Online Letting Agent and their tenant-find service, which can cost as little as £42.50.

I’ve had an high-street letting agent charge me £750 only to find me a tenant that fell into 2 months worth of arrears almost immediately. I eventually had to evict her, which was an added cost. So if you think you’ll always get a better quality of tenant from an agent, you’ve been grossly misled. Most letting agents run standard tenant referencing steps, which anyone can do. But from my personal experience, a landlord is capable, and has more incentive, of running a much better tenant referencing program.

5) The middle-man can often slow down processes

Having a letting agent as the middle-man can often slowdown and complicate matters when something at fault needs attention. For example, when an appliance needs repairing, the tenant will need to contact the letting agent, and then they will need to contact the landlord. At this point, the landlord may appoint their own labourer to resolve the situation.

I’m suddenly in the middle of a 4-man chain, which may not sound too tedious, but you’d be surprised at how difficult it can be to distinguish what the actual fault is, to arrange a suitable labourer to remedy the situation, and arrange an appropriate time to resolve the situation between 3-4 people.

The fewer people in the chain, the more effective and easier life is.

5) No one will care as much as the landlord

It’s a fact. No matter which letting agent I use, they will NEVER care about my investment as much as I do. That instantly makes me want to manage my own property, because I genuinely believe I will mostly make better judgments to protect my investment, while letting agents usually have other own priorities and incentives (and I don’t blame them).

6) Most Letting agents don’t know the law

Letting agents don’t need qualifications, which is unfortunate, because there’s a lot of red tape in this industry. I’m amazed at how misguided and illegal the advice and practices letting agents advocate- not only do I know this from personal experience, but from the comments other people have left on my blog. That worries me, a lot.

Not only are many of the grey tenant/landlord legal areas misrepresented, but alarmingly, even the statutory regulations are just as frequently misrepresented. For legal advice, I wouldn’t rely on letting agents, ever. I would seek advice from a tenant eviction professional (that’s usually when legal advice is required), Citizen’s Advice, a specialist landlord law solicitor, or become a member of a reputable landlord law society or association.

7) Last, but least, I simply struggle to trust letting agents

I’ve personally encountered many letting agents over the years, some have been extremely decent and honourable people, while many have been lying, money-grabbing parasites. The problem with any commission-based jobs is that it inevitably attracts the latter type of person. It’s the nature of the beast.

I hate stereotyping the industry, because I know there are a lot of good men standing, but unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to spot the difference between the good and the bad without going for a test-drive. And in reality, I can’t afford to take a test-drive, because by the time the ride is over, it’s usually too late (assuming the agent is an idiot). I’d rather avoid the game of Russian Roulette from the start. Basically, the industry is just full of too many idiots, which makes it difficult to trust anyone.

So there you have it, a list of reasons why I personally don’t use letting agents.

So should YOU use a letting agent?

I just want to clarify that I’ve only pointed out reasons why *I*, and many other landlords, don’t use letting agents. But obviously many landlords do use letting agents and they’re happy to do so.

Letting agents aren’t perfect for everyone, but at the same time, they might just be perfect for someone. Letting agents have their uses, which I won’t and can’t deny. What’s most important is that you make a decision based on your own feelings and circumstances.

What are your thoughts?

53 Join the Conversation...

Showing 3 - 53 comments (out of 53)
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Kath 27th January, 2009 @ 09:33

I'm considering signing one of mine on with a letting agent after failing to find a tenant privately.
The letting only option is £250, its expensive sure but I'm hoping they'll find me someone quick.

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The Landlord Avatar
The Landlord 27th January, 2009 @ 10:24

Hey Kath,

£250 is not too bad actually. The property I have is on the outskirts of London, and the local agents want 8-10% of the rental income. Which I find a bit too much.

Is the property in question situated in a well populated city? From what i'm hearing, rental properties are getting snapped up quickly. But I guess it depends on geolocation and availability.

Do you know if the agent is going to charge you a renewal fee, if you keep the tenant beyond the contracted terms? That's a killer!

But I definitely endorse your consideration to use agents. An empty property is the last solution, i'd rather pay an agent to fill the space if I was struggling to find tenants!

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houseofcards 28th January, 2009 @ 15:46

For the first time in my life I am going to agree with property investor.

Estate agents are the most pathetic pieces of rat turd in this planet. With their 50 quid suit and slickly styled hair and/or goat beard that would make hard stomachs vomit, they pranse about thier office thinking they own you when you walk in.

They are so unbelievably up thier own arse with thier Plymouth polotechnic degree in housing management or whatever piece of shit degree they have. If any....

