Are you buying a second home that you'd like to put up for rent? While it is a straightforward way to generate income, delving into property rentals can be intricate. Handling it independently, skipping the middleman, might cross your mind.
Avoiding agent fees could indeed boost your profits. Still, it's important to realise that navigating the process solo demands substantial experience in property rentals, a willingness to put in the legwork, and a firm grasp of the relevant laws and regulations.
Whether you're a seasoned pro or a newcomer, a letting agent can help you succeed in the buy-to-let market. Their expertise can be valuable in ensuring a smooth and successful rental journey. In this article, we’ll explore what is a letting agent and what does a letting agent do?
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What is a Letting Agent?
A letting agent serves as the essential link between landlords and tenants. These helpful professionals not only aid landlords in locating and vetting potential tenants but also take charge of rent collection, inventory checklists, maintenance, repairs, and all the necessary paperwork (among other perks).
When drawing up and signing tenancy agreements, let agents smoothly guide both parties through the process. Depending on your preferences, some agents charge a percentage of the monthly rent, while others have fees tailored to specific services.
Certain landlords prefer taking on most of the legwork but may need assistance finding suitable tenants (which is where an online letting agent like OpenRent can be a great fit). Conversely, some landlords simply want to kick back, enjoy passive income, and let their trusty letting agent handle everything else carefully.
Why Use a Letting Agent?
Landlords often turn to lettings agencies because they offer a convenient, stress-free solution. This is especially beneficial when the rental property is far from the landlord's residence. Letting agents bring expertise, professionalism, and efficiency to the table makes them a valuable asset. With many landlords leading busy lives, managing multiple tenants' queries and issues can become overwhelming, but a letting agent takes care of this responsibility. Moreover, they provide expert advice on current legislation whenever it's needed, offering an added layer of reassurance.
Whether you're a seasoned landlord with an extensive portfolio or a newcomer stepping into the property realm, letting agents offer significant peace of mind and support. Their assistance can be particularly invaluable for those who feel uncertain about the legal aspects and compliance requirements of being a landlord. While it's possible to handle property rentals on your own, using a letting agent might be more straightforward and cost-effective.
Self-managing a property demands staying well-informed about the latest landlord regulations. Additionally, you must be available for tenants whenever they need assistance with their concerns or issues, requiring swift response times. Building a network of reliable contacts like electricians and plumbers is crucial for tackling unexpected problems that might arise. Letting agents come prepared with the necessary qualifications and an established network, making them fully equipped to handle all these tasks on your behalf.
Letting Agent Services
Choosing a letting agent gives you the flexibility to decide your level of involvement in property management. Different letting agents offer various services tailored to your needs. While each letting agent has its own approach, some standard services are typically available across the board. When renting a property, you might need someone to help you. This person is called a letting agent. Property management companies can help find tenants and manage your property for a fee. The fee depends on the work and location. Choosing the right letting agent can make things easier for you.
To ensure transparency, letting agents are legally obliged to display their service level fees in their branch and website. This enables landlords to make informed comparisons across multiple agencies and select the one that aligns with their requirements and budget. While each agent may have unique offerings, there are some standard services commonly provided, which are outlined below:
The tenant-find service offered by letting agents typically involves a one-time cost, usually equivalent to around a month's rent.
This service's core is finding suitable tenants for your property and letting agents handle all the necessary tasks. They begin by capturing the property's best features through professional photography and creating floor plans. The advertising process includes promoting the property in local newspapers and online property portals to attract potential tenants.
Letting agents also arrange and attend property viewings, making the process more convenient for landlords. Also, they conduct thorough referencing and checks on potential tenants to ensure they are reliable and suitable for the property.
Furthermore, letting agents draft the tenancy agreement becomes a legally binding document for the tenant and landlord. They can create a detailed property inventory to facilitate a smooth move-out process, enabling accurate deductions from the security deposit when the tenancy concludes.
If the tenant-find service is the only option chosen, once the suitable tenant has been secured, landlords will take on the ongoing aspects of the tenancy. This includes responsibilities like rent collection, property inspections, maintenance, and handling any potential deposit disputes. The letting agent finds tenants, and the landlord manages the tenancy.
