Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Renting - Current Stories

Renting has been in the news a bit recently, I saw a feature on Watchdog last week about the unregulated lettings agencies industry and experiences people have had with lettings agents. You can read the report here

After our first property we were put off renting from lettings agents as while they weren't con artists or terrible people they were just a bit useless. However, as letting agents are completely unregulated in the UK anyone can set up an agency with no experience, credentials or training. 

There is also no independent body to report unscrupulous agencies to. There is a property ombudsman who you can report agencies to if they have signed up to the scheme, but it is not currently mandatory for them to register. Obviously there are laws covering you in general for theft or fraud and you can take agencies to court, but if you are unhappy with them for bad service, asking for unreasonable fees or giving you unfair treatment then there is nobody to report them to and no regulations really laying out how they should be treating you in the first place.
There are going to be new laws introduced that mean all agents will have to register with a property ombudsman (although this is not yet law, and there is no date set), but will not dictate who can become a lettings agent. In the UK around 60% of lettings agents are already registered with the property ombudsman, which regulates the housing market.

Watching the report by Nigel Havers I saw a lot of things I had experienced, having problems getting money back from agents, not being able to speak to your agent, and the mysterious landlord who they represented making decisions without us being informed.
Personally when my sister and I were looking for our first flat we thought we would be safer with a lettings agent, as we kind of assumed they were somehow regulated. 
Have any of you ever had a bad experience with a lettings agent?
My advice would be:

  • Check if they are registered with a property ombudsman or if they have any credentials like awards, diplomas etc.
  • Read the contract in full and in detail, if there are any points you aren't sure of question them, get it all nailed down in detail before you sign anything.
  • If there is anything in the contract about staying with one energy supplier or any other supplier then get this removed, you have the right to change utility supplier and in the report on watchdog there were agents that have in the contract that tenants had to stay with a company that was overcharging them and they found it very difficult to switch.
  • Unless you have extenuating circumstances which means you have to, try not to pay a lot of rent up front. If you are then given your notice or move out you might face a fight to get your money back, and if you have a very bad agent may not get it back (as in the case of Nigel Havers here). We have always paid a deposit and one month’s rent in advance then paid monthly from there on in.
  • Once you sign the contract and move in you lose a bit of power over the agent, if there are issues with the property that need fixing or there are inconsistencies or things you are not happy with in the contract do not sign it and do not move in. Agree that any repairs will be made before you move in, and get the contract sorted. Our current landlord did 2 or 3 drafts of the contract for us as there were things we needed to agree (about pets mainly), a good agent should be willing to do the same.
  • The joy of renting is if you really don’t like it, you can move with minimal financial outlay.
  •  If you love the property but hate the agent it's difficult. We found out the contact information of our actual landlord from the landlord of the flat below us and could have contacted them as a last resort, in the end we moved out before we needed to but chances are they don’t know how rubbish the agents are and if there are major shortcomings or negligence from the agent then you could inform them. This should obviously be used as a last resort because they have employed an agent for a reason, so don’t contact them for a small issue. If I were paying a lettings agent to manage my property and they were mismanaging it to the extent that I was about to lose a tenant I’d want to know.
  • If and when you do move out the deposit can be a bit of a sticking point. I once spent two days cleaning our flat before moving out to be told that it was not clean enough and I had to lose some of the deposit. It was not clean to  a ‘professional standard', the flat was sparkling as far as I was concerned but at this point I had had enough so just took the money and ran, to our new house via a private landlord, grateful the whole thing was over.
  • Take inventory photos when you move in if your agent or landlord doesn't, and then also on moving out so you can compare. There is an allowance for reasonable wear and tear in most contracts, so get this straight before you move in what they will allow as ‘reasonable’ so you can make any repairs (Like maybe touching up paintwork) before the final inspection and get as much deposit back as possible.
There was then also this feature on Yahoo! On a new development in London that allows 5 year contracts for tenants and the ability to decorate and make changes to the apartments. The prices are absolutely shocking, over £1000 pcm for a one bedroom flat, but it is in London overlooking the Olympic park. I thought the idea of long term contracts was great for more security (tenants could still give notice and move if they needed to), but I would be reluctant to make large changes and spend a lot of money on a place that ultimately was not ours.
What do you think, could you be tempted (if you could afford the rent!)?
They also had this interesting comparison between now and 2007
Do any of you rent? Is it by choice or through necessity?

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