Avoiding Letting Agents & Crazy Maintenance Fees

Letting Agents Maintenance Fees

Foxtons, the London based Estate agent, who are allegedly famous for being relentless and “aggressive” assholes, have been flagged for charging an innocent and unsuspecting landlord £616 to change a light fitting in his BTL. Yes, a flippin’ poxy light.

It’s also worth noting that these are the same douchebags in trouble for “double charging” landlords and tenants £420 EACH for “drawing up a tenancy agreement.”

Seriously, what in the God damn fuck?

Of course, that’s just one small example of a widespread problem of landlords being royally ripped off on maintenance fees. It needs to stop. Today!

Quick Quiz: what kind of domestic light fitting in a BTL costs £616?

I have no idea, but it sounds like someone laughed all the way to the bank and then took the rest of the day off and walked into a strip bar with a raging hard-on.

If I was at the receiving end of that invoice I probably would not have been a happy camper.

But the thing is, that price-tag alone for such a run-of-the-mill task shouldn’t generate any real significant shock-waves, because most of us are pre-programmed to believe “letting agent” is synonymous with “extortionate dip-shits” and “thieving bastards.”

We generally expect agents to be eye-watering expensive and total chancers, even though we know they’re not all like that. We just expect it either way, much like we do with mechanics, electricians, builders and every other shyster blue-collar tradesman that freely alters their prices based on what they think they can get away with.

It should be highlighted nonetheless, the price-tag in this particular case appears to be complete madness. However, the real issue of concern only becomes truly apparent when the total cost is dismantled and thrown under the microscope.

After a bit of investigating, the landlord, Dr Chris Townley, discovered that the work, which was carried out by a subcontractor, charged Foxtons £412.50 (+ VAT). OUCH!! Granted, that alone is a reason to curl into a ball and hope to never regain consciousness. But why £616? Well, that’s the bloody ingenious part.

Foxtons, who are reported to be worth a crazy 800 million pounds, deemed it appropriate to hammer on a 33 per cent commission fee on top of the subcontractor’s cost, which is what accounts for the additional £137.50!

Yes, that’s 33 fucking-per-cent commission, for what most likely consisted of making a phone call to the contractor and relaying an address to visit. In-bloody-genius.

Letting Agents & Maintenance Fees

I’m not even sure if having the audacity to apply such heavy-handed levies for a task so fundamentally basic is so insane that it’s admirable or gut-wrenching. Either way, experiencing that level of high, which will allow my conscience to be that balls-out gutsy/psychotic sounds incredible. I WANT IN; I want to feel that rush! I wonder how Foxtons managed it. My fear is it involved frequent toilet breaks and illusive substances being snorted and injected into veins I can’t even reach.

In light of all this silliness, there’s now a legal battle in the works, which could allegedly cost Foxtons £42 million- that’s by the time they compensate everyone that’s also been screwed over by their exploitative cash cow. Sadly, £42m is probably a drop in the ocean for those cowboys, so it could just mean they’ll be forced to lower the grade of their toilet paper for 80% of their branches for a couple of months.

You can read the full report over at the Telegraph. But my advice is to stick around ‘ere. This is home. I’ll take care of you.

Most of my regulars’ will already know my blog is riddled with my gripes with letting agents, mostly regarding their bullshit fees and general slime-ball antics. But I don’t want to tar every grease-ball agent with the same brush, primarily because many read this blog and they always manage to restore my faith with their sound advice, good humour (i.e. they look beyond my crassness) and respectable code of conduct. That aside, I don’t actually dislike agents by nature, I know there’s those that genuinely work their asses off to provide a genuinely good service and do their utmost to shake off the stereotypes they’ve been lumbered with. I adore those agents. I just dislike bad ones, much like I dislike bad landlords, bad tenants, and women that don’t ‘give it up’ on the first date after I’ve shelled out on a delicious hot meal. I’ll respect everyone until they cross a certain line.

However, in the grand scheme of things, good letting agents are far and few between.

When an agent calls you with a repair/maintenance issue…

As much as I refuse to use letting agents to manage my properties for reasons already mentioned, and try my best to encourage other reluctant landlords to manage their own properties when it makes practical sense, there’s still always going to be a need for a managed service, because often they make more sense.

So here are my top tips for landlords when managing maintenance and repairs issues when using a managed service (which mostly consists of common sense)…

  • Understand what you’re paying for!
    From my experience, using an agent’s sub-contractors doesn’t return the best value, only convenience. But let’s face it, that’s exactly what the managed service is all about. But that convenience specific to “managed maintenance” usually comes at an unjustifiable premium rate, which will probably give you an irregular heartbeat and an alarming shortness of breath.