Letting agents typically charge a percentage of the monthly rent, ranging from around 5%. The rent collection service is included as part of the tenant find service in certain cases. Letting agents collect rent from tenants on behalf of landlords. They also handle all the legal requirements related to safeguarding the security deposit, ensuring compliance with the necessary regulations.
As part of their rent collection service, letting agents actively monitor rent payments, promptly addressing any rent arrears that may arise. They take charge of chasing up overdue rent, serving necessary notices, and providing advice and support to landlords if tenants fail to pay rent as expected.
Some letting agents offer an additional layer of security through insurance options designed to safeguard landlords' income in case of rent arrears. Rental home insurance protects landlords' income from tenant defaults, while rent collection services free them up to focus on other aspects of property management.
For a more comprehensive and hands-on service, letting agents may charge a bigger percentage of the monthly rent, typically ranging from around 15 to 20%.
With this full management service, the letting agent manages the property entirely, lifting a significant burden from the landlord's shoulders. This comprehensive service encompasses various tasks that landlords traditionally handle. The letting agent will source suitable tenants and efficiently collect rent on the landlord's behalf. The tenant can contact them with any concerns or questions during the tenancy. They will be the tenant's primary point of contact.
The benefits of this service extend beyond tenant management. Letting agents will proactively handle property maintenance and promptly organise necessary repairs, ensuring the property remains in top condition. Regular property inspections are conducted to monitor its state and identify potential issues early on. Letting agents create detailed inventories of the property, which prove invaluable when determining accurate deductions from the security deposit at the end of the tenancy. In any deposit disputes, they will handle the process efficiently.
This comprehensive service is advantageous for landlords who prefer a hands-off approach, but it's more expensive than other service levels. Despite the letting agent's involvement, landlords still retain legal responsibility for the property, so it's crucial to choose a reputable and trustworthy letting agent to ensure a smooth and successful management experience.
Summary of Services
Letting agents offer a range of services to cater to the unique needs of landlords. Here's a list of common services they provide:
- Specialist Advice: Letting agents offer expert guidance and advice on various aspects of property management, including legal obligations, market trends, and landlord responsibilities.
- Tenant-Find: Letting agents help landlords in finding suitable tenants for their properties. This includes advertising the property, conducting viewings, and selecting the most appropriate tenants.
- Tenant Referencing: Agents conduct thorough referencing checks on potential tenants to assess their suitability and reliability.
- Collection and Protection of Deposits: Letting agents handle the collection and proper protection of security deposits per legal requirements.
- Preparing the Property: Agents assist in preparing the property for rental, which may involve recommending improvements and ensuring compliance with safety standards.
- Arranging and Attending Viewings: Letting agents arrange and conduct property viewings for prospective tenants.
- Negotiating Contracts and Agreements: Agents negotiate and prepare tenancy contracts and agreements that are legally binding for both parties.
- Property Inspections: Agents regularly inspect the property to assess its condition and ensure tenants adhere to the tenancy terms.
- Arranging Maintenance and Repairs: Letting agents organise and oversee maintenance and repair work on the property, ensuring it remains in good condition.
- Creating an Inventory and Managing Deposit Disputes: To avoid deposit disputes at the end of a tenancy, agents create a detailed list of the property's contents and conditions.
- Collection of Rent: Letting agents manage tenant rent collection and ensure timely payment.
Choosing a Letting Agent
Choosing the right letting agent is crucial if you decide to proceed with their services. Here are some important factors to consider when selecting a quality letting agent:
Look for a letting agent member of a professional standards body, such as the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA). Membership in such organisations indicates that the agent adheres to industry best practices and ethical standards.
Client Money Protection (CMP)
Ensure that the letting agent offers Client Money Protection, which provides financial protection in case the agent goes bankrupt or mishandles client funds.
Expertise in Legislation
A good letting agent should comprehensively understand the latest legislation, regulations, and laws governing the private rental sector. This knowledge ensures compliance and smooth management of your property.
Redress Scheme Membership
Legally, letting agents must be part of a redress scheme, which offers a mediation process in case you have any complaints about the agent's services. This adds an extra layer of protection and the possibility of compensation.
The services you choose from a letting agent will depend on various factors:
Property Portfolio Size
The size of your property portfolio will influence the level of service you require. You may only need help finding tenants for a few properties.
If you own properties in different locations, you may prefer a fully managed service to handle the challenges of managing properties remotely.
