5 questions to ask prospective agents

Some people like to deal with the letting and management of their rental properties themselves, while others prefer to let an agency handle the practicalities.

It’s a lot more expensive, but the right agent, coupled with a good working relationship, can make your life a lot easier. There are arguments for both courses of action, but if you’re tempted to go down the agency route, then it’s important you don’t simply go with the first one who returns your call. Agents are a mixed bag, and different firms will suit different landlords. Asking the right questions can help you make an informed choice:

Who will actually be undertaking the letting and management?

Chances are the person who comes to meet you first will specialise in lettings rather than management, but they'll know the way their particular company works. On the lettings side, several agents will probably be showing the flat, but you'll want a single point of contact for any queries. On the property management side, once the flat's rented out, you'll need a dedicated managing agent who takes personal responsibility for your flat (among others, of course), and is familiar with you, the tenants, and the property. Insisting on this will save you many hours and headaches in the long run. You’ll also want to ask whether they will make regular scheduled visits to the property during the course of the tenancy.

Apart from the letting/management fee taken out of the rent, what other fees are payable?

These extra charges are inevitable, and can vary substantially. There are usually admin fees for doing the contract paperwork and processing the deposit. Some agencies will also charge additional commission (sometimes termed ‘arrangement fees’) on any maintenance works costing over a certain amount. And there can be hefty fees for ending your contract too, even if you do so at the end of a tenancy.

As a side note, even very good agencies make mistakes from time to time, and if at any point you find the service has been genuinely poor in some aspect, waiving an admin charge is a good way for them to show you how sorry they are. It’s worth asking the question.

How likely are they to achieve the level of rent they’re estimating?

Some agencies are very straight up about what they reckon they'll get for your flat, while others pitch it high on the understanding that it might well be bartered down by prospective tenants. Obviously these latter people will be giving you more attractive offers, and might not end up getting you more than the agents who have quoted low. This isn’t a problem so long as you know what the deal is. Remember that there are other costs involved in letting out a property too.

How are maintenance contractors chosen, and are you able to influence this?

Agencies often insist on using their own favoured contractors. Obviously there are good reasons for this (usually around the speed and standard of service), but these companies can sometimes be a bit more expensive, and you want to know that this is justified. Ask about how contractors are chosen, how often the regular maintenance contracts are put out to tender, and how the agency ensures that contractors’ pricing is fair and that the work is up to standard. How are complaints dealt with if you’re not happy with the work? If you live in the area, you may well have preferred contractors of your own, and it's worth asking whether you can get them approved to work with the agency.

What sort of tenants do they see suiting your particular property?

Different agencies will sometimes cater to different markets, and it's worth knowing that. You might not mind what sort of tenant you get, but if you’ve got any preferences then it’s good to discuss this with the agency before you take them on. This is also a good time to ask about whether or not they think it's worth letting the property furnished or unfurnished. Sometimes this makes a difference to the rental price and sometimes it doesn't, depending on the flat and the kind of tenants you're going for.

Of course, if you’re the kind of person who likes a lot of control over how your property is let and managed, you don’t have to use an agent at all. Landlords can advertise their properties for free on Ezylet, and we’ve got a wealth of knowledge to help first-time landlords navigate the ins and outs of property management. 

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