We’re currently in the process of house hunting. A rental in this instance. And we’ve been struck by several common factors and behaviours exhibited by most of the letting agents we’ve encountered in the process. If you’re a letting agent, or thinking of become one, I reckon you could set yourself apart by avoiding most of these quite easily. So, in no particular order, here are some tips from a complete outsider to your industry:
1. Don’t assume the enquirer knows about lettings
This is the most important point, and one which binds all my following suggestions together: remember that your enquirer is almost certainly not a letting agent. They might in fact be totally new to the rental market. Or new to the country. or both. Start with the assumption that all this is totally new territory to them.
2. Remind the enquirer which property you represent
When responding to an email enquiries, include some kind of reference to the property in question – a link, a picture – something that will remind the enquirer which property you’re referring to. We’re using Rightmove, identifying properties that match our criteria, and using the hot link to email the agent.
Note that all screen grabs have been taken at random for the purposes of this post. I have deliberately avoided referencing agents I’ve actually dealt with during this house hunting experience. So this is not an indication of the sort of service offered by the agents referenced here.
This link takes you to an online form, which you complete and submit.
All very convenient. Until the responses come in.
Most initial responses from the agents to online enquiries contain no information that help the enquirer remember which property they pertain to. A response from Joe at Blah Blah Letting Agents might mention 123 Streetname Street, without mentioning the town. I suspect we’re not unique in that we’re looking for a property within a 20 mile radius of my husband’s new job. So that casts a fairly wide net, and captures a large number of potential localities. We’re also not hunting one-by-one. We’re enquiring about several properties at once, so need a little help remembering which particular property you represent.
3. Know the essentials
In my experience, there is a disconnect between the information the agent has at their fingertips, and the information the enquirer actually wants. Information about the locality is helpful, but generally speaking, people can do an internet search to find out about local schools, shops, pubs, crime rates, etc. It’s information about the property itself that isn’t that readily available. I get that it isn’t always possible to know everything about all the properties on the books. Especially for evening and weekend viewings, when you might be covering for someone else. But there are certain key pieces of information that really should be at the agent’s fingertips.
Central heating – At one house we looked at recently, the agent told us the central heating was gas-powered. Then we opened a shed in the garden to reveal one of the biggest oil tanks I’ve ever seen. So was this what actually powered the central heating? Or was it an obsolete tank that the owners had simply not yet got around to removing? The agent didn’t know. And then we found a large rectangular metal structure outside the kitchen, connected to the kitchen by means of some kind of pipe or cable. It obstructed the path from the side gate to the rear garden. What was it? No idea, said the agent. And a little further down the same path, I spotted two large gas canisters connected to the house. No connection to gas mains. This was also news to the agent.
Broadband speed/fibre availability – I have yet to view a house where the agent knows whether fibre is available in the house (or even the area), and what the broadband connection speed is like. In this day and age, this is critical information for many people. If you work remotely, or are a professional (or even avid amateur) gamer, you need really a quick connection. Before we moved into our current house, we looked at the perfect house out on a remote country lane. It ticked almost every box for us, but the agent didn’t “know much about computers”, so couldn’t answer our questions on the subject of broadband/fibre. We did our own research, and found that it wouldn’t be adequate to our needs.
White goods – large appliances are pretty expensive, so it’s vital to know which of the items currently in the kitchen will be staying and which will be going. In one of the houses we viewed recently, there was a large, gloriously orange, top-of-the-range fridge-freezer. The agent was quick to point out that that was the property of the current tenant and would be leaving with them. She knew exactly what other appliances there were in the kitchen and utility room, and which were included in the lease.
Furnished/unfurnished – some properties are available furnished, some unfurnished, some semi-furnished, and some landlords are flexible. The agent needs to know exactly what the position is on each house. One house we viewed recently was available unfurnished, but the owners were planning to leave lampshades and mirrors. If decor styles matter to you, you need to know this, because your furniture and decor might not work with the items being left in place. When we first arrived in the UK, we rented a furnished house. In that instance, furnished included everything down to the last teaspoon. We opted to use our own bed linen to provide our young sons with a connection to the bedrooms they had left behind. After that, we moved into a semi-furnished house, in which we were able to use those few items of furniture we had brought with us from South Africa, as well as those we had bought during our year in the country. Although the lounge was furnished, the landlady agreed to remove the lounge furniture, so that we could use our own. The agent was aware of this flexibility on the part of the owner, and it made the process easier.
4. Don’t try to blag it
One of the houses we looked at this weekend had a lot going for it, including a beautifully fitted, modern kitchen with integrated appliances concealed behind elegant fronts that matched the cabinets. We asked which white goods were included. Without looking up from her notes, the agent waved a hand airily and said, “Just what you see.” My husband looked pointedly at the uniformly grey fronts and said “So… nothing, then?” We had to open all the doors to identify which were actually cabinets and which were appliances… and what appliances there were. Since the house was still occupied, it felt too much like snooping for our liking.
If she had admitted that she didn’t know, and explored for (or even with) us, that would have been somewhat better. Ideally, the agent should know the property details before coming to the appointment, but I realise that that isn’t always possible in a busy agency.
5. Know what’s in/excluded
One of the properties we viewed recently opened out onto a little wilderness. Part of the area was carefully mowed and tended, up to the dividing line between that property and the one next door, but there was no fence along that dividing line. Was the little area included in the lease or not? Was it a common area, shared among neighbours, with an understanding that each person tended the part abutting their property? No-one seems to know.
In our current garden, there is a door that opens into a garage. But the garage is not included in our property. That belongs to our next-door neighbours. And they have right of access across our back garden to their garage. This is also the only way they are able to get their bins to the road on collection day, so they have right of access for that purpose too. If a person had a vicious dog which might attack an ‘intruder’, or if they themselves were inclined to become anxious about people having access to their garden, this information would be a dealbreaker. Fortunately, we were given this information up front. Our neighbours are lovely and have never abused their right of access. They have taken the trouble to befriend Jess, so that if she happens to be outdoors when they’re ‘doing the bins’, there is no unpleasantