Lockdown #2 update: You can still let/rent a home, buy/sell your home, and move home during the lockdown in England starting on Thursday 5 November (unlike the first lockdown in March). But you must follow Covid safety guidance.
If you’ve found yourself here, it probably means you’re trying to find good tenants without the help of a traditional high-street letting agent. Wise decision, and you’ve come to the right place.
In this section, I discuss all the steps required to find quality tenants quickly, including how to reference tenants, and how to advertise on the UK’s biggest property portals like Rightmove (in order to maximise your chances of generating enquiries from prospective tenants)!
You don’t need a high-street letting agent or their extortionate fees!
A common misconception is that letting agents provide us with a skill set which can’t be duplicated by the average person/landlord. We assume that they have an advantage over us by having all the trade tools and resources. It’s all nonsense.
All agents provide us with is a service which most landlords don’t know enough about to confidently duplicate. But when you break it down, it’s not really that difficult or time-consuming to learn the essentials and more, which will enable us to find and manage tenants ourselves… for a fraction of the cost!! In fact, the methods I discuss in this guide won’t cost you more than £60. Now let’s compare that to prices the average high-street agent charges.
How cheap finding tenants can be
I’ve seen agents charge between 8%-15% of the rental income for their services (depending on the type of service). The most basic service agents’ offer is typically a “tenant-only” service, which is where an agent will find a tenant and leave the management role up to the landlord.
Let me show you how the figures stack up with a real example:
Let’s assume an agent has found me a tenant willing to sign a 12 month agreement. The rent is £1000 per month. Based on the lower end 8% fee, an agent would charge £960 as a fixed annual fee for their service. On top of the regular service charge, most agents charge a renewal fee, which means I would need to pay an additional annual fee if I wish to keep the same tenant after the 12 months expires. As you can see, the cost can easily escalate, and it usually does.
Over the past 5 years I haven’t used a single high-street agent, and my cost for finding tenants has been between £0 – £100.
The reality is, the internet has made it incredibly easy (and cheap) for landlords to find and market their own properties without the use of traditional high-street letting agents. One of the biggest enquiry generators for letting agents are UK property portals like Rightmove & Zoopla, but we don’t an agent in order to get our property on there, we can do it ourselves through self-service Online Letting Agents, the biggest being OpenRent.
Believe me, long gone are those days where we need to walk into a letting agents office and rely on their notably poor service and unjustified pricing structure (which are famous for being riddled with hidden fees). And that’s because we now have resources available at our disposal – the same resources professional letting agents use – to do the job ourselves, only with more care. Bear in mind, agents do get it wrong. Frequently. So why pay them to find a tenant when there are no guarantees they’ll be any good (after all, that’s all landlords really want, good tenants)?
So, it’s your call, you can either spend £1000 on an agent, or learn how to do it for £0 – £100. It’s a no-brainer for me. Remember, a buy-to-let investment is a business, so it’s about keeping costs down when and where it makes sense.
How to find tenants… efficiently and cost-effectively!
Here’s a few ways landlords can maximize the chances of finding tenants efficiently and cost-effectively, consequently minimizing void periods and saving a pile of cash!
Do you need to use all the methods listed? Not necessarily. But obviously the more methods you utilise to market your property, the more enquiries you’re likely to receive.
1Online Letting Agents
Ignore everything else on this damn page if you must, but trust me with online letting agents!
In my opinion, this is by far the best and most cost effective and efficient way of finding tenants, including HMO tenants. In fact, even tenants for commercial properties if that’s what you’re after.
High-street letting agents generate most of their enquiries through websites like Rightmove and Zoopla. Long gone are the days where they relied on local newspaper adverts and walk-in trade. The only problem is, private landlords can’t directly upload their vacant property onto Rightmove and Zoopla (they only deal with agents). However, that’s where an Online Letting Agent can help… and at very little cost.
All you need to do is sign up to an online agent, fill out a form which consists of your property details (including pictures), and for a small fee (£50 on average) they will market your property across all the biggest property portals like Rightmove. And then, all you need to do is watch the enquiries roll in and arrange and host the viewings.
When choosing your “find a tenant” package, it’s important to ensure your property is getting marketed across Rightmove and Zoopla, and quite frankly, pay no mind to any of the other portals- there is no substitute for those two beasts.
The amount of eyeballs Rightmove & Zoopla attract between them is insane- it’s literally in the tens of millions. I don’t think there’s any other means of tapping into as many prospective tenants.
Go here for more details on online letting agent.
2The House Shop
TheHouseShop.com is an interesting one!
They’re similar to Rightmove & Zoopla in the sense that they list properties available for rent (and sale), but unlike the two gigantic front-runners mentioned, TheHouseShop allows private individual sellers and landlords to directly market their property on their website for 100% FREE, while as mentioned, Rightmove and Zoopla strictly deal directly with estate agents (i.e. you have to go through an agent to get listed on Rightmove).
Granted, TheHouseShop are nowhere near as popular as Zoopla & Rightmove, but they are becoming incredibly popular in their own right, so they’re more than capable of generating leads (which many landlords can attest to). However, I personally wouldn’t rely on using TheHouseShop as a standalone method of finding tenants, but I do recommend adding your property onto their website along with using an online letting agent (to get your property onto Rightmove & Zoopla)… ’cause, you know, TheHouseShop is 100% free, so you really have nothing to lose!
For more info, you may want to read my in-depth analyse of TheHouseShop. But if you’ve heard enough, and ready to use a 100% free marketing service for your BTL, then here’s the link to their website.
Most of you will know of Gumtree.com, it’s probably one of the biggest classified websites in the UK. It gets millions of visitors every day!
Many online letting agents will market your property on Gumtree as part of their service, but also many don’t. The good thing about Gumtree is that it allows private landlords to directly use their platform (much like ebay) for free, and you don’t need to go through an online agent. In that sense, they’re very similar to TheHouseShop (as discussed above).
I’ve had huge success with Gumtree in the past, so I definitely recommend listing with them, especially since it won’t cost you a penny. I’ve used Gumtree WITHOUT using an online letting agent before, and it resulted in finding tenants pretty quickly.
Obviously marketing your property on the likes of Rightmove, Zoopla is the optimal method for finding tenants. However, if you’re really on a tight budget, and want to find tenants for pretty much nothing (i.e. without an online agent), I highly recommend using Gumtree (along with TheHouseShop.com).
Fair warning: Gumtree is notorious for generating leads from scammers and tenants on benefits (I’m not saying the latter is necessarily a bad thing), so while it’s ALWAYS imperative to conduct thorough referencing, it’s especially important when processing Gumtree applicants (or any other classified website).
Facebook marketplace is relatively new, but as you’d expect from a brand as big as Facebook, it’s popping off!
Facebook Marketplace is very similar to Gumtree, it’s an online marketplace where [Facebook] users can advertise items for sale.
Also similar to Gumtree is the fact that while Facebook can generate plenty of legitimate and valid enquiries, the quality of leads can often be lower than the traditional methods, so it’s important to ensure you rigorously vet all prospective applicants, and be wary of scams.
I’ve written an in-depth blog post on advertising Rentals on Facebook Marketplace which I highly recommend reading if you’re interested in using the platform to generate enquiries from prospective tenants.
Ever heard of DSS tenants? They’re essentially tenants in receipt of Housing Benefits, which means much of their rent, if not all, is covered by financial aid provided by the Government.
As a landlord, you may come across DSS tenants at some point, specifically when applying for tenancies. I advise all landlords to get familiarised with what a DSS tenant is before even looking for tenants. Just so you know what you’re dealing with.
The beauty with DSS tenants is that they’re particularly easy to find and at no cost. Needless to say, there is a reason for that. But i’m not here to judge, I’m here to make you aware of your options. Here’s a guide on how to find DSS tenants for free.
During your search for tenants, it’s highly probable that a DSS tenant will apply, and you need to know exactly what that means and not blindly just ignore the potential implications.
6 Social Media
As much as I hate to say it, Social Media actually works.
It’s not the most effective method by a long shot, but it’s amazing how effective sending out a tweet or updating your Facebook status at the right time can be. Even if it doesn’t work, what’s the worst that can happen?
Most people these days are involved with a social media platform, whether it be Facebook or Twitter. The great thing with these social networking sites, Facebook in particular, is that they provide a quick and easy way of connecting with all your local friends and family.
I’ve actually found a tenant in the past by setting my Facebook status to:
“2 bedroom property for rent in Church Langley, Harlow. £775pcm. Anyone interested, or know anyone interested?”
The thing is, you NEVER know who is looking for a property to rent, or who knows someone who is looking. Spreading the word among your local peers via Facebook is always worthwhile because it’s so damn quick and easy to do.
7Ask your neighbours
This sounds odd, but it’s incredibly effective. I’ve successfully found tenants a few times by doing this.