    You usually end up paying over the odds and the quality of work is quite often questionable. An agent’s interest doesn’t lie in finding you the best valued tradesman, their interest usually stretches as far as getting someone through the door to fix the problem and making commission.

    Before giving the firm nod for any maintenance work, be a dithering cesspit of confusion; find out who they plan on sending to complete the work and how much it will cost, and then do your own research with due diligence. Don’t just blindly agree to repairs, otherwise you’re destined to be screwed over. Don’t accept “rough estimates” either. Rough estimates don’t mean shit, they have a tendency of spiralling out of control in the wrong direction.

    Most respectable tradesmen will provide free quotations. Get a confirmed price on paper, along with what you should expect in return. If applicable, enquire about the quality of materials they’ll be using, because more often than not they’ll just fill holes with absolute junk. That’s the problem with using just ‘anyone’ to do a job.

  • You’re not legally obligated to address all maintenance issues
    A landlord has legal responsibilities to ensure certain aspects of the property is repaired and maintained, so that means there are some things that can be ignored, like a public elevator fart.

    Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 stipulates that the landlord must;

    • keep the structure and exterior of the property in good repair, including drains, gutters and external pipes
    • keep installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity and sanitation in good repair and proper working order
    • keep installations for space heating and water heating in good repair and proper working order

    Anything that falls out of the above brackets generally doesn’t need to be addressed, or at least there’s no legal obligation. So for example, if your agent requests for you to repaint the skirting boards because they’re looking murky and killing your tenants vibe, understand you don’t actually have to do it.

    However, it’s important to recognise that I’m not telling you to ignore the request, because piffling little jobs like that are often worth doing just to maintain a good relationship with your tenants (who may actually be charming people). I’m merely saying you don’t need to comply with the request because there isn’t a legal choke-hold.

  • Don’t be a “YES MAN”
    This can be really tricky to avoid, I’m even guilty of it sometimes.

    When my mechanic tells me my spark-plugs needs changing and it’s going to set me back £300, I don’t have a clue 1) what purpose spark plugs actually have 2) if they actually do need changing 3) if I’m being given a good price.

    On that basis, I’m compelled to say “yes, do it” simply because I’m out of my depth, all I know is that there’s something wrong with my car and it needs fixing.

    Many confused landlords fall into the same trap, they just take their agent’s word because they’re the “industry professionals”

    I always find taking a step back without making any rash decisions is the best policy. Talk to other people, whether it be other industry specialists, friends, family.. etc. Whoever. Just someone.

    Try Googling something. Anything! Throw some related keywords into Google for your specific problem.

    Any Seinfeld fans up in ‘ere? If so, you’re cool as hell in my book. But also, this situation reminds me of a scene where Jerry Seinfeld has a disagreement with his regular and trusted mechanic (his name is Putty), so he goes to an ‘unknown’ mechanic for a quote. George’s response hits the nail on the head…

    God damn, I love Seinfeld.

  • Don’t accept any quotes if they sound ridiculous
    If the figures being thrown at you seem insanely expensive, then they most likely are.

    Don’t be scared to reject or question your agent’s if their price doesn’t seem right. If you need to, take a hit of Vodka and grow a pair. Failing that, get someone deep-voiced and terrifying sounding to be your voice.

    Remember, you don’t have to use your agent’s maintenance contractors just because you’re paying for a managed service. I always recommend getting independent quotes for comparison. You’ll often be able to find much better deals. Of course, that’s not always the case, because I know many agents work closely with local tradesmen, and offer them regular work on the basis that they offer competitive and appealing rates for their landlords.

    But fair warning, you may start questioning what use the ‘managed service’ is while you’re having to get your own quotes (which you should ALWAYS do). And if you don’t start asking the question, you’re probably an idiot.

  • Agents usually add a commission- find out how much!
    Sadly, most (not all) agents add commission on top of all the sub-contracted maintenance work, but it’s usually not as steep as 33 per cent. That’s a complete joke. Utter madness.

    I say “sadly” because adding a commission makes virtually zero sense to me, because arranging repairs should be part of the ‘managed service’- surely that’s what I’m paying through the nose for already.

    If agents believe it’s acceptable to charge 10-15% of the rental income, plus the other ludicrous fees, for setting up a direct debit and taking one or two property inspections per year (which largely doesn’t even happen), then they’re beyond the help of conventional medicine. They most likely have a brain abscess the size of a tennis ball and need immediate specialist treatment.

