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Getting a tenant

Lettings agent vs. direct rental – the pros and cons

When you’re starting out as a first-time landlord, one of the decisions you need to make is whether or not to engage with a lettings agent.

Choosing to rent directly to your tenant has a couple of obvious benefits – not least saving you a potential four-figure sum over the course of 12 months – but there are also some drawbacks, which could make that sum look like a worthwhile investment.

We’ve taken a look at each approach’s relative merits at various stages of the landlord-tenant relationship.

Finding a tenant

Many renters conduct their house hunt online these days, and the big property websites like Zoopla or RightMove are reserved for professional property agents – you can’t list a private rental on them. Consequently, going through a lettings agent could help you find a tenant faster.

If you’re renting the property directly, you’ll need to think creatively to find your tenant. Perhaps use social media, or pop an advert into the classifieds – Gumtree offers you the chance to do this free. Remember, if you’re doing your own listing you’ll need to take and upload some good-quality photos, and provide a written description.

As a compromise, some lettings agents provide a ‘let-only’ service. They’ll advertise the property on your behalf, conduct viewings with potential tenants, and complete all the necessary paperwork. Once the tenant has the keys, management and maintenance gets handed over to you.

Doing the paperwork

As a landlord, there are various pieces of paperwork you need to issue to your tenant. And a professional lettings agent should ensure that all of these legal obligations are met, if you use one. Agents tend to be exacting on tenant paperwork, as not being so might leave them open to legal action against them by you.

If you go it alone, we suggest you at least refer to our Landlord’s Checklist. This lists all of the paperwork you need to provide before your tenant moves in. It’s important to get the paperwork right, as not doing so might leave you liable to repay rent, or legally blocked from evicting a troublesome tenant.

Ongoing management

Of course, managing the rental directly is free. What it may cost you, however, is time and stress – especially if you have a fractious relationship with your tenant. Remember you will have to go to the effort of chasing any late rent, or arranging repairs, yourself.

If the agent is handing over maintenance to you after a ‘let-only’ agreement, their one-off fee is likely to be in the region of a month’s rent, but this could vary.

Ongoing management has an ongoing cost. Some lettings agents will take responsibility for rent collection and chasing, but leave the rest of the management for you. This will typically cost you 5% of your rent (or £40 a month on an £800 rent, to use an example), according to Which?.

Which? similarly lists the cost of full management as typically 10-15% of your monthly rent (so approximately £80-120 on an £800 rent). You may also find that any additional costs (like emergency repairs, locksmiths etc.) have a commission on them too.

Tip: you can reclaim lettings agents’ fees on your annual self-assessment tax return, which could potentially reduce your tax burden.

When something goes wrong

Of course, in an ideal world, nothing would ever go wrong. But inevitably something will, at some point – a faulty hob, or a boiler on the blink, perhaps.

A lettings agent with a full management agreement will take care of resolving this for you. But if you’re going it alone, you’ll have to deal with it.

Ask yourself if this is practical.

  • Do you live close the property?
  • Do you know reliable tradespeople who can help at short notice?
  • Do you have the time or energy?
  • Are you up to speed on the regulations that affect landlords?

Bearing in mind that you may have to cover the cost of any repair or work yourself either way (assuming any landlord’s insurance you’ve arranged doesn’t cover it), what you’re getting for your money (with an agent) is ease and convenience.

At the end of the tenancy

Once your tenant moves out, you’ll need to return their deposit and ensure the property is completely clean, ready for your next tenant.

Depending on the condition your tenant has left the property in, you may need to arrange repairs, replace broken items, get cleaners or decorators in, and make deductions from the deposit. This is something that can naturally be completed by your lettings agent as part of your agreement, but you will have to do yourself if you’re renting directly.

In addition to the time and effort this requires, you may also find it involves a bit of back-and-forth with your tenant. You must outline any deductions in detail, including the cost – and your tenant may want to dispute this.

We’ve outlined the rules about deposit deductions here