As the property I own is not in this country, a collapse in property prices here is simply fantastic news for myself. I pride in them losing thier jobs considering its an industry 90% of the population would be too ashamed to even consider entering.

Imagine meeting someone for the first time and them saying 'I work for Foxtons'. I would piss myself laughing and then walk away.... No reply necessary.

This is a very bitter reply I admit, and yes I have had personal dealings with these people, many times. All but one have been sneeky, lying, sleezy, two-faced, back-stabbing dickheads that I would refuse to piss on if they combusted in front of me. In fact I would fuel the fire.....

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Kath 28th January, 2009 @ 21:51

Woah woah woah house of cards!!

That is the most vitriolic post I have ever read!

Tell me, are you posting similar comments on boards for say people who work for lending houses? Finance companies, utility companies, internet houses etc?!
Because all of these industries can be seen to be making shed loads of cash from the joe in the street....
The fact that you think a housing crash is fantastic news is just awful! Granted you clearly have issues with estate agents (did you lose out to a Foxtons negotiator in a 'whose got the biggest dick competition'?!) But think of all the home owners in negative equity, first time buyers who have innocently stretched themselves to buy their first home, solicitors who carry out the conveyance, the guys carrying out the HIPS/EPC's, companies who put up boards etc etc......

This property crash has affected far more people than just greedy estate agents and we should all be regretful of that.

I have dealt with many agents over the years and have had mostly good experiences, sure I don't like paying 1 - 2% for someone to sell my home but I view them as a nessecary evil. In the same way I don't like being forced into paying the bbc license fee when the other channels are free or I have to pay road tax when I I already pay so many taxes. But hey you know what? You an chose to vote with your feet! If you don't like agents then don't use them.

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houseofcards 30th January, 2009 @ 00:06

I agree that one cannot blame estate agents for the problem. In fact they have nothing to do with it if you were to consider a world where credit access was not inflating.

However, perhaps my point was misunderstood in my peice.

My point was talking of estate agents themselves as people. They are, and I quote myself "sneeky, lying, sleezy, two-faced, back-stabbing dickheads"

Again, I probably took it too far in saying the recession was good because clearly it is not, but I merely wanted to illustrate and amplify my hatred for estate agents, by claiming it was good because it is they that are losing their jobs.

The day a loyal, truthful and trustworthy estate agent comes about is the day Gorden Brown admits there were some serious errors in his economic policy............NEVER

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houseofcards 30th January, 2009 @ 03:18

My opinion...

Re: Previous topic

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Daniel Harrison 3rd February, 2009 @ 16:42

I agree that Agents can offer those benefits. However, it's worth noting that there are some very good agents, and some very bad ones. It's worth getting to know how to spot these.

Dan

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Interested Landlord 9th February, 2009 @ 15:31

I have a BTL and used an agency for a tenant find only service, they did and 11 months later (12 mth contract) he wants to stay on. He's quite happy to not renew contract with the agency (after a bad experience) and agree a contract with me direct. I didnt see anything in my contract with the agent that would open me up to legal proceedings if he stayed on and i didnt pay the renewal fee (£150 + VAT). Is there any reason why i shouldnt do this?

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dom 24th February, 2009 @ 22:19

house of cards-

I am utterly disgusted by your comments, me and another female collegue were made redundant in November one month before xmas with no money to pay bills and kids to feed! I understand your comments as i feel the same hatred towards traffic wardens but remember these "estate agents" are people too and are trying to provide for their families like anyone else! Please remember this next time you decide to post a ridiculous commment.

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Dr Nogood 4th March, 2009 @ 22:42

House of cards...I am wondering if you are an ex estate agent yourself. You use words like "Myself" when you mean "Me" and refer to "Polotechnic" degrees when you do of course mean Polytechnic...you seem like a sub hundred IQ desperately trying to play with the big boys (those with 101, 102, or sometimes 103 IQ points).

Your hatred of estate agents is well founded, but your pathetic gramatically incorrect rants do you no credit. I suggest you go to a polotechnic and get yourself some educashun.

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GillsMan 5th March, 2009 @ 16:36

When your argument is reduced to picking up on minor grammatical errors, you're really clutching at straws IMO.

