How to find a letting agent

News at Townends | 13/05/2019

How to find a letting agent

If you’re a landlord or tenant, it’s very likely you’ll need the services of a reliable letting agent at some point. But not all letting agents are the same.

Many consumers aren’t aware of how some agents work to protect landlords and tenants. This week, we talk about how to find a professional letting agent who will put your needs first.

Protecting your money

This year, it became compulsory for all letting agents to protect the money they hold on behalf of tenants and landlords. It’s estimated that letting agents hold around £3billion of client money. From 1 April 2019, all agents need to belong to a government-approved Client Money Protection

(CMP) scheme to safeguard these funds. The insurance scheme pays landlords and tenants back if an agent ‘misappropriates’ the rent, deposit or other client funds.

The new legislation also means letting agents need to prove they are handling clients’ money in the right way by:

1)      Holding this money in a separate bank account to their operating funds

2)      Having indemnity insurance so the money can be reclaimed if any employees commit fraud.

If you’re a tenant handing over a deposit, the agent must protect your money in one of three government-authorised tenancy deposit protection (TDP) schemes. If the agent doesn’t have CMP or fails to protect a tenant’s deposit, they risk heavy fines.

Professional accreditation

Townends has been covered by CMP insurance through our membership of the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) – now known as ARLA Propertymark – long before it became compulsory.

However, if a letting agent is a member of ARLA Propertymark, landlords and tenants can enjoy further peace of mind as every member maintains the highest standards and commits to ongoing professional development. This includes undertaking regular training courses which keep members up-to-date with the complex legislation in the sector.

Importantly, each letting agent also needs to do the following to qualify for membership:   

  • Join ARLA’S CMP insurance scheme so clients’ money is safeguarded
  • Provide an accountant’s report or complete a money ‘health check’
  • Show evidence of the correct professional indemnity insurance (this protects consumers should an employee commit fraud)
  • Belong to an independent redress scheme (such as The Property Ombudsman)
  • Provide evidence that they are registered with HMRC for anti-money laundering purposes
  • Fill out a company declaration confirming the companies that individuals are legally responsible for.

There are some other membership bodies that provide similar assurances, such as the National Association of Estate Agents (now known as NAEA Propertymark – the sister company of ARLA Propertymark), the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the UK Association of Letting Agents (UKALA) and SAFEagent.

Check their service levels

Most letting agents offer different levels of service. Generally speaking, this includes the following, but it’s worth going through the options with your chosen agent:

  • A ‘tenant find’ service – the agent will source a tenant and complete all the necessary background checks to make sure they are suitable
  • Rent collection – the agent will professionally market the property, provide rent and legal protection and sort the renewal/ re-let of the property once a contract has ended.  
  • Fully managed – the agent will cover all aspects of managing a property, including all legal obligations, day-to-day management, maintenance issues and the renewal/ re-let.

Test their knowledge

There are hundreds of laws that govern the private-rented sector, so it’s well worth testing a letting agent’s knowledge. An agent should be fully aware of the statutory obligations all landlords need to follow if they wish to legally let a property. These include:

  • Providing a gas safety certificate – if a property runs on gas, a landlord must have an annual gas safety check and provide tenants with a copy
  • Complying with tenancy deposit protection (TDP) – if a landlord takes a deposit, they need to protect it in one of three government-authorised TDP schemes
  • Delivering an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) – in order for a property to be marketed, a valid EPC needs to be supplied by an energy assessor.

Check their working procedures

Outside of laws and regulation, there are a number of best practice procedures a professional letting agent should follow. By working through these processes, the agent is looking after your best interests. These include:

  • Marketing strategies – does the agent advertise across all major property portals, including Zoopla and Rightmove? Ask for a breakdown of the marketing methods they use, this should include everything from professional photography to targeting an extensive database
  • Background checks – it’s important that the agent checks a prospective tenant’s suitability – these checks should be detailed and thorough
  • Inventories – before a tenant moves in, the agent should walk around the property to check for any damage and take pictures of its current condition. This ensures the fair return of the tenancy deposit money once a tenant moves out
  • Repairs and maintenance – it’s crucial that an agent has a robust emergency repair process to make sure any important issues are fixed quickly. Tenants should also have a good relationship with the agent so they can flag any issues before they become a serious problem
  • Rent and legal protection – should the worst happen and tenants stop paying the rent, some agents offer insurance as standard to protect a landlord’s best interests. This cover can also include legal protection should a problem need to be escalated.

Are they highly rated?

Nowadays, it’s much easier to find personal recommendations from tenants or landlords who have used the services of a letting agent. Google is a great place to start for honest feedback. Also check the agent’s social media channels and AllAgents.

Professional lettings agents should be happy to supply testimonials, or even put you in touch with current clients if you’d like a more detailed conversation. Asking around the area will also help you gauge the agents that are really embedded within their local communities.

Speak to our team…

At Townends, we pride ourselves on offering clients all of the above. If you’re searching for a professional letting agent that puts your needs first, as well as upholding all industry regulation and best practice, speak to one of our experts in branch now.