All I did was ask the neighbours (of the BTL property, not my home, although you could ask both sets of neighbours), and enquired whether they knew of anyone suitable that would be interested in renting the place next door to them.
You might be pleasantly surprised by this tactic! It’s another one of those methods that is so quick and easy to execute that it doesn’t make sense not to at least try.
Before even starting the finding process, you need a strategy.
Well, not quite a strategy, we’re not invading a county here. But you will need to determine what it is you’re actually offering and how you’re going to deliver it.
It doesn’t matter if you’re leading the search party to find tenants, or whether you’re passing the responsibility onto a letting agent, you still need to ensure any marketing material put out there is appropriate and effective.
1Research / Asking price
Every landlord wants to charge as much as possible, maximizing their rental income. However, that can often be a damaging decision because it could mean less enquiries and a longer vacant period, which will end up costing more than if you had marketed your property competitively in the first place.
It’s important to ask for the going rate, and no more, even if you think your property is worth more. Price yourself based on what the market dictates, and not what your ego is blubbering.
I recommend keeping an eye on the rental rates in your area, and then marketing your property just under market value i.e. if the average for a 3 bed semi is £1000, market yours at £950. You’ll generate a lot more enquiries during your marketing campaign, which will reduce the void period, and potentially make you more than if you had marketed at the going rate or above. But more importantly, the tenant will feel they are getting a good deal and therefore will stay longer– a tenant that stays longer keeps your overall costs down and your profit steady.
How much should you charge? Look through websites like Rightmove/Zoopla and see how much other properties are demanding in the same area for a similar property. It might also be worth talking to a few letting agents. However, bear in mind, agents generally price high because their commission is a % of the rental amount, so don’t just accept their word, do your own research.
It doesn’t matter if you’re advertising on a shop window or on Rightmove, you still need to make your proposition appealing and easy to digest. Getting eyes on your advert isn’t enough. It’s a start, but it won’t generate the right enquiries.
One of the biggest mistakes landlords make with their adverts is that they’re lazy- they don’t provide anywhere near enough information. Not only does that reduce enquiry rates, but it also opens the door for a lot of time-wasting.
Your advert should be descriptive and informative. Provide relevant details and highlight features:
- Public transport links
- Local schools
- Crime rates (if it’s low)
- Parking space
- Front/back garden
- Number of bedrooms and dimensions
- Number of bathrooms
- Condition of property
- Local amenities/attractions
- If furnished, include items e.g. sofa, tables, beds etc
- Mention any white goods that come with the property
List everything and everything that will add value, but make it easy to read and don’t go over the top.
Consider being more accommodating and you’ll open up your audience. For example, according to a recent survey by the Dogs Trust, 78% of pet owners have experienced difficulty finding accommodation which accepts pets. And according to ‘Pet Friendly Rentals’ by not accepting pets, you will be decreasing your potential market by 50%.
If you are a liberal landlord, ensure you promote it in your advertising campaigns. If you’re prepared to accept tenants with pets, ensure your marketing material says “PET FRIENDLY” It could have a significantly positive impact on the success of your marketing.
Trying to reach out to every demographic is like trying to please everyone. It never works, and it’s generally a waste of time.
Don’t try to attract students, families, young couples and professionals all at the same time. You need to determine what your property is best suited to host, and that’s usually best determined by understanding the needs of the different tenant types. Once you know that, you can build a marketing campaign around your key audience and have a much more effective campaign, which results in higher conversion rates.
For example, if you have a 1 bedroom flat, you’re going to be targeting couples and/or single tenants. Make it clear that your property is PERFECT for either of those tenant types, and mould your property around that demographic. If there’s a spare room (not quite big enough for a bedroom), make it suitable for “office space”, and not a “playroom”
Think about your key audience and consider their needs and apply it to your marketing campaign by preparing your property with their needs in mind!
If you’re really struggling to find tenants, despite the fact you know you’re offering a decent property, it could be a case of having stiff competition. When tenants are spoilt for choice in a booming market, they’re going to take advantage of it- and you can’t blame them for it. So it might be a case of ‘dangling a carrot’, so to speak.
Spend a little extra by giving your prospective tenants incentives to choose your property over someone else’s. Incentives like free broadband and/or digital TV are always desirable features.
While this extra outlay may seem expensive, it’s not, especially if it means filling a void that just doesn’t want to get filled (insert sexual innuendo)!