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Phillips 30th May, 2009 @ 14:31

I see both points of view. I have never let a property without an agent but now I am looking into it. I am no veteran. I have only let seven times but my experience has always been bad and that was with five different agents. What annoyed me apart from the ridiculous fees especially the renewal fees for doing nothing is that they did not do much else either. Sure they put a card in their window (5/7 times describing a different property twice with matching wrong photo!), found tenants of varying quality eventually. Then pressed print on a fantastical tenancy agreement most of which did not and could not apply. Apart from that and taking my money of course they did absolutely nothing. No Internet ads which they all promised, inventory always wrong, references often not worth the paper they were written on or none at all, never inspected the property once and never performed a final inventory. Not that it would have been much use as it was always wrong to start with. Anything that went wrong with in their terms a 'managed property' the tenants ended up calling me as they could get no where with the agents. Many were also very rude to me, I am not surprised they have a bad name. I am sure there are good ones but I have now run out of ones to try in my London post code. What amazes me is that most of the major property web sites will only deal with you if you are an estate agent. Maybe they treat them better than they do their clients....

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Scott 13th May, 2010 @ 17:39

I'm considering renting my property.

I was going to use an agency but have now started to think differently.

I understand what the flat fee up front gets me, advertising, tenant venting, legal contract between tenant and landlord.

However unless i am missing something obvious, if i get a reasonable tenant who pays the rent and nothing goes wrong with my property, what would i actually be getting for the £45 a month my letting agency would claim from my rent? nothing?

Then i have to pay another fee each time i renew the contract with the tenant.... again, why? what am i getting for my money?

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Adam H 24th November, 2010 @ 16:42

The landlord should ask themselves:

Do I want to manage and can my portfolio support me instead of employment? No? - Use Letting Agent
or
Is my portfolio too large to manage single handedly?
and finally
Will "learning" the trade be more costly to me than the agents fee?

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sam fry 9th December, 2010 @ 09:47

i totally agree with all of the above, having a letting agency handle your property not only give yous piece of mind but also gives you your life back, no more messing around having to fix leakey boilers or radiators that dont work. fact its better to use a letting agency!!...

love sam x

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Gary Ash 28th July, 2011 @ 07:15

Letting agents exist solely for those Landlords 'who don't want the hassle' of having to deal with tenants themselves, full stop.
From a tenants point of view, letting agents simply have no reason to exist. They charge for a process which already worked perfectly, that didn't need a middle man. Problem is that letting agents have now made themselves a discriminatory gateway between tenant & landlord. Self employed tenant? You'll need to pay 6 months up front then. On benefits? don't even bother 'applying to be a tenant'. What b*llox.

I'm with The Landlord on this. Letting agents - get rid of them.

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Not very happy 19th July, 2012 @ 07:16

We are letting our property in London and to be completely honest with you...IF letting agents were honest and upfront about things it would help them greatly. After our initial 12 months, which I thought was our agreement with the letting agent, we decided we could collect the rent ourselves and save the 250 pounds a month this service was costing us. Instead we were told that as long as the original tenants, or ANY of the original tenants remain in the house, we are bound to the contract! There is no way out of it unless our original tenants move out. CRAZY! We manage the property. I have managed a major leak from the bathroom, which caused the ceiling downstairs to cave in and walls to crumble, replaced the boiler, serviced the fridge, serviced the dishwasher AND bought a new washing machine. ALL without the agent doing a thing of course. We were grateful they found the tenants to begin with which happened to be neighbours of the estate agent that were looking for somewhere new...so no advertising was necessary. We were happy to pay them for the first 12 months but were shocked to find out that we will have to pay them for however long. This was not told to us upon signing the agreement. PLUS to make things worse..anything extra they do, even printing out a rent collected tax form....they charge us 80 pounds!!! What the???? I mean - hell 250 pounds for a simple bank transfer, where they don't even lift a finger... PLEASE!!!!

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pete 15th September, 2012 @ 17:18

Not Very Happy - not very clever more like.

How about if your tenant stopped paying the after a year because, 'oh I thought that it was only a 12 month agreement therefore I could stop paying rent and carry on living here'. I presume you would quote the contract that was signed and question whether they read and understood it before they signed it? So why didn't you do that with your contract with the agent. If the renewal fee is in the contract and you signed it then stop eff'ing whinging now.
If it wasn't in the contract you agreed, then it's unenforceable and there are ways and means to prove that.

For pitys sake, all of the posts on this website seem to slag off letting agents - apart from the moronic plankton who can't tell the difference between letting agents and estate agents.

Using a lettings agent is not like car tax - if you don't want to pay for it don't use it. Go on your merry way, congratulate yourself on your penny pinching ways, (which will mean more tax in any case as fees are tax deductable), and accept that you will collect a few more than average rogue tenants, because the rogue tenants will always try to avoid professional agents.

Or.... you could find a good letting agent who is recommended, fair, clear and straightforward in their business - and then pay the going rate for the service rather than try to screw them down to the rate of the lowest fly by night. pay peanuts get monkeys.

