While a great deal of letting agents are good or even exceptional, there are others that are substandard - utilising cowboy tactics and cutting corners to make a quick profit.
With the announcement of the government’s proposals to introduce regulation and mandatory training for letting agents nationwide, we thought we would give you some additional guidance of our own to ensure you avoid any potential pitfalls or losses as a landlord.
That said, here are seven things you need to know about your letting agent before signing on the dotted line.
Relevant industry qualifications
Presently, the letting agent industry is currently unregulated – aside from the obligation to join a Property Redress Scheme.
Landlords paying for a comprehensive management service rely on their agent’s expertise to help them navigate the challenging regulations that beset the sector. That said, it's critical that agents are officially trained and know the sector inside out.
To ensure you’re getting the best possible service from your letting agent, you should always check that they hold relevant industry qualifications and credentials.
It may surprise you to know, but some agents place their landlords' money into the firm’s general bank account along with their own money (or in some cases, overdraft) and spend the funds on their own expenses.
While fortunately, the issue is set to be rectified by the launch of mandatory Client Money Protection insurance for letting agents, which is likely to come into force next year in 2019, using a letting agent that is regulated by ARLA or RICS (where client money protection is a condition of membership) or one which has signed up to Safe Agent should be a top priority.
Sourcing a respectful, reliable tenant for one's property is perhaps the number one reason that a landlord seeks the service of a letting agent - so a full and stringent tenant referencing process is essential.
There are letting agents out there that cut corners concerning tenant referencing and refuse to show landlords documentation, stating that they can't due to data protection regulation. However, if you'd like to know your rights as a landlord regarding this level of information, this guide from Landlord Law will help.
Inadequate referencing can cause a whole host of issues, so make sure you nip them in the bud by going with a landlord that conducts these checks, properly.
Some letting agents will proudly state to their landlords that they've arranged a stable long-term tenant contract, providing a sustainable level of income coupled with the luxury of minimal stress or intervention, but in return, they will need the commision for the entire term up front.
If you're going to reap the rewards of a stable tenant and steady income for the foreseeable future, this surely isn't an issue? But, what if your tenants are unsuitable, cause a host of problems and fall into arrears?
Some letting agents will be quick to take your money but, as mentioned above, will not conduct the correct checks and tenant referencing procedures. And the worst thing is, in these instances, you may be unable to use the Section 21 procedure during the fixed term to remove the problem tenants.
This situation can be a real headache for landlords so again, make sure you’re 100% certain about a potential letting agent before making any solid commitment.
Of course, not all letting agents do this, but as always, there are some culprits out there, so beware: some agents to have tight-knit relationships with tradesman, resulting in the landlord being charged over the odds.
Now, under agency law, if commission from tradesman or similar income hasn't been disclosed to the landlord in advance, it's considered to be a secret profit and by law, these funds belong to the landlord.
To help guide you through other potential hidden costs and help you make an informed choice when choosing a letting agent, read our Property Patter guide.
Forced tenant churn
When we say forced tenant churn, we mean the act of a letting agent encouraging a tenant to leave at the end of their lease or agreement so that they can charge a landlord for sourcing a replacement occupier. A very underhand tactic, indeed.
This practice completely undermines principles of agency law, in which the agent has a duty of good faith to deal with their landlord fairly, not putting their own interests first.
Great agents will do this as a matter of course. Others, however (and rather sadly), won’t.
Before delving into a relationship with a letting agent, ask other landlords that have or are currently using their services, check online reviews and conduct a little online research to ensure they follow good practice.
Last but certainly not least - always be vigilant with your letting agent’s inventory processes.
A professional inventory company has informed us that most of the corporate and franchise letting agents they work with have stopped using them due to the upcoming tenant fee ban.
Instead, these agents are sending their property managers out to conduct inventories. Regrettably, landlords will discover the cost of a poor inventory when they need to make an end of tenancy claim against the tenant's deposit.
That said, you should always demand to see the accreditation of whoever will conduct the inventory checks on your property, as this is a professional skill and could be the pivotal difference between winning and losing a deposit dispute. Another important check to make before selecting a letting agent.
Selecting the best letting agent for the job means that you'll enjoy a long and prosperous career as a landlord - so choose wisely.
Follow our advice and you'll find the right agent for you in no time. And if you're a North Staffordshire landlord looking for a letting agent that will get you the kind of long-term results you deserve, please get in touch - we tick all the boxes.