    On that note, it’s always a good idea to enquire about maintenance policies before opting for a managed service. Letting agents are notorious for finding shameless ways of making money for doing absolutely nothing- don’t fall victim to that scam. *Ahem* Tenancy Renewal Fees. £200 to photocopy a contract, that’s got to be the biggest scam on the planet of all time. Oddly, apparently photocopying costs more in London than other regions. Go figure.

    If you’re given a maintenance quote, ask for a break down, and specifically ask if they’re charging a commission. I suspect many landlords don’t ask the question, but they should, because the commission fee is very real and dangerous.

That about covers it. For now.

So, landlords, have you ever been charged or quoted a figure by an agent that made you want to top yourself or laugh yourself into a comma? If so, share your story. I’d also be curious if you’re an agent, and if you add a commission to maintenance work, and if so, how much cheese we talking ‘ere? I won’t judge.

Once again, I invite you into the circle of trust…

I love you all! xo

25 Join the Conversation...

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Stacey 17th June, 2015 @ 23:01

Another beautiful blog post by yours truly! We steal 12% of the yearly income and then add the contractor costs ONLY. We've liberated you off much dosh per year so I think it's only fair to not charge a commission for each maintenance problem. Also regarding your point about the amount of hours put in to each property, everything combined (Pre-marketing, marketing/listing, viewings, tenancy setup and maintenance) minus any maintenance problems it's on average about 25 hours (up to 30/35 hours if there's a maintenance issue!) per property.

Much love
A thieving bastard agent xx

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mike 18th June, 2015 @ 08:15

Another great blog post! With fees it is even worse than it sounds. Many (most) agents only use sub-contractors that are already paying them a commission or fee to be on the agent's supplier list. Then they charge their commission on top, plus you already pay for the managed service, so you are in effect paying three times!

I rented for many years and the fees agents charged me for everyday activities were ludicrous. But I knew they were charging the poor landlord even more.

Now I'm a landlord (one property) and I have fantastic tenants, who I treat well and charge below market rent. They know they have a good deal and if anything minor needs doing they generally just sort it out themselves rather than bother me. If they do contact me I am courteous and helpful and sort out their problems quickly. I always drop a few bottles of wine and a card around at Xmas time. Happy tenants = stress free me.

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Geoff 18th June, 2015 @ 08:52

Interesting post...
I used an agent to manage my first letting property and as I was very green at that time I thought it was a good thing to do... After a year of them doing absolutely nothing apart from transfering the rent into my Bank Account.
I decided to dispense with the agents management services but it wasn't easy .. They claimed that the tenant was their tenant and they could charge me the management fee for as long as that tenant was in my property... Thankfully the tenant decided to move on which solved the problem and allowed me to get rid of the management agent ..I now manage all my properties myself and hardly ever get called out by my tenants and I am considerably in pocket by not having to pay a management company who do bugger all ..not even a single inspection during the tenancy!

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Borrie 18th June, 2015 @ 12:05

I don't believe for a moment that a letting agent has a landlord's interests at heart, however, it does amaze me that people think otherwise. I've "managed" 3 properties over the last 10+ yrs and have rarely found myself in a position where a bit of hustling hasn't got me a decent tradesman at a decent price to do a decent job. I then check the job and pay them (or not, as the case may be). Also, checking my bank accounts on line to ensure the rent has been paid takes no more than 2 mins..! The only reason I can think of to use a managed service is if you live miles away.....(but you do dunkopf! You live in Germany!!! Ed.)

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Alf 18th June, 2015 @ 12:10

Enjoyed this very much. I even laughed out loud. I decided to manage my own property. I figured anyone remotely related in function to an estate agent would be an utter twat. Seems to be working out. X

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Don 18th June, 2015 @ 16:01

I am only 2 years into property management. All of the "Bad" things that you point out in your blogs can occur to a property owner when working with a property manager. Bust you do an injustice to those of us who do not charge an extra fee for taking care of maintenance problems, who take the time to secure a minimum of 3 quotes for a major maintenance job, who do not take a "kick-back" from maintenance providers, and,who make the interests of the property owner and tenant their first consideration. Yes,we do take a commission for marketing, screening for good tenants, crating leasing document and all of the other legal details involved in renting or leasing property. But a property owner has to make the judgement as to is that fee worth it.

I understand that you have had a long history in taking care of your own property but please give us "good guys" a little respect.

