Letting Agent -am I looking for Utopia?

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  • Letting Agent -am I looking for Utopia?

    My London flat was happily rented to a lovely guy who paid on time, looked after the place and was the proverbial dream tenant. His business bombed 2009 and he left owing a lot of rent so, silly me.

    Am now thinking of using a letting agent for first time as I am in Herts but not sure.... Are there reputable agents in NW6? Any to avoid? What terms should I accept/refuse and what tricks might they try on this naive landlord? I also want to use them for maintenance and end-of-tenancy cleaning. Am I looking for Utopia?

  • #2
    Hi. Yes Utopia means Nowhere or non-existent or something like that, so I'd be careful.

    Basically don't do it.Use an online service or a cheap letting agent on a tenant find only service.

    Agents have let us down and fleeced us so many times. I could give reams of examples – theft of rent and deposits, charging for tax advice that we didn’t request or get, charging for non-existent repairs, etc. Now that we’ve got away from them we don’t have to worry about their activities and about unauthorised deductions from rent statements. It’s one less worry and money saved.

    On the point of cleaning and maintenance, please be aware that they are generally unable to do any actual work themselves, but they will charge a mark-up, plus VAT, simply for arranging it. This is how they make their living. If you are happy with that, that’s fine, but they may not tell you up front, and it may not be clear from the invoice or rent statements.

    If you must use an LA, please be very careful and scrutinise their activities in great detail. Most importantly, insist on a break clause in your contract with them, so you can get rid of them without asking a good tenant to leave. Please also maintain good communication with tenants, as this will help you monitor the agent and prevent them from doing unauthorised things. If possible, get the tenant to pay you directly, then you can pay the agent their commission, instead of the other way round. They won’t like it though, as it means they can’t hang onto your money for an extra few days or make any unexpected deductions from the sum.

    There are some key and time critical matters that I wouldn’t leave solely to agent, because they are vital, such as gas safety tests and protecting tenants deposits in the correct manner. If you ask an agent to do these things, get proof they’ve done them.

    I believe that the smaller agents may be better than the bigger ones, as they provide a more personal and quicker service. The large agencies are just like call centres and are slow - but neither appear to have a fantastic knowledge of the law.

    Good luck and don’t do it.

    Cheers
    S

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    • #3
      Some really good advice there, especially about a break-clause. Wouldn't have thought of that. Thanks so much.

      Comment


      • #4
        It's not so much a 'break clause' but rather to negotiate that they get paid a fixed commission for tenants they introduced you rather than an ongoing percentage of rent as long as tenant stays.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by isabella;
          Agents have let us down and fleeced us so many times. I could give reams of examples – theft of rent and deposits, charging for tax advice that we didn’t request or get, charging for non-existent repairs, etc. Now that we’ve got away from them we don’t have to worry about their activities and about unauthorised deductions from rent statements. It’s one less worry and money saved. You should not let this go; write to them demanding what you think they owe you and instigate court action if necessary. This will probably be worthwhile.

          On the point of cleaning and maintenance, please be aware that they are generally unable to do any actual work themselves, but they will charge a mark-up, plus VAT, simply for arranging it If they "mark-up" anything without the landlord's permission it is a "secret profit" which is illegal. This is how they make their living. If you are happy with that, that’s fine, but they may not tell you up front, Sorry! They can't make hidden charges about which you do not know beforehand when you enter into any contract with an agent. and it may not be clear from the invoice or rent statements.
          I think you are allowing a lazy agent to get the better of you or you have failed to assert yourself.
          The advice I give should not be construed as a definitive answer, and is without prejudice or liability. You are advised to consult a specialist solicitor or other person of equal legal standing.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Paul_f View Post
            I think you are allowing a lazy agent to get the better of you or you have failed to assert yourself.
            Hi. We probably aren't the push overs that you and the other letting agents may consider us to be. Court cases are pending, including action by Trading Standards, so we should get redress.

            However, if we'd never used agents we wouldn't have had the stress of trying to put their wrongs right. Being free from them is such a relief.

            It might be more helpful to anjo56 if you could point out some ways LAs add value to the process.

            Your comment - 'failed to assert yourself' - perhaps you've fallen into the common trap of blaming the victim instead of the perpetrator.

            Comment


            • #7
              Isabella. Thank you for the clarification but you didn't say in your first post that you had instigated action against the agent. Many landlord just do nothing and the agent gets away with it so I admire your spunk.
              The advice I give should not be construed as a definitive answer, and is without prejudice or liability. You are advised to consult a specialist solicitor or other person of equal legal standing.