More details: Provide tenants with incentives
Don’t underestimate the power or importance of photography. Good photos generate leads, which inevitably reduce costly void periods- there is no doubt about it.
Many landlords seem to forget they’re trying to sell an extremely expensive product, yet they market their property like they’re selling peanuts.
Every time I see a rental property marketed on a website like Rightmove without images, I want to cry myself to sleep. It’s literally money down the drain, and the agent responsible should be hanging their head in shame.
High quality photography is one of the most powerful marketing tools for generating enquiries. Prospective tenants are much more likely to enquire if they see images.
Take high quality photos and let your pictures do the talking, it’s imperative.
I’ve written quite a comprehensive guide on what kind of images work and how you get professional photography, because I believe it’s that important (and because so many landlords/agents still don’t seem to get it). I highly recommend you check it out the guide on Professional Property Photography for Landlords
Referencing / Viewings
Generating enquiries is only the first step of filling your vacant property, and it’s definitely NOT the most important step.
Finding “good tenants” is key, because bad ones will chew through your time and profits, and quite possibly sink your entire investment. And trust me, there’s no shortage of bad tenants out there.
It doesn’t matter how or where you source a tenant, whether it be through an experienced local high-street letting agent or whether you take matters into your own (un)experienced hands, landlords are ALWAYS prone to falling victim to rogue tenants. Remember, if you’re using an agent, and they get this part wrong, it will cost YOU, not the agent.
The best we can do is minimise the risks, and the best way to accomplish that is by thorough tenant referencing, and that truly begins at the viewing stage.
One of the most annoying aspects of finding a new tenant is the massive time-wasting that comes along with it, especially if you’re not vigilant from the get-go.
If you asked me to tally-up how much time is consumed on average by all the tire-kickers, unsuitable applicants and total blaggers that apply for each tenancy, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if I’m left with very little faith in humanity.
It can be tedious beyond belief, especially if you get inundated with applicants (which is becoming more and more common as the rental market grows).
One of the most common mistakes landlords make when processing tenancy applications is granting and scheduling every applicant with a viewing slot. There’s no need to do that. Of course, if you want to needlessly waste a buttload of time, then go for it. But remember, your time is precious.
Minimising time-wastage by separating the wheat from the chaff is crucial. Not only for the sake of your sanity, but also because you’re more likely to end up with better quality tenants.
You should only be scheduling viewings with suitable applicants. Typically, that means someone that is employed and has a suitable salary; someone that can get a guarantor; someone that can provide references; someone that fits the lifestyle of your property.
Experienced landlords will typically do one of two things to identify the chaff:
Conduct a phone interview with all applicants. I say “interview” for the lack of a better word, but it’s never as formal as an interview- it only needs to be a friendly chat. You can download this tenancy application form and run through the questions over the phone.
This is probably the most telling method, as you can tell so much by how someone conducts themselves on the phone.
- Email each applicant the same tenancy application form, and get them to complete it.
Trust me, construct a screening process before you take viewings, and you’ll be surprised and overjoyed by how many idiots and unsuitables you almost met.
In the past, some applicants have actually been disgruntled by the screening process, and it’s sent them running for the hills. That only means the pre-viewing screening process is working, because any reasonable person will understand and happily assist with answering the questions.
Lettings agents take viewings on a day-to-day basis, they’re allegedly the professionals.
Many landlords use the services of letting agents purely for the avoidance of not having to deal with viewings, and that’s cool. I totally get it; taking viewings can be a complete pain in the ass. However, in my opinion, you’d be much better served taking your own viewings (if you can).
After years of experience, I’ve come to the realisation that landlords are inherently always going to be better equipped at referencing tenants and finding tenants than an agent, and that’s because we will always naturally care more about our property than anyone else.
So that means, during a viewing, we’re more likely to pick up on signs which make it clear whether or not the applicant is suitable, and these are signs an agent, through no fault of their own, aren’t genetically wired to detect. I’m talking about paying attention to things like mannerisms and hygiene (yes, really), both crucial qualities that we all want in a tenant, agreed? We all want a polite tenant that upholds certain standards of hygiene, right? These are aspects some agents completely ignore, because they’re busy focusing on payslips and employment references. But the reality is, there is so much more to a ‘good tenant’ than simply what’s on their application form, and landlords are generally better at processing and detecting those other attributes that make for a good tenant. But more importantly, recognise when they’re missing.
If you’re not convinced, here’s a more in-depth article on why I believe landlords should take their own viewings.