Do enjoy your blogs but would like to see a little more professional language.

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Alf 18th June, 2015 @ 16:10

Keep the language exactly how it is, your blogs completely amuse me. Change it and it would be drier than a nun's nether regions!

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Don 18th June, 2015 @ 16:19

I am not looking to be amused,I am looking for good information.

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Borrie 18th June, 2015 @ 16:30

Perhaps the problem for people like Don is how landlords perceive their service...for example, how would I know if a lettings agent WILL provide a good service without it costing me a packet to find out they are just like everyone else? Perhaps we could have a ratings systems like on eBay/Amazon etc. however, my feeling is it might not make for good reading!

The answer lies solely with agents to sort themselves out, have stricter codes of conduct, be transparent and realise that in the end, the customer is the one who pays you a living....he doesn't owe you one...

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Smithy 19th June, 2015 @ 06:11

Just for the record - last December, I had a faulty light fitting replaced by my electrician.

Total cost - £37.00.

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Geoff 19th June, 2015 @ 08:16

Property management companies are Leaches and opportunist ... yes there may be some that do a good job and we should compose a database of the good ones and equally a list of the ones that are plain and simple rip off merchants but my experience and fellow landlords all agree that the majority are the pits ... who use the contractor who pays them the most commission which is reflected in the bills that are passed onto the Landlord and design fancy titles to add on any other fee's they can.
As I mentioned in my previous post, If a " Property management option is agreed with the Agent and once the Agent have found the Landlord a tenant They have licence to add on fee's quite blatantly as its rather difficult for the Landlord to dispense with their services for as long as that Tenant is in residence ... He is their tenant and this is how they can continue to charge mega money and get away with it for a long time as THAT tenant is their client in your property. The only way to get rid of the management agency is to ask the tenant to leave by serving notice. The agency contract isn't terminated until THEY have completed the final inspection and the property declared empty. At this stage the tenant ceases to be contracted to the agency and you could if you wish move him back into your property and be free of the property management agency. This option is as traumatic as it sounds and the Agency knows it so they fee very comfortable in the fact that very few landlords may go ahead and serve notice on the tenant ... Option 2 is simply to find another tenant after serving notice to the previous tenant but again the agency is obviously aware that the landlord would incur all the costs of a vacant property and not an option most Landlords would opt for...

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The Landlord 19th June, 2015 @ 11:22

@Stacey

You seem fair, how can this be? :)

You're one of those thieving bastards that restore my faith. I so adore you!

I'm also impressed you've worked out the average amount of hours each landlord consumes! I wonder how many agents know that...

xo

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The Landlord 19th June, 2015 @ 11:28

@Mike

Thanks Mike, appreciate it.

Completely agree with everything you said. As long as you find good tenants and treat them well, everything else should be relatively straight forward, and there's no need to pay the horrendous premium rates to "manage" them.

I've also experienced that many sub-contractors charge/quote massively over the odds when they're working on behalf of other companies like agents or the Council/Government/NHS, because they know they'll most likely get away with it!! Utter opportunists. But on the same token, more agents should be trying to source good value service(s) for their clients.

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The Landlord 19th June, 2015 @ 11:32

@Geoff
You pretty much summed up everything I said, and you're living proof! Many landlords pay for a management service when all they're getting in return is a direct debit setup, and hypothetical inspections :/

Money down the drain!

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The Landlord 19th June, 2015 @ 11:41

@Borrie

I always haggle and try to get the best value. Most tradesmen expect the haggle. It's part of the whole process. How many agents actually try to haggle for the best price or recognise whether the they're being over quoted? I doubt many do or even care, because it's not their money.

You raised a good point, which I never mentioned...

Whenever I'm laying out money for any maintenance work, particularly if I'm paying a significant amount, I want to personally check that the work has been done properly. Agents won't provide that reassurance by checking the work. So effectively, many landlords could be lumbered with appalling work and not realise until it needs repairing again.

While I didn't mention it, that's exactly what happened with the landlord I was discussing, who paid £616 for the light fitting. The only reason he complained is because even after paying that ridiculous amount, he soon after discovered the work wasn't finished well. Whereas, if he had managed the maintained and checked the work himself before paying, he could have ensured the work was done properly!

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The Landlord 19th June, 2015 @ 11:50

@Alf
Brilliant, glad it's working out :)

@Don
From my experience most agents overcharge and specifically double charge. I'm not saying all agents are like that, but many of them are. I realise that's unfair for the hard working agents out there, which I did specify. But I am a landlord, and I try to make others wary of the potential traps of being a landlord.