Consider how involved you want to be as a landlord. A fully managed service might be the best fit if you prefer a hands-off approach.
What is ARLA?
To qualify for ARLA membership, letting agents must meet specific essential standards, each playing a crucial role in ensuring professionalism and reliability. These standards encompass various aspects, such as the proper handling and accounting of clients' funds, the availability of professional indemnity insurance, and active participation in the mandatory ARLA Client Money Protection Bonding Scheme. Additionally, letting agents must establish robust complaints and disciplinary procedures, ensuring any issues are dealt with efficiently and fairly.
Given the high standards set by ARLA, it's undoubtedly the wisest choice to consider letting agents with ARLA membership or affiliations with esteemed bodies like UKALA or NALS. Such memberships are a reliable endorsement of their commitment to excellence, as they undergo rigorous assessments to guarantee they consistently meet the minimum requirements. By opting for these trusted agents, both landlords and tenants can be confident in receiving top-notch service and a reliable rental experience.
Questions to Ask a Potential Letting Agent
Ask letting agents these questions to determine if they're a good fit for you:
What kind of tenants would you place in my property?
A skilled and reliable letting agent understands the importance of selecting the right tenant for a property. They consider various factors to ensure the best fit between tenant and property. For instance, they wouldn't place students in a family home, recognising each property's specific requirements and dynamics.
A competent letting agent conducts thorough tenant checks to assess the prospective tenant's financial reliability and ability to care for the property. These checks typically include referencing, credit checks, and employment verification to ascertain the tenant's payment history and financial stability.
Where can I find your fees on your website?
Transparency regarding fees is crucial for letting agents, and they are legally obligated to display their fees prominently on their websites. This ensures that landlords and tenants have clear visibility into the costs associated with the agent's services.
How long does it typically take you to find the right tenant?
A letting agent's response to questions about their fees should be both reasonable and realistic. If a property manager takes too long to answer your questions or seems secretive, it could be a sign that they are not transparent or that there are hidden costs.
If their response is too brief or simplistic, they are not thorough and may not consider all of your property management needs.
A reliable and professional letting agent should be able to offer a well-structured and detailed explanation of their fees, covering all relevant aspects and services included in their packages. This transparent approach fosters trust and ensures you comprehensively understand the costs and services involved.
Do you provide the legally-required documents for tenants when they move in?
The ultimate responsibility for the property lies with the landlord. Landlords are legally accountable for their properties, even if they use a letting agent.
A reliable letting agent should ensure that all the necessary documentation related to the tenancy is provided to the landlord promptly and accurately. This includes the tenancy agreement, inventory reports, and other essential paperwork.
What do you do if the tenant falls into arrears or I need to regain possession of my property?
High-quality letting agents understand the importance of ensuring a consistent rental income for landlords. They have robust plans to handle various situations, such as tenant vacancies or rental arrears, to minimise any disruptions to the landlord's income stream. Proactively managing these challenges, they help landlords maintain a steady cash flow and financial stability.
Reputable letting agents possess the expertise and knowledge to navigate the legal procedures for reclaiming a property if necessary. They are well-versed in eviction and have all the necessary paperwork and documentation in order. In unfortunate situations where regaining possession becomes essential, the letting agent will handle the process efficiently and in compliance with relevant laws and regulations.
Do you provide regular safety inspections?
The HHSRS is a guide to assess and address hazards in short-term rentals for tenant safety. A competent letting agent should have the knowledge and experience to manage these requirements effectively.
A good letting agent will conduct regular inspections of the property, identifying any potential hazards outlined in the HHSRS and taking appropriate measures to address them promptly. These inspections are essential for maintaining tenants' safe and compliant living environment.
A responsible letting agent will ensure a property is habitable before a tenant moves in. This includes addressing any safety concerns or hazards to guarantee that the property suits the new tenants.
How often do you visit the property and how do you report back to landlords?
Effective communication is a hallmark of a good letting agent. A good letting agent knows how important it is to keep landlords informed about their property's condition. They should provide updates regularly, informing them of necessary maintenance or repairs. They will promptly inform landlords about any issues or concerns, ensuring transparency and prompt action.
Whether providing feedback from property inspections, updates on tenant-related matters, or notifying landlords about any regulations or legal requirements changes, a good letting agent prioritises clear and open communication.