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Nick 23rd August, 2013 @ 16:20

An old post now for sure, but I have to point something out everyone seems to be ignoring.

The fee you pay a lettings agent is tax deductable, meaning yes you have to pay it initialy, but you can claim and offset the full amount - not just the vat - against your taxes.

Therefore, lettings agents are free :)

Source - many years of renting several of my properties via letting agents (NOT estate agents).

Peace out.

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Nick 23rd August, 2013 @ 16:27

Also, statistics are out there for you to view. 1 in 3 private tenants are currently in rent arrears with their landlords. This figure is much lower for lettings agents, at an average of around 9%. Some agencies that have much more stingent referencing are around the 1% mark.

Also, everyone is moaning about renewal fees. If a tenant wants to sign up for 3 years for example, and the agency does not charge a renewal fee, then the landlord would simply make them sign a one year contract and then renew it twice for free. Remeber everythingi s negotiable with a lettings agent as they want your business.

However, you get what you pay for. I have been using my London lettings agent for several years now. They manage three of my properties and I look after the forth as it is on the street I live in and I have never had a problem with them.

I feel this thread is giving them a bad name, and no one is fighting for their corner. They offer a service at the end of the day, if you don't want it, don't take it.

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Nick 23rd August, 2013 @ 16:36

Pete, what are the odds of that. No one posts for just under a year, and then we both post within 7 minutes :o

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Benji 24th August, 2013 @ 11:33

@Nick,

"The fee you pay a lettings agent is tax deductable, meaning yes you have to pay it initialy, but you can claim and offset the full amount - not just the vat - against your taxes.

Therefore, lettings agents are free :)"

That is total bollocks. The letting agent that sold you that one must be laughing his head off over the "many years of renting several of my properties via letting agents.

Here is why;
Landlord makes £1000 profit on his rentals.
Without a letting agent he pays 40% tax i.e £400 (assuming a higher rate payer)
Therefore £1000-£400 = £600 profit after tax

Landlord makes £1000 profit on his rentals.
With a letting agent he pays £500 commision to them.
He is then taxed on the remaining £500 at 40%
Therefore £500-£200 = £300 profit after tax

Letting agents are certainly not free :(

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Benji 24th August, 2013 @ 11:37

@Nick,

"Also, statistics are out there for you to view. 1 in 3 private tenants are currently in rent arrears with their landlords. This figure is much lower for lettings agents, at an average of around 9%"

Have you got a reliable link for that or is that what your letting agent told you?

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Arps 11th December, 2013 @ 22:09

In the beginning we used letting agents to manage our portfolio (15+ units) for tenant find and rent collection.

Tenants would not always pay on time and we would be the last to find out. If something major went wrong it would always be on us to fix it or have the agent fix it at "inflated" prices.

Then we switched to tenant find only - worked much better. We used an independent agent who was good at the start. Then he stopped paying for right move - switched to zoopla and gumtree! Became harder to get in touch with, and time wasting.

Now I've been three lets without an agent. I'm sure I will get a few wrong and I'm sure I will get a few right. Either way the use of traditional agents has to be coming to an end. If they tenant doesn't pay they don't care!

Most Letting agents are oiks.

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Nick 15th January, 2014 @ 23:14

Horses for courses. My property is very local, 5 mins away, just moved tenants in so have been able to pop over to sort teething problems out, get them to counter sign what seems like a ream of A4 paper and scope out what they are doing in the property without arranging an 'inspection'. It would loathe me to be paying some dipshit in an office to relay messages between us both, initiate someone to go an sort any little problems out and generally do a poorer job of looking after my property and tenants than I can do. On the flip side a friend used an agent for 'guarenteed rent'. I think the guarantee consisted of the guarantee to take a huge wedge of the rent each month, move undesirables into the property and to replace carpets and other damage with cheap materials. After he's bought the house back to standard he's flying solo.

Good tenants are way better than a good agent in my opinion, if you can find one without using the other then all's good.

Never mind the question though, more elaboration on the contracting of your clap is needed.

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SpongeBob 16th January, 2014 @ 00:27

Excellent article and highly relevant to my own predicament at the moment; I'll probably ultimately go it alone after this year but have spent ages doing the 'devils advocate' thing when weighing up different scenarios.

For my properties the probability is that the 'High Street' letting agent is routinely achieving a few percent higher than I could as a 'sole trader' because they enjoy prominence, reputation, and a front door for tenants complaints. This all translates into higher headline rent. Thus whatever fees are being charged by them for full management (say 12% of gross rent), probably half that is covered by the uplift in rent they in isolation can achieve on my behalf.