I have no doubt in mind that you provide a good and fair service, and if that's the case, I hope you continue to grow.

One thing that does confuse me is the following, "Yes, we do take a commission for marketing, screening for good tenants, crating leasing document"

Why would you charge a "commission" for the above? Isn't that all part of the fixed-rate admin fee (or whatever you call it- I know it goes by several names)? That's all pretty standard, and I have no qualms with agents charging for those services (assuming it's a fair price).

Apologies for my common tongue. I appreciate I'm an acquired tasted. I really don't mean any personal and direct offense to anyone, it's just how I like to express myself on my blog. Hope you continue to stick around either way.

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The Landlord 19th June, 2015 @ 12:03

@Smithy
haha, that's why I was so confused about the whole situation. I don't know whether the landlord has more money than sense and was taken advantage of or whether it was some kind of custom/special fitting. I suspect it was the former. Must be noted, landlord should have taken more responsibility, but at the same time, the agent should be taking better care of their client.

The only thing is certain is that the commission added was insane!

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Don 19th June, 2015 @ 15:40

@Alf, By saying "commission" I was referring to the normal commission that is stated in the leasing agreement between owner and property manager. Not an "add-on" commission. And I do enjoy the perspective that you provide about the decision to use a property manager or do it yourself. I think that in residential property management your points are valid but we, also, handle commercial properties which can be very technical in many respects.
With regards to my comment about language I'm just an old conservative fart.

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Pete 19th June, 2015 @ 15:42

I hate agents. Live with it, Get over it, End of!

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Carole Theobald 20th June, 2015 @ 08:54

Who rents property out without having good tradesmen contacts themselves ? Is it a laziness thing ? an estate size thing or a lack of time thing ? I once went out to a flooded office because someone had broken in and ripped the coffee machine out.The water was pouring from the first floor through the ground floor ceiling spots and pooling on the floor.I found the agent waiting for me in the puddle underneath the spots which he had switched on because he "couldn't see".My first comment was "Are you mad ?
Big commercial agent that one! Regarding works to be carried out just exactly what should I expect from the regular inspection reports ? I tend to get pictures of scuffed paintwork on a skirting board which amuses me when I know for a fact that they have omitted the problems potentially costing far more.i.e.pipe drip rotting a floor.
Not meaning to criticise the good agents of course who know about buildings,M&E,health and safety but thoroughness is deemed as profit eating for some.

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Dave Da Rave 5th July, 2015 @ 20:17

Thanks for this, and your other posts - another entertaining read. I've read a fair chunk of your blog over the weekend, and you've convinced me that managing my property myself is the right thing to do. I probably owe you a pint or two, or an introduction to some easy girls that I know.

My property is in Canary Wharf, and the standard letting agent fee is 15% - absolute madness for simply being passed on a problem by some buffoon driving around in a shit car wearing his Dad's suit.

@Don - As Ricky Gervais one said about Twitter: "Following someone on Twitter & then complaining about what they tweet about is like stalking someone & complaining that they walk too fast." I think that applies here; nobody is forcing you to read the post (or maybe they are, which would be...weird). If you don't like it, don't read it!

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Don 6th July, 2015 @ 16:36

@Dave---If I make a comment you would consider it complaining so "no comment"
The property management world you describe in the UK is a far different world than I find in California.

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The Landlord 6th July, 2015 @ 17:39

@Dave
You're welcome, and thanks!! You're making the right decision!

Don't worry about the pints, the easy girls, however (assuming they aren't as unsanitary as rat piss and don't resemble a pitbull chewing a wasp)...

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Gill 24th March, 2017 @ 14:45

I used an agent to find a tenant which they did, charged me one months rent, but in 12 months time they will invoice me again for more money. They have done nothing in the last12 month, but I will have to pay them for do nothing. How can I get out of it? Please help.

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Mags 17th July, 2018 @ 14:30

Ur comments av made me laugh so much .I av never used letting agencies .I manage my properties myself .I've heard there a complete rip off.my tenants contact me if they av a problem which is very rare as I look after my properties.i av learnt myself threw experience to take a good bond because if the tenant is going to look after ur property then they won't mind paying a bond only bad tenants try get out of that.over the years I av good tradesmen who know I want it doing right and cheap and I will always call them again.im a woman on my own and I've managed all of my properties for nearly 20 years and are polite and friendly with all my tenants .I think tenants prefer to deal with landlord direct.if it fair with them you usually get same respect back and avoid a lot of unnecessary charges.

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