Whether you've got a single rental property or a large portfolio the experience and expertise of a letting agent can be invaluable. From finding tenants to running the tenancy, good agents can help out with all aspects of the lettings process while ensuring you're fulfilling your legal obligations and operating within the law.
As a result of today's thriving lettings industry and buoyant rental market, however, there is likely to be more than one agent available in your area.
So how do you choose the right one for you? Narrow down your search and select your shortlist with this handy checklist from the experts at Belvoir.
1. Circumstantial evidence
Always understand your own circumstances and specific needs before your search begins.
Nathan Crombie, co-owner of Belvoir Brighton and Hove, says: “In order to create your shortlist of agents it is first important to look at your own degree of industry knowledge and fully understand what level of service you will require.
Some landlords will be short on time, for example, others may lack industry know-how or need a helping hand navigating the legislation associated with letting a property. Always identify what your particular key needs are before starting your search – and, when choosing your agent, ensure you ask plenty of questions to establish whether they can tailor their service to suit your specific requirements.”
2. Fact finding
Find out what each agent in your area offers, plus check out the small print.
Always do your research carefully. Read through all the documentation and ensure you are completely satisfied before signing any agreement.
Check key areas, such as 'ending the agreement and the termination of contract', 'commission on maintenance works', 'what protection they offer should things go wrong' and 'membership of redress schemes and professional bodies'.
Also various agents will specialise in different areas. For instance, some will be suited to student rental units and will be able to offer a more comprehensive service for those types of properties. Others may concentrate on accommodation for families and working professionals. Make sure your property will suit their area of expertise.
Find out about their company history too, including how long they have been trading and the number of properties in their portfolio, plus ask about the day-to-day running of the business, such as how many staff they have, opening hours and availability in an emergency etc.”
3. Payment plans
Fee structures will differ from agent to agent so make sure what's being offered adds up before you commit.
“Always check to see what you will be paying for and be clear about charges before committing to a particular agency,” says Nathan.
“A range of service levels are likely to be available and prices will vary accordingly, depending on what criteria and which service agreement you decide is best for you.
Make sure you fully understand what you are getting for your money and remember that 'cheap' doesn't necessarily mean 'value for money', just as higher fees don't necessarily guarantee better service. Be thorough, check and ask questions to clarify your understanding.
A reputable agent will always be clear about what the upfront fees will cover and what the costs are likely to be throughout the tenancy.”
4. Meet and greet
Meeting each of your shortlisted agents will help you determine whether they are the right person for you and your property.
You could be teamed up with an agency for a number of years so a good working relationship will be essential. Ensure that you know who your main point of contact will be and always meet the person you will be dealing with.
A face-to-face meeting will help you make a decision about the quality of the agency and whether you'll be able to trust that person to do exactly what they say they will do. Being able to put a face to the name and voice on the phone will also help strengthen the relationship on both sides and ensure that your working relationship can be one of openness, honesty and trust.”
5. Valuable valuations
To learn more about how an agent operates invite your shortlisted agents along to your property to carry out a rental valuation.
“Once you have made a shortlist of agents based on all of the above, inviting them around to do a property valuation is the next advisable step,” says Nathan.
“It is beneficial to be present during this valuation as it will give you a key opportunity to ask questions, clarify your research and ask yourself, 'do I trust this person?' and 'will they work in my best interest?'. During the valuation appraisal, the agent will discuss the rental price, but should also discuss their ways of working, fees and charges and talk you through the rental process.
Use this time to ask questions and clarify the points they make. Take notes so that you can refer back to them and compare these with your own research.”
6. Finding out more
Client testimonials, online reviews and industry awards can help you discover more about how an agent is perceived and how other landlords have rated their service.
“Reviews are one of the easiest and most powerful ways to gauge what a business is like,” says Nathan. “The feedback that real customers leave will give you an insight into what to expect yourself, plus the overall service and standard of an agency will be clear to see, particularly if there are consistently recurring themes throughout.
Within the lettings industry there are numerous awards that can be won too and these can also give an indication about an agency's performance.
Some industry awards are even voted for by the customers themselves so, along with the reviews, these can enable you to see how other landlords and tenants rate their service levels and help confirm if they may be the right agent for you.