Plus, if you're still intending to pay a Tenant Find Service say 3-4% of gross rent, the residual uplift to me is down to just 2-3%, but I'm working much much harder now!

I suppose a lot depends on individual circumstance; do you have freedom to jump onto any issues in a timely fashion and then keep records sufficient to recover mileage expenses etc from the tax man(?); is the property knowingly going to be a maintenance headache or is it in concorde condition; is the agent able to outperform what you could achieve under your own steam in your local market or is it so established that not even Donald Trump himself could achieve the extra 5% in rent? etc etc.

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HMac 16th January, 2014 @ 08:46

At the moment I am in the process of buying another property, this time it is a house.

I have tenants in a 2 bed bungalow. These tenants wish to move to the house that I am buying. They pay the rent on time and I do not have any issues with the tenants.

Which leaves me with an empty bungalow. I am opting for the Agent to find the tenant only. On the basis that they will do the necessary vetting and screening. I am not going to do the managed property, as I live 100 and 200 yards from both the properties, and I have a builder friend who assists me with repairs. Why pay the Agent 10-15% for basically making 3 phone calls and telling you the prices quoted for the job. I can pick up the yellow pages myself and pick 3 out!

I do have a question though, if I were to get a bad tenant, what is the process for evicting them?

I am a fairly new landlord

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Mandy Thomson 16th January, 2014 @ 09:10

Some very good points made in your post.
After being a landlord now for more than three years, I've had both good and bad experience of letting agents.
I'd firstly like to say though that even though I had a very bad experience with one particular agent, I wouldn't hesitate to use them for introduction - the last one I used worked extremely hard to secure me excellent tenants at the rent I needed - even though it was a bit more than they wanted to pay.
You make the point that a lot of the management process depends on the tenants - getting the right tenant is absolutely crucial - good tenants (such as all of mine) will contact promptly when there's a genuine problem (such as damp or the boiler just won't work), but are self sufficient enough to resolve more day to day issues themselves.
Where I did have a bad experience was during the first year of my first let when I used a very small local agent for management - neither the company nor the agent were members of a letting agents association. I was living more than 100 miles from the property in a different city, working full time and completely inexperienced as a landlord. About 4 months into the let, a damp problem emerged. The agent called in a builder he regularly used - this person had done some work on the property prior to the let to a good standard. However, this time the builder turned out to be a complete and utter cowboy, but the agent still charged me his full fee for the work. When I got the "work" evaluated by other builders, they were frankly shocked at the very shoddy workmanship - however, when I pursued the agent, he simply went quiet.
From that point on, I decided to manage my own properties - although I'm reasonably competent at DIY - I've installed kitchens for example - I'm not a builder, electrician, plasterer or heating engineer - so when my tenants have had these issues, I have simply looked for recommended and accredited people online, just as I would if I were living there myself. My tenants are on the whole happy that I have responded promptly when repairs are needed.
The lesson I have learned is this - always use an agent who belongs to a professional body, and if you're using them for management, check that they have indemnity insurance, who they call for maintenance problems - and whether these people belong to trade associations such as Federation of Master Builders.

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maidbloke 16th January, 2014 @ 10:38

Interesting post. I have just become a landlord for the first time and I manage the property myself. One of the reasons I had the confidence to do that was this very blog. So - thank you.

I used a letting agency to find me a tenant, create the AST agreement and arrange inventory and gas/electricity checks. And they seemed to do that well. But from the moment the agreements were signed and exchanged it was down to me to manage.

I have owned property myself since 1993 so I have a good idea about maintenance. The property I let is local to me so I already know reliable plumbers etc. I figured that there was no need to pay for the full service from a letting agent. I am just as capable of answering the phone to the tenant and finding someone to unblock a drain as the agency is!

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Andy 16th January, 2014 @ 10:50

I have been a landlord for the last 3 years and now have 13 houses, all in the w.mids. I have only ever used an online agent service, this has always generated lots of potential tenants, normally about 8 viewings. I pay circa £60 - £80 and always ensure the property is on rightmove. I want to meet the people who may live in my investment property and build a relationship, for me, this starts at the first viewing. I aim to fix or get any issues sorted for tenants within hours/days and do not think that an agent could offer anything that i cannot achieve myself. I am not against managed services from agents and I think the three situations you mention are ones where i would consider using them. The one thing i have done along the way is join a landlords association, I am with NLA. This enables me to be up to date with laws/regs, provide me with documentation, and gives me a help line i can call when i am unsure about something (as yesterday when i needed to talk through prescribed info on deposits).

