Should you use an agency or oversee a tenancy yourself?
From maintenance to dealing with difficult tenants, we examine the pros and cons of working with an agent when renting property.
Only a third of the UK’s estimated 2.5 million landlords use an agent to rent out their properties, and just 9% employ one for letting and management. So is it wise to go it alone or should you engage the services of an agency?
The case for an agent: From taking great photos for brochures to using clever language to sell a property to viewers, letting firms often have strong skills to make your property seem desirable. “They know simple tricks, such as ensuring walls aren’t magnolia and that the furniture matches, which can increase rental values by up to 20%,” says Douglas Haig, vice chair of the Residential Landlords Association.
The big property websites that are looked at by millions of potential tenants, such as PrimeLocation.com and Rightmove, tend to only accept advertisements from agents, adds London property buying agent Henry Pryor.
The case against: From Gumtree to local papers, there are many DIY ways to put your property in front of a targeted audience. Online agents such as Upad and OpenRent allow you to place adverts on their sites for as little as £29, which then also appear on the likes of Zoopla. To market your own property, you need to have the time to show potential tenants around. But, says one landlord with five flats in Brighton, “I’ve found that agents are often slower than landlords and have narrower viewing times, so you’re more likely to have periods with no tenants.”
The case for an agent: A good agent will thoroughly check a potential tenant’s references, financial circumstances and whether they are in the country legally. “I’ve taken on tenants who’ve disappeared owing money,” says Jim Johnsone, who owns properties in Teesside and in Northumberland. “If I’d used an agent, I think they’d have screened them out.”
The case against: Johnsone doesn’t employ agents for his properties in better-off areas, however, and has never had problems. “I take my own references and can judge people’s character when I meet them,” he says. “References never give the peace of mind of talking to someone face-to-face,” adds the Brighton landlord. “Agents can have inflexible terms, too, such as wanting six months’ rent upfront if people don’t have UK references. Our loveliest tenants, new to the country, would have been ruled out like that.”
The case for an agent: An agent can deal with rent disputes, and damage and noise issues, saving a landlord a lot of aggravation. “They tend to be more neutral, where a landlord, with mortgage pressures, might get emotional,” says Haig. “If they have contacts at money-advice or healthcare services, for example, they can help tenants ease cash-flow or personal problems, rather than having to evict them.”
The case against: The average landlord has one or two properties and is often retired, so they can potentially react quicker than agencies with big portfolios when problems arrive.
Many tenants and landlords prefer speaking to each other directly. Building a good rapport can nip potential issues in the bud.
The case for an agent: Agents often have a network of tradesmen they can call on to do repairs – even at night – at lower rates than individual landlords would be charged. Councils are increasingly imposing fines on landlords for the likes of mould and poor flooring, says Kate Faulkner, founder of landlord and homeowner advice website Propertychecklists. Regular, expert agent property inspections can stop problems developing.
The case against: Well-informed landlords can carry out such checks themselves – if they have time. And Jez Pegg, who has seven properties in the South East, feels one of his letting firms lacks initiative. “They’ll phone up and ask, ‘The fridge is broken. What should we do?’ A renter caused £8,000 of damage over several months in one house. The agents can’t have been keeping an eye on the place.”
“You do need to manage agents, ensuring they are doing periodic checks,” says Faulkner.
The case for an agent: “Residential landlords have to abide by more than 400 regulations covering everything from gas safety checks to tenancy agreements,” says Pryor. “With the government under pressure from the third of the electorate who now rent, new rules arrive all the time, such as caps on deposits being introduced in June. It’s easier to let an agent deal with all that.”
The case against: Agents don’t always know as much about the law as they might do – or more than a landlord could find out for themselves, with enough experience.
The case for an agent: Though charges vary widely, most agents will ask for 10% to 17% of rental income to manage your property. For tenant-finding only, they may want up to the equivalent of a month’s rent. From 1 June, agents won’t be able to charge tenants for services such as referencing.
According to Richard Lambert, CEO of the National Landlords Association, these costs are likely to be passed on to landlords and can total £400 or more. But agents can earn a client this money back through setting rent levels correctly and saving them hours they could spend on other business. Their fees can be tax-deductible, too, notes Kate Faulkner.
The case against: With landlords’ profits already being squeezed by recent laws, such as the phasing out of tax relief against buy-to-let mortgage costs, agency fees can be a burden. If the likes of tenant-finding fees are charged upfront, this will also have an impact on cash flow.
How to choose an agent
- Select a firm that’s a member of a professional body such as ARLA Propertymark or RICS.
- Members must have professional indemnity insurance, and join client money protection schemes, which compensate landlords if the agent misappropriates their cash.
- Check your letting firm belongs to one of the government-approved redress schemes, The Property Ombudsman or the Property Redress Scheme – a legal requirement. Ask for testimonials, and quiz their clients about their service.
- Don’t be swayed by how little they charge. Some management agents don’t do much more than collect the rent, while others conduct regular in-depth property inspections.