What redress scheme and Client Money Protection Scheme do you operate under?
Letting agents are legally obligated to provide clear and accurate information about their membership status in a Client Money Protection (CMP) scheme. If they fail to provide an answer or claim to be a member of a CMP scheme they are not registered with, they are indeed breaking the law.
Client Money Protection is important for landlords and tenants. It protects financially if the letting agent mishandles clients' funds or faces financial difficulties.
Eviction Do's and Don'ts
Let’s have a look at eviction do’s and don’ts:
Communicate with Your Tenant
Communication with your tenant is key to resolving disputes and avoiding court action. Try to find a mutual agreement or assist them in creating a plan for moving out or settling any rent arrears.
Keep a log of all correspondence; document agreements in writing. Follow up a phone call or in-person discussion with an email confirming the agreed-upon terms.
When serving a notice, record the date it was served. You can ask the tenant to sign a receipt or use Form N215: Certificate of service, indicating the date and the person who served the notice. If the tenant doesn't vacate by the specified date, you can use the completed Form N215 or the notice to apply for an accelerated possession order if necessary.
Check with Eviction Process to Take
When contemplating the eviction process, you have two options for terminating a tenancy in England:
Section 21 Notice
This is applicable if you wish to regain possession of your property after the fixed term has ended or during a periodic tenancy. The Section 21 Notice for Possession requires you to use a specific form called Section 21, Form 6A.
- You must give your tenant at least two months' notice before seeking possession.
- The notice cannot be served within the first four months of the tenancy.
- If your property has received an improvement notice or emergency works notice from the council in the last six months, you cannot serve a Section 21 notice.
- Apply for a possession order within 6 months of serving notice if the tenant doesn't leave by the specified date.
Section 8 Notice
This option is suitable when you need the property back for reasons other than the end of the fixed term, such as the tenant breaking the tenancy terms. To initiate a Section 8 eviction, you must serve the tenant with Form 3, available on the Government’s website.
If you need to evict someone, a Section 8 notice differs from a Section 21 notice. With a Section 8 notice, you must give a specific reason for the eviction, called "grounds." There are two types of grounds: Mandatory (grounds 1-8) and Discretionary (grounds 9-17). If you use Mandatory grounds, the judge in court has to decide if the eviction can happen. If you use Discretionary grounds and prove them, the court has to grant the eviction.
Each ground has a different notice period. For ground 8, give the tenant a 2-week notice before applying to the court for a warrant of eviction. Apply for a possession order if they don't leave within 12 months.
Neglecting Your Obligations
During the notice period, upholding your end of the tenancy agreement is crucial. Responsibilities like property maintenance must be diligently addressed as a landlord, as failing could lead to legal action.
Changing Locks Without Notice
It's essential to avoid entering the property to change the locks without prior notice and before the tenant vacates.
Removing Tenant's Belongings
Holding a tenant's belongings as collateral for unpaid rent or removing them before they leave is illegal. Penalties apply. Always follow proper procedures and avoid withholding a tenant's possessions.
Switching Off Utilities
Landlords must follow the law. Shutting off utilities is illegal and could lead to criminal charges. Ensure the utilities remain operational until the end of the tenancy.
Safety Responsibilities for Landlords
As a landlord, your top priority is tenant safety. Here are the main safety concerns and legal obligations you must meet.
Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms
As of 1 October 2022, all rental properties in England are legally required to comply with The Smoke alarms and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (Amendment) Regulations 2022. Landlords must fully understand these regulations and ensure that new alarms are installed, existing alarms are repaired, and property management practices are updated accordingly before the deadline.
After Oct 1, 2022, landlords who breach regulations could face £5,000 fines. No grace period.
Specifically, carbon monoxide alarms must be installed and in proper working order in any room used as living accommodation that contains a fixed combustion appliance (excluding gas cookers). These appliances, such as boilers or stoves, are powered by gas, oil, coal, or wood.
Electrical safety obligations
Landlords in England, Wales, and Scotland must ensure electrical safety and systems in rental properties. This includes appliances, sockets, switches, and light fittings.
Legionnaires' disease is a serious concern for landlords, and taking appropriate control measures is essential to ensure the safety of tenants. Legionella bacteria can grow in water systems, particularly in stagnant water, and cause health risks when inhaled as small droplets.