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Tinny 16th January, 2014 @ 12:34

I had to rent last year when the purchase on the property we were buying fell through and we sold our house. Our landlord was a great guy with lots of properties and a handyman on staff. The agent he used was a no nonsense guy who charged an introduction fee and only charged us what it costs to credit check both me and my hubby. This was a breath of fresh air because some of the agencies where we were looking were charging £500+ in admin fees etc. We had cats and had difficulty getting a property to rent despite me offering 2 months deposit to the landlord and extra money to cover pet damage insurance for landlords. I am pretty sure none of that was passed onto the landlord, as I would never hear back from the agents. We lowered our standard on properties due to this and I would see those properties still advertised months later, which I am sure is lost income to the landlord, especially if your rent is not competitive or your property is not as desirable as others in the area. When we did an inspection upon leaving, our landlord commented that the place was cleaner than when we moved in and we were extremely good tenants, we even forked out for an expensive dehumidifier so no condensation would form in the property which was prone to it, but I am sure many landlords were not given the chance to actually have an offer from us because agents were not bothered to check few things, such as if a landlord would accepts us with cats and with a 6 month clause. I still bump into our old landlord in local Starbucks and we have a coffee together. When new tenants turned up to view the place, because we had a good relationship, I made sure the place was tidy, clean and presentable and I sang praises about the agent and the landlord. The first set of people took it.
I think, as everything in life, what you personally put into something, comes back to you. No agent, even a good one, will ever be as motivated to let your property to good people as you will be to find good people for your property.

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Helen 16th January, 2014 @ 13:02

First things first - I am a letting agent. Now that confession is out of the way, I do agree with much of what is being said. Anyone can manage their own properties, if you are prepared to learn the law and either have good DIY skills or know good local tradesmen. Good people skills are also important, so you need to be able to chase the rent without feeling awkward and be firm when the tenant is making unreasonable demands.
If you have good tenants, the management is easy. The vast majority of properties we manage do have decent tenants, so we are making money for doing not a lot, BUT we are available to those tenants all day every day. Do you want to be phoned at home just as you are about to make mad passionate love or whatever?
All agents are not the same. If you decide to use an agent make sure that they belong to ARLA. This means that your rent money and the deposit are insured (in case we decide to bugger off to the Caribbean with your money)and our accounts are audited, so we can't embezzle you.
Another thing to look at is whether to use a national agent or a local independant. Where is the management based? The nationals usually have a central management department, so they are unlikely to be using local (cheaper) tradesmen. We are local, so we use the best, cheapest tradesmen we can find and we find out if someone has a bad reputation. Another advantage to using a local agent is that we will go to the property to see what the problem is, before we send someone out. Often the only problem is the tenant's stupidity! No charge to the landlord.
Another point to consider is whether you are prepared to argue over the deposit at the end. A local agent should just deal with everything. We will send in cleaners, carpet cleaners, rubbish removers and deal with the deposit deductions without even bothering the landlord.If a deposit is disputed, we prepare the landlord's case for the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, with inventory, check out, photos etc at no extra charge.
A good agent will guide you through rent defaults, evictions, CCJ's, bailiffs and all that crap without charging anything for the advice, although the procedures themselves do cost money and we do charge if we have to go to court.
Regarding renewal fees, we charge £50 for a new tenancy agreement, but if we are no longer managing a property, we wouldn't know if the tenancy had been renewed, rather than just moving onto a periodic tenancy, so we couldn't charge could we?

All in all, if you are prepared to deal with the crap, you can save a lot of money by self managing, but when things go wrong we agents really earn our money.

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Tinny 16th January, 2014 @ 13:18

I agree, Helen, that good agents do a lot for the landlord but are you saying you are available to the tenants 24/7 and you never make love yourself, you just jump in the car whenever a tenant calls? What if you are dealing with other tenants at the time/have other appointments?

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sam 16th January, 2014 @ 17:05

Great post - very insightful.

I particularly loved: "Don’t be fooled by the pretty picture I paint of my lifestyle, it’s all smoke screens and mirrors, manipulated to mask the true bullshit nature of my poor and isolated existence"

:)

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Helen 16th January, 2014 @ 17:42

Tinny, the point I was making is that WE are available to tenants all day. There are nearly always several people at an agents, whereas the landlord is on their own. I don't get called if I am at home or on holiday because there are other people manning the office. A landlord has to give their tenants their phone number, so can be called at any time.

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McLovin 16th January, 2014 @ 22:39

I have a mix of 1 self managed and 2 agency managed properties along with a full time job. When the tenancy ends I'm looking forward to turning the self managed one over to the agent who has been very good in all their dealings.

People keep mentioning cost of agents but you can claim their service back on tax. So it's not costing me a penny really as long as my tax bill exceeds my costs. I know this won't apply to everyone but it's worth pointing out for new/prospective landlords with jobs and only one or two houses.

