Please find below a detailed look at what Landlords should consider carefully when choosing a letting agent:
- A recent survey by Direct Line for Business suggests the best reason for using a letting agent is to avoid legal issues such as contracts, deposits & Right to Rent requirements
- Recent surveys by Citizens Advice, Shelter & Swindon Housing Action show as low as 13% of letting agents have been found to be compliant with current legislation
What are the minimum legal requirements of a letting agent?
- Landlord & Tenant fees must be advertised in the agent‚Äôs windows and/or on the website
- Landlord & Tenant fees must include VAT
- The agent must be a member of a deposit scheme (TDS, MyDeposits, DPS Deposits)
- The agent must be a member of an ombudsman scheme for financial redress (The Property Ombudsman, The Redress Scheme, Ombudsman Services Property)
- Are they knowledgeable with regards to their fees, the local area, their properties, their services?
- How many questions are asked at the point of registering an applicant?
- Do they have any industry qualifications such as MARLA (member of ARLA)
What else should I look for?
- Property valuation. If you have been provided with comparable properties in the area to back up the agent‚Äôs valuation of your own you might feel a bit more confident than with one who hasn‚Äôt. Any agent who uses Rightmove and/or Zoopla can do this quite easily
- The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) is the leading industry regulatory body. Agent membership comes with strict service guidelines to follow, membership to a Client Money Protection Scheme and a complaints procedure being required as just some of the many benefits to clients. It is not a legal requirement to be regulated (yet), it isn’t cheap and says a lot about how they think business should be done
- Administration fees. Sadly there will be admin fees to some degree however if you read the Terms of Business (ToBs – the contract between you and the agent) they must list every potential charge you could face before, during and after the Tenancy. You will need to consider how much extra you will be paying over the year on top of the commission if the agent: markets and sets up a Tenancy (contract, inventory, deposit scheme), carries out safety certificate renewals, carries out a Tenancy renewal, service of notices on the Tenant and end of Tenancy (inventory check-out, returning deposit)
- Does the agent have professional indemnity insurance which covers them from being potentially sued by the Tenant?
- Hidden terms. This is a big one and not necessarily easy to spot.
- Make sure you read the ToBs in full and if you are unsure about the meaning of any terms ask a third party, not the agent, for assistance (ideally someone with a legal background)
- Check the Termination of Contract (with agent) clause for an ‚Äòexit fee‚Äô. This is where, for example, you may be dissatisfied with the agent‚Äôs service and wish to end the contract after the initial term. As the agent found the Tenant often they will charge up to 6 month‚Äôs commission to release you from the contract. Hardly fair if they prove to be incompetent! A decent agent‚Äôs ToBs will simply allow you to leave after the initial term with one month‚Äôs notice. Otherwise I suggest you try and negotiate the clause to include a reduction or removal of the exit fee if the agent has not performed as per their obligations in the ToBs
- Although a fairly common practice it is illegal for an agent to add commission to maintenance contractor invoices if this is not mentioned in the ToBs. You may have seen Foxtons in the news recently on this subject. Let‚Äôs say you are paying for a Managed service, a gas engineer is called out to fix the boiler and the charge is ¬£100. The agent charges the contractor 10% commission so the contractor simply increases the invoice to ¬£110. This is completely unfair on the Landlord as arranging maintenance on the property is covered in the Managed service so in effect it is a double fee. If it is in the ToBs you would have to question the agents ethics, if it is not then I would recommend asking for written confirmation on whether they charge their contractors ‚Äòany fee for carrying out maintenance‚Äô. If they refuse this probably answers your query
- Maintenance. How quickly does the agent intend to resolve maintenance issues and do they provide more than one quote for larger jobs (EG over ¬£500)? Having a period of time general maintenance needs to be turned around in means it is something you can point to if you are unhappy with the speed of service. Ensuring the agent provides more than one quote for larger jobs will allow you to choose the preferred quote, which may save you some money in the process
- Property inspections. These are an essential part of any Managed service to ensure the property is being looked after by the Tenant and also to spot any maintenance issues early.
- Does the agent carry these out for the Managed service? If not then you‚Äôd have to question why
- If they do are they included or do you get charged for each one?
- Do they guarantee you will receive a report within a week? If not again you‚Äôd have to question why as there would be no way of knowing it had been done
- Google reviews. Yes I know, they can be manufactured but how many agents would add negative reviews?
- A lack of reviews completely is a bit unusual and perhaps the agent has chosen not to permit them on Google, perhaps they have a reason to be fearful?
- Positive reviews with an absence of negatives would suggest all is well generally, newly formed agencies may be harder to judge
- A small presence of negatives might not necessarily be a bad thing as some people can be very hard to please, if there are a few have a look to see if the agent responded, what was said and if it was professional
- If there are equal number of 5 star and 1 star reviews it could indicate a balancing act being carried out and I‚Äôd probably focus on the negative comments
- If there are a lot of negatives with few positives and/or replies I think it‚Äôd be fairly clear what your next choice should be!
I hope this proves to be of use in some way. The majority of letting agents generally do things correctly despite what the media will have you believe, some companies are definitely worth avoiding as with most industries. Fees and quality of service can vary significantly so really is something to research properly before you make a decision.
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