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Published 11 June 2018

For the busy residential landlord who doesn’t have time to manage their property, or who realises that keeping up with the ever- changing legislation is a Herculean task, appointing a letting agent to do the job on their behalf is a sensible, and commonly taken, option.

However, entrusting this task to a third party is something which requires a leap of confidence, and choosing the right one is vital.  Whilst most landlord/agent relationships work well, you do hear of cases where a poor choice of agent has led to hassle and worry.

It is important to set out on the search for a letting agent armed with the right questions, understanding the kind of issues which can arise, and knowing what you should be looking for.  Whilst finding great personal chemistry is an inexact science, as a landlord you can shorten the odds by doing your homework.

Many landlords are surprised to learn that lettings agents do not have to belong to a professional regulatory body (although they do now have to subscribe to a redress scheme such as the Property Ombudsman). 

Joining a professional body entails meeting set standards, making sure staff are suitably qualified, and abiding by a code of conduct. As membership is currently voluntary, you can draw your own conclusions about why some agents decide not to do this. ARLA Propertymark is one of the most well-reputed organisations in terms of letting agency regulation.

With a regulated agent you can be sure that everything will be done by the book, and that includes ensuring the tenant has been provided with the right documents prior to the tenancy starting. The ramifications of failing to comply with this task can compromise a landlords ability to recover possession of the property, amongst having other detrimental results.

The other big shock for many is that being part of a client money protection scheme is still not compulsory – although it will be from April 2019.  Agents who are not part of such a scheme are meant to publicise this fact, but it is a question every landlord (and indeed tenant) should ask.

Referencing is an area that many landlords are understandably nervous about and expect their agents to undertake in a thorough manner.  However, not all agents’ definition of thorough is the same, so again, the landlord should be trying to establish the exact checks that will be carried out before signing on the dotted line. It is important to seek clarification on whether the agent is providing a comprehensive service and if they have factored in points such as; How far back into a prospective tenant’s history does the agent go? Do the agent include probing into ‘living with family’ residence history?

Quality referencing is all about finding the best tenant, and that should be reflected in things like rent arrears levels.  Agents should be prepared to give their arrears rates, and the lower the better – reflecting a stringent tenant selection and proactive account management.

A good letting agent can take away the hassle of being a landlord, and provide a smooth, transparent and valuable service; a bad one can have major consequences for the landlord.  The good ones won’t mind you asking those searching questions before you sign up – so make sure you do.

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