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Joanne 22nd January, 2014 @ 17:36

Using an agent or not, if you get a crap tenant, nothing can be done anyway. I went alone and used my own noggin, I had to redecorate, re-carpet etc anyway, so I saved the money I would have spent on an agent, to do the property up in the end. The issues I had would have been there regardless.

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Phil 29th January, 2014 @ 11:00

I’m pretty sure 99% of landlords use a letting agent, whether it be an online letting agent or a high street letting agent, to at least find tenants by generating leads. – You know, I never used a letting agent, neither my friends (some of them are also landlords) did it. I can’t see the reason to pay someone money for the service you can do without any help. Jest let me explain it. When I want to find tenants I advertise my property at different websites (to make my chances bigger) like http://manchester.localmartuk.com/flats-and-houses-for-rent/ add photos of the flat (I think you’ll agree that many tenants choose the property according the photos they see) and leave my contact information so every person who is interested in renting will call me. The same thing my friends do. But, maybe when you want to rent your apartment for the first time, it’ll be useful to find a letting agent, who knows.

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Mandy Thomson 29th January, 2014 @ 12:28

@Phil - I agree with your post, but you haven't mentioned the selecting and vetting tenants aspect. The right tenant is critical - for someone inexperienced, or someone who doesn't know their way around the different referencing services and/or isn't confident interviewing people and able to hold their own in negotiations, I still say a good agent is crucial.

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Tinny 29th January, 2014 @ 12:58

Although I was never a landlord, I am now on a committee of two buildings that manage themselves. There a nice tenants living in two other flats on my floor and one has just had a bad leak. When we inspected it, it came down to a bad maintenance of the balcony window, which caused a slow leak that permeated the floating floor under the laminate as well as the wall next to the window (small amount of the wall as the window goes the length of the wall). The tenants only reported it when the laminate came apart from the damp. So now the job includes a new laminate for the lounge, new floating floor, repairs to the inside plastering and the original window. tenants tell me they did not see the landlord since renting the place in 2007. He bought an old flat and obviously did not do any inspections since and when I asked him what type of heating he has in the flat, he did not know, so this leads me to believe he is not performing the law governed gas checks.
He is now arguing the managing company should pay for the repairs that are his responsibility in the lease. Whilst I sympathise as I feel this was partly his fault and partly a fault of the tenants, who notices small damp patches but ignored them until it inconvenienced them, I do feel that no one, and this includes agents, will care about your property as much as you do. You can have good tenants but ultimately you never really know their personalities... these tenants pay rent on time but were pretty relaxed about mould showing in the corner of their window for a year. Everyone has different standards so if you want things done up to your standard, you are the only person for the job.

Vetting Mandy mentions is easily done through credit agencies. This costs very little yet agents sometimes charge a lot. Fees in london are something like £350 in referencing and admin fees to £600 so saving that and paying £25 per reference will also be something tenants will appreciate if you can spare the time.

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Fred 6th February, 2014 @ 13:18

@MacLovin

"People keep mentioning cost of agents but you can claim their service back on tax. So it's not costing me a penny really as long as my tax bill exceeds my costs. I know this won't apply to everyone but it's worth pointing out for new/prospective landlords with jobs and only one or two houses."

Not sure that you are right there.

Agent Charges are an expense, which means that you deduct the cost off your revenue before paying tax on the remainder.

Consider a case where the rent is £1000, the agent charges a fee of £200, and the tax rate is 30%.

In the Base Case there is no agent.

You receive £1000 income, and pay tax on that which at 30% is £300 tax, leaving you with £700 income after tax.

Consider the case with an agent.

You receive £1000 income, of which you pay £200 to the agent. This is a business expense, so you deduct it and tell the HMRC that your income is £800.

Then you have to pay 30% tax on £800, which is £240. That leaves you with £560 after tax.

So by using an agent you reduce your tax bill, but have still paid out the fee to the agent so your saving is the tax rate applied to your expenses, not the whole of the expenses themselves.

If you think about it, the £60 tax you have saved in this case will be paid to the HMRC by the agent in *his* accounts.

Am I wrong?

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Fred 6th February, 2014 @ 13:21

"This is a business expense, so you deduct it and tell the HMRC that your income is £800. "

Should read "taxable income". Sorry.

@McLoving, hope you haven't been deducting the entire agents fee from your tax bill.

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The Landlord 12th February, 2014 @ 10:29

Apologies for the late response folks, it's been a bit hectic at camp. I've only really had the opportunity to read through everyone's comments. A lot of good feedback! Few responses...