              Comment


              • #8
                Keep as much of your money as possible go online
                Definitely agree that this is the way to go. Properties advertised online now get so much exposure instantly that it's not really worth paying for the ads in local newspapers that may take a while to show up. As this guide to lettings points out, they're not all that tricky to do either!

                If you do choose to go with an agent then the points about a break clause and avoiding an on-going fee are both great to bear in mind. I've been caught out by both in the past.

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                • #9
                  Thanks all for the good advice. I guess I somehow thought a LA wouldn't be Utopia by posting the question but I work full time and more and am generally time-starved so was hoping for a sensible alternative to having to do it all myself. With the stories of having to challenge and sue LA's it seems as though it ain't worth the bother, I'd just be trading one sort of grief for another!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Let us not forget that a lot of the community here are 'active' landlords in so much as they frequent the forums.

                    Such landlords will generally be more experienced and more capable to let a property and manage etc and so the general opinion on the forum will be to self manage, unless the posters are full time landlords investing across geographic regions as this demographic seem to favour agents.

                    I have come across too many landlords that have taken the stance that an agent isn't worth the bother only to get themselves in a pickle later on. I agree it is not rocket science, but there are some basics that do seem to get consistently missed by the enthusiastic have a go landlords, who seem to shy away from the intricacies and details.

                    My view is as follows: If you sign up to the details, go for it, otherwise look for a locally run and recommended agency. They do exist and they can do a good job.
                    I can take no responsibility for the use of any free comments given, any actions taken are the sole decision of the individual in question after consideration of my free comments.

                    That also means I cannot share in any profits from any decisions made!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Hi. This is a quick list of everything we think you should do. In roughly the right order. It is time consuming initially, but once you get good people in and find some reliable tradesmen, it isn't an impossible time commitment.

                      It's best to bite the bullet and do it yourself, as you have the best motivation to look after your own interests.

                      Before letting:

                      decide on rent/deposit amount/furniture to be included/date of availability
                      update building insurance to unoccupied if needed
                      Redecorate (using magnolia and white)
                      EPC cert
                      gas safety test
                      electrical tests
                      take many photographs
                      advertising, using an online service perhaps

                      When the queries start to roll in

                      conduct viewings. Important that you pick tenants that you feel you can trust and will pay up and not wreck the place.
                      Decide on whether to accept housing benefit/DSS/pets/children or not.

                      Next stage
                      credit checks/referencing
                      compile inventory
                      photographs
                      write tenancy agreement
                      give bank account detail to tenants
                      cut keys and consider changing locks

                      Moving in - after payment of deposit and first month's rent.

                      agree inventory/agree tenancy agreement
                      change over of gas/electric/water/council tax
                      protect deposit and give prescribed information - very important
                      update insurance policy if needed

                      Simples! Good luck.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Have just caught up with the latest posts which reinforces my point that I am time-starved! Haven't totally written off LA option and met today with family-run estate agent. For letting service only, he tells me he normally charges 10%+VAT but can do for 8%+VAT. Full management would be 12.5%+VAT instead of 15%+VAT. I've seen various posts that suggest you should negotiate. So, my question is, are the "discounts" offered real or just the normal market rate. Should I negotiate and what is the normal % for each service that would be reasonable? I don't want to rollover but want to pay a sensible rate for a sensible service. Thanks very much.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by anjo56 View Post
                          My London flat was happily rented to a lovely guy who paid on time, looked after the place and was the proverbial dream tenant. His business bombed 2009 and he left owing a lot of rent so, silly me.

                          Am now thinking of using a letting agent for first time as I am in Herts but not sure.... Are there reputable agents in NW6? Any to avoid? What terms should I accept/refuse and what tricks might they try on this naive landlord? I also want to use them for maintenance and end-of-tenancy cleaning. Am I looking for Utopia?
                          Suspect you are looking for Erewhon not Utopia.

                          Personally, I'd say look for personal recommendations via a local (NW6) LL (or T) organisation branch.

                          LA option and met today with family-run estate agent. For letting service only, he tells me he normally charges 10%+VAT but can do for 8%+VAT. Full management would be 12.5%+VAT instead of 15%+VAT
                          For tenant find only, 10% of what? IMO that should be a fixed price covering everything.

                          Also make sure that you are clear about the inclusion of inventory, photos etc etc.

                          15%+VAT is pokey for FM. Around here I'd pay 10 and hope for 8, depending on level of *delivered* service. In Lunnon, I'm not sure, bearing in mind that your rent will be higher.

                          ML
                          Refer Mad Regulators to Arkell vs Pressdram.

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