Practical advice on how to choose a letting agency
The private rented sector is usually the first, and in some cases, the only housing option for many people searching for a place to live.
Home ownership is not within financial reach for many households, as would-be first time home-buyers are unable to get mortgages, and the Get Britain Building scheme fails to adequately meet the growing demand for social housing.
Millions of households today live in privately rented houses, 60 percent of which are now let via agents rather than directly from the landlord. The percentage is likely to be higher, as more and more landlords prefer to engage the services of letting agents to manage their property rather than handle it themselves.
Unfortunately, there is no positive statutory regulation checking the prices or service quality of letting agencies, and anyone can get into this line of business without prior professional expertise or experience, or any redress scheme for when things, or even how to handle the steady stream of money passing through them, from tenants to landlords. With no control over letting agencies in the UK, both landlords and tenants can be at a disadvantage. But with many landlords relying on them to manage their properties, tenants have to consider several elements in order to choose the right letting agent.
1. Dedication to proper and timely service delivery
Many tenants who have to deal with agents for the entire process, from signing up to the tenancy through to ongoing management often claim to be dissatisfied with the level of service offered by their letting agent. To determine their level of customer care, you should consider talking to some of the tenants they are working with to determine if:
• The agents are readily accessible, cooperative, and responsive – this could include answering calls, replying to emails, and offer professional response
• They take prompt action on repairs – in some cases, agents have to get authorisation from the landlord before carrying out any works. However, they have a duty to ensure that the property meets required standards by fulfilling statutory maintenance and repairing obligations.
• There is a system for complaints and redress – It is better to deal with agents who are under a regulating body, like ARLA, NAEA, or NALS, which have complaints procedures and follow the Ombudsman for Estate Agents (OEA) scheme.
• There are money protection arrangements – There should be clear arrangements that ensure any payments made, including deposits and rent, reach the landlord. In this regard, the letting agency must put your deposit in a government0backed tenancy deposit protection scheme (TDP). This ensures that you can get your deposit back at the end of the tenancy, if you meet the terms of your tenancy agreement.
2. Whether there are additional charges
Some letting agents impose a variety of additional charges on tenants on top of the rent, for services that are part of the routine letting and property management. Good letting agents should be transparent about all payments required from the tenant, and state candidly whether the rent amount covers all costs associated with setting up and managing the tenancy. This will help to avoid double charging.
The UTCC regulations require that agents be transparent and clearly present all information on charges to the tenant prior to contract. You should look at:
• Tenancy deposits – and what scheme the agents belong to
• Deposit administration charge – not unlawful, though it means the letting agent will hold on to the deposit instead of using the custodial Deposit Protection Scheme.
• Holding deposit – a non-returnable pre-contract charge that is then offset against rent. If tenancy is not granted, you lose this amount.
• Administration charges – this is a handling fee, also referred to as a reservation or agreement fee and is not refundable.
• Reference checks – some agents charge tenants a fee for obtaining references, even though it is part of their job description in return for the landlord’s management charge
• Renewal charges – Not necessary for short-hold tenancy, though some agents see the opportunity to make some money from simply printing a new standard agreement and asking tenants to sign it every 6 months or so.
• Check-in/check-out fee – charged at the start and end of tenancy as routine inventory check, though it should ideally be part of the administrative fee, or not charged at all. This can also include end of tenancy cleaning.
Put together, all these extra charges imposed on top of rent in advance, plus a security deposit, create an additional barrier for people looking for a place to live in the private rented sector. In addition, the fact that these charges are mentioned late in the process, keep you from making conclusive comparisons of overall costs between different properties and agents. Since these charges are unexpected and unplanned for, tenants may be forced to borrow from family and friends to settle them and avoid dispute.
Renting through a letting agent can be risky for tenants. So, choose an agent to work with carefully: examine their level of customer service and transparency, with regard to money matters, before signing the contract. This will help you avoid losing large sums of money and/or living in dangerous conditions due to negligence.