If you are convinced, and you’re ready for the challenge of taking viewings (wise decision, by the way), here are a few of my top tips:
- Don’t accept the first interested tenant just to keep the void period to a minimum: new landlords are often so eager to fill their vacancy ASAP that they end up accepting the first application for the wrong reasons.
Yes, the first application might legitimately be the best applicant, but it’s dangerous and high-risk to accept the first interested applicant just to keep the void period to a minimum!
It’s usually best to take the time to assess all applicants so you get an overall better picture.
- Don’t stop taking viewings: so many landlords make this reckless mistake, so I urge you to refrain from falling victim because it may end up costing you.
Do NOT under any circumstances stop looking for tenants until you have completely secured a tenancy, which means someone has 1) paid their deposit 2) paid their first month’s rent 3) signed contracts 4) moved into the property (strictly speaking, point 4 should not even occur unless 1-3 have been completed).
Until all the above is fulfilled, keep on taking viewings and processing applications. Tenants frequently delay move-in dates or pull out of the deal all together, and the majority of the time, there’s little landlords can do to recoup that lost time/money because nothing has been signed.
Don’t take your tenants’ word or allow them to earn your trust at this early stage, regardless of how much interest and intention they show, it means nothing until they actually move in. Absolutely NOTHING!
- Be flexible: try to be flexible with you timing and availability. You want as many people through the doors as possible, so if that means you have to postpone meeting your mates down the pub, to squeeze in a viewing, then so be it. Tenants rarely wait around, so if you leave them waiting too long, you’re effectively telling them to go away.
- Know your property: you should know the details of your property, which includes: 1) how much the council tax is 2) which utility suppliers are currently connected to each service 3) how the boiler works 4) location of local amenities. The more you know, the better. Be prepared.
Be honest: if you don’t know the answer to a question, be honest. Don’t go down the path of fabricating answers, because it will come back to haunt you. Furthermore, don’t make promises you can’t keep, always be direct and honest.
Cover all the essential details: reconfirm with the tenant what you expect in terms of rent, the length of the tenancy and the conditions you have in place regarding smoking and pets.
Ask questions: don’t be afraid to ask the tenant relevant questions, like why they’re vacating their current premises, how much they’re currently paying etc. Be curious and don’t be shy.
All these questions will help give you a sense of the tenant’s character and intentions, which is extremely important.
- Be on time: The only thing worse than knowing little about what you’re selling is turning up late to sell that product you know so little about. Be respectful by being on time. Punctuality goes a long way and starts the process off on a positive note.
- Don’t be pushy: if you need to force a hard-sale, then there’s something wrong with the property. If you did your homework and prepared your property appropriately, it should sell itself.
Extra resources for processing applications
This is by far the most important step of finding a tenant, Tenant referencing. So many landlords casually skip past this step, and then they complain when they get screwed over by rogue tenants.
Finding good tenants takes diligence, and a lot of it is down to common sense. Tenant referencing is usually broken down into 3 areas:
- Employment history
- Rental history
- Credit history/rating
They’re the aspects letting agents will usually focus on. However, that’s just scratching the surface. Other factors like gut instinct, personality, first impressions etc. they can all help build a case for your tenant. I’ve written several articles on referencing tenants, and I
insist invite you to read them in order to minimize your risk:
Before letting your property and taking viewings, there are just a few bits you need to take care of…
It goes without saying that no one wants to live in a miserable bucket of turd. So, before taking viewings, it’s imperative to ensure the place looks and smells clean. And, don’t neglect the garden (common mistake).
The odds are massively in favour of a well presented property as long as the price is right. Remember, there’s no point taking viewings if you’re trying to flog a dead horse, because you’ll be wasting everyone’s time, including your own.
You may also want to consider ‘dressing’ your property before taking photos for advertising and showing your prospective tenants round. You don’t need to be an interior designer to put a rug on the floor and chuck a few cushions on the sofa to give a place a homelier feel.
And whilst it requires extra effort (and perhaps expense), research shows that a furnished and dressed property receives 75% more interest than an unfurnished property (even if the property is going to be eventually let as unfurnished).
Every day new and experienced landlords are getting prosecuted across the nation for failing to meet their legal responsibilities and obligations. They’re literally having to pay thousands of pounds in penalties. It’s scary stuff. Avoid this mistake.
Before letting your property, you should ensure certain legal requirements are met, such as:
For more details on the above and other landlord legal requirements, go to the Landlord Legal Responsibilities, Obligations & Regulations post.