To manage the risk of Legionella exposure, landlords should implement the following control measures:
- Flushing the Water System: Before letting the property, flush the water system out to remove any stagnant water.
- Secure Cold Water Tanks: Ensure that cold water tanks have tight lids to prevent debris from entering the water system.
- Maintain Proper Water Temperature: Set control parameters to maintain the water at the correct temperature, inhibiting Legionella bacteria growth.
- Remove Unused Pipework: Eliminate any unused pipework to reduce the potential areas for Legionella growth.
Furniture and Furnishings
Landlords must ensure furniture and furnishings meet fire safety requirements under the 1988 Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations. To ensure compliance, all furnishings should pass the 'smouldering cigarette' and 'match flame' resistance tests and carry a label confirming their adherence to these safety standards.
Generally, items manufactured in the UK after 1990 meet the required fire resistance standards and display the appropriate permanent label as proof of compliance. Landlords should ensure that all furnishings in their rental property meet these safety standards before letting it out. Remove non-compliant items from the property, except for pre-1950 furniture.
The Cost of Hiring a Letting Agent
Most letting agents typically charge a percentage of the rental income as their fee, which often averages around 10%. The letting agent fee can vary depending on the location and the agent. Hence, shopping around and comparing different agents is wise to secure the best deal that suits your needs and budget.
In addition to the percentage-based fee, other charges may be associated with the letting process. These include fees for tenant referencing, preparing the tenancy agreement, and managing the property on your behalf. These additional charges can accumulate, so you must factor them into your budget when letting out your property.
The cost of hiring a letting agent varies based on the services provided and the specific agent you choose to work with.
Generally, you can expect the following charges for their services:
- Tenant-Find: This is typically a one-off fee amounting to approximately one month's rent for the property.
- Rent Collection: For rent collection services, letting agents typically charge a small percentage of the monthly rent, usually around 5%.
- Full Management: If you opt for full property management, a larger percentage of the monthly rent will be allocated to the letting agent. Expect to pay roughly 15-20% for comprehensive management services.
Common Letting Agent Fees for Landlords
As a landlord, the estate agent's letting fees can vary based on the level of service you opt for and the agent's discretion. The landlord generally pays these fees, not the tenant.
The costs associated with letting a house or other properties accumulate quickly, so it's crucial to be well-informed about the various agency fees before agreeing with an agent.
Here is a list of some typical letting agent fees that landlords may encounter:
Letting Agent's Administration Fee
The agency typically levies the letting agent's administration fee once an offer on your property has been accepted. It covers the cost of preparing the tenancy agreement and other administrative tasks. Landlords can expect to pay £100-£500 for a property inspection, or more in some cases.
The agency charges A renewal fee each time your tenant decides to renew their tenancy. Although generally smaller than the original letting agent's administration fee, these charges can accumulate over time.
Many letting agents impose a check-in fee when you move into the property and a check-out fee when you vacate. The fees include inventory costs and damage checks. Landlords can expect a check-in fee of £50 to £200, with a check-out fee of around £100.
End of Tenancy Cleaning Fee
Some letting agents may charge a fee for arranging professional cleaning of the property at the end of the tenancy. Landlords may pay anything from £50 to £200, or potentially more in certain cases.
Gardens and Grounds Maintenance Fee
If you have a garden or outdoor area, you may have to pay for its maintenance. The monthly fee can range from £20 to £100, depending on the level of upkeep the landlord needs.
Letting agents can provide valuable peace of mind, but balancing this with the associated costs and carefully considering which services suit your needs is essential. If you decide to work with an agent, doing thorough research is important to find the right one. This guide provides helpful information to assist you in making your decision.
To begin, consider visiting local letting agents on your high street and make inquiries about their services. However, exercise caution and avoid making hasty decisions without conducting thorough analysis and checks, as this guide outlines. Gathering information and evaluating your options will help you make an informed and well-considered choice that aligns with your goals as a landlord.
Simplify Rental Management with Houst
Houst is your ultimate rental management partner, handling every aspect for landlords. From tenant screening to property maintenance and rent collection, they ensure a hassle-free rental experience. With advanced technology and expert services, Houst empowers landlords to enjoy passive income while leaving the complexities of property management to professionals. Hire a letting agent from Houst today and experience stress-free and efficient rental management.