Whether you are an experienced landlord or just starting out on your property journey, one key decision to be made along the way is which letting agent to use when marketing and managing your property.
With so many to choose from, it can pay to compile a checklist of questions to ask letting agents so you can make an informed decision on the best option for you.
There are a whole host of questions landlords should ask letting agents, but at Ellis & Co we have broken that list down to nine crucial areas of enquiry you should embark on prior to signing on any dotted lines.
1. ARE THEY BACKED BY THE BEST?
You'd be unlikely to bring in a non-CORGI registered plumber or gas engineer to deal with your supply at home and sticking to letting agents backed by professional bodies should be the same rule of thumb when it comes to your property portfolio.
When considering a letting agent to look after your property, make sure you find out which trade bodies they are members of. Are they registered with the Association of Letting Agents (ARLA), the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or the National Assocation of Estate Agents (NAEA)? If you don't see a logo for any of these bodies on their marketing collateral then the alarm bells should be ringing right away.
2. DO THEY HAVE A RECORD OF SUCCESS?
Peace of mind is everything when running a successful property portfolio and when handing over key areas of the operation, experience is key.
When looking for a marketing or managing agent, you should put longevity right at the top of your list of must-haves.
The agency itself should demonstrate a track record of lettings and property management success in the local area, while you should also seek clarification that you will still be dealing with the same person in six months' time.
Staff turnover can be high in the high-pressure lettings world, so it's worth asking the individual who could be looking after your property about their experience and plans for the future. Can they demonstrate a sound knowledge of the local market and how many years have they been with their current agency?
3. CAN THEY SHOW YOU SOME STATS?
Huge numbers of managed properties on the books of a letting agent can look very impressive on paper. But if they have a whopping 500 lets on their roll but only two staff managing them, chances are the service you expect will not be forthcoming.
It's a balancing act - in an ideal world, you want an agency with a superb reputation for holding on to managed properties, but an overloaded agent will almost certainly not be able to look after your own with the care and attention you crave.
4. HOW MUCH WILL THE PROPERTY FETCH IN MONTHLY RENT?
It sounds obvious and it is, but you'll clearly want to know an agent's valuation of your property's rental potential. When they give you a figure, ask them what it is based on. The agent should be able to provide details of other properties in the area, both on their books and others, and what these are earning in monthly rent.
If they can't provide that insight, those alarm bells should once again be ringing.
5. HOW DO THEY ATTRACT GOOD TENANTS?
Just like you would want an agent selling your home to attract solid buyers, you want a letting agent to bring in good, reliable tenants.
How will they market your property and how do they conduct viewings? The last thing you want is someone poking around inside your investment without the guidance of a knowledgeable agent.
How many prospective tenants are on their marketing database and how will they make contact with those potential renters?
Most importantly, though, find out if their office is open at weekends. Renters, like most people, will be at work between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday so you need an agent that can get them through your door at weekends.
And, of course, you'll want to know on which platforms your property will be marketed. Rightmove, Zoopla and PrimeLocation are a given in this day and age, but you should also expect a professional 'To Let' board outside the property and advertising within the agency or group of agencies.
6. HOW DO THEY MAKE SURE THOSE TENANTS ARE 'GOOD'?
Of course, this is easier said than done but you should be safe in the knowledge that your agent has done all they can to ensure your tenant is right for you and your property.
Ask them what kind of system they have in place to 'screen' potential tenants. Do they subscribe to a tenancy database and undertake analysis of a person's credit history, employment status and past rental history?
7. HOW STRONG ARE THEY?
The last thing any landlord needs is a tenant in arrears, but appointing a solid managing agent can take the strain away.
When pondering an agent to run your rental property, find out what action they take when a tenant falls into arrears. How many of their current tenants are in arrears and what are they doing about it? What is the company policy with regard to tenants who pay late, or don't pay at all?
In terms of your own money, how often will a tenant's rent be paid into your account and how is it collected from the tenant?
8. DO THEY STEP UP IN A CRISIS?
When something goes wrong, that's when you expect your managing agent to step up and take control. Find out if they have a list of reliable contractors they use for emergency situations like heating or plumbing failures. How do they ensure the tenant is not overly inconvenienced by any work? Do they organise quotes for repairs and project manage work from start to finish?
9. WHAT DO THEY CHARGE?
Make sure you are fully abreast of everything that will come out of your pocket when it comes to managing agents' fees. What is the cost of the management, including all fees, and is VAT added on?
Most agents will offer a range of management services at a variety of costs so fees can vary.
Make sure you know what you are getting for your money and, of course, don't forget that these costs are negotiable!
As with anything, read the contract fully before you sign. What is the cancellation period and is it reasonable? Does the agent charge a fee when the property is empty and what is that fee? It should be less than when the property is tenanted!
Ensure you are up to speed with fees for inventories, tenancy agreements, and Energy Performance Certificates - are the charges for these reasonable and fair?