@Nick
"Good tenants are way better than a good agent in my opinion"- definitely!

As for my medical condition... it's still a sensitive subject (literally), but you'll be pleased to know the problem is resolved, and as a result, I now have a piece of my anatomy in a glass jar next to my bed. There was no other choice.

@SpongeBob
It genuinely does boil down to personal circumstances e.g. lifestyle. But also, as Nick said, how much (or little) work you do also depends highly on how good your tenants are. If you do the initial groundwork of sourcing good/reliable tenants, your workload could drastically decrease.

Most importantly though, nothing is set in stone. So even if you do take on all the responsibility, but then later on realise it's too much work, you can always use a letting agent again, even if only to offload a few properties.

@Helen
Your point about the potential disagreement about the deposit was spot on! That definitely is in favour of letting agents- because that's such a pain to deal with. Having said that, since the TDS was introduced, a lot of independent companies have emerged, that solely deal with inventories, and covers all that.

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Fee 16th February, 2014 @ 11:08

Hi,

Great post as usual!

I'm using a fully managed service with a letting agency for my property. But with my tenants contract still 4/5 months to run (who I want to keep on) things have turned sour with the agency (from them ignoring the tenancy agreement/lying to me). I now want to manage my tenants myself but the agents are saying I'm tied with them etc etc. Is there a way of getting out of this?

Sorry for asking the question directly here. Maybe a post on when things turn bad with an agencies what to do? I have a feeling it's more than commen!

Thanks,

Fee x

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HMac 16th February, 2014 @ 11:54

Tax

Yes its is some sort of swear word!

But I have found out something which I found interesting and I thought I should pass this on to others......

If the property is part-furnished you only pay 10% tax. If the property is not furnished you pay 20%

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Benji 16th February, 2014 @ 16:47

@HMac,

You've got it a bit mixed up. See this link;

http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/pimmanual/pim3200.htm

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The Landlord Avatar
The Landlord 16th February, 2014 @ 18:22

@Fee

It's been a long time. Too long :)

What does the contract say, the one between you and the agency? In theory, the tenant is the agent's client, that's why they're saying they are tied to the tenant.

I had the same kind of situation. There are often ways you can get around it, but it depends what is stated in the contract. For example, if you and the tenant legally terminate the tenancy, and then start a new one between yourselves, in theory, they may no longer be attached to the agency. However, then the agency may go after you for tenancy renewal fees (if that is stated in the contract). So you need to read the T&C's! x

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Fee 17th February, 2014 @ 17:25

Ahhhh ok, I will have a proper look then decided what to do.

But I think what will be probably best is creating a new contract and paying the renewal fees if I have to. As atm I'm paying 10% per month for the management service that I'm not happy with!

Thanks for the reply,

Fee x

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Colin Emmitt 1st March, 2014 @ 09:25

Be careful when choosing a letting agent and fully research them first. Don't just go with the cheapest deal. My wife and I have been stung for £2100. We bought our first property for investment to let out last August. The agent found tenants (personal friends). "Apparently a deposit in cash was made and the first months rent". We received nothing in rent and the agents did not make the deposit in the DPS. The agents then went out of business. We have from our pockets had to make the deposit into the DPS and lost two months rent. Despite me making the deposit our new agents have advised me I cannot lawfully ask for evidence that the tenants paid money over i.e a copy of bank statement.
The law sucks when it comes to landlord protection. Although I don't believe the tenant will but they could take us to court and claim 3 times the deposit monies because the deposit wasn't made in time and through no fault of our own. So be careful who you choose

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Alexandre 21st May, 2014 @ 15:03

Hello,
I'm working for a Dutch student start-up trying to facilitate the process of renting a room for a landlord for free.If you want to check our company at: www.nestpick.com
Hope to hear from you soon

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Neill 12th August, 2015 @ 15:12

Bought my first BTL last year, it came complete with a "lovely indian" couple.. who were indeed quite nice, however, their cooking habits have thoroughly pi**ed everyone off within a mile radius. Now they've gone after a long two month notice period, the place is mine again.. more's the pity.. IT STINKS.. everything is covered in ghee residue.
So a couple of long days of scrubbing & bleaching to the point of losing any traces of fingerprints on our hands, we finally started to give it a lick of MAGNOLIA..(just read the other post about this... should've done it sooner!)
Ok.. so my question is... Who can I bill for my cleaner? I accept that I was going to decorate anyway, so that's at my cost, but the agent said it was clean & it blatently isn't. there's handles broken that they didn't pick up on the inventory, c02 alarm broken, various bits n bobs.
Should I just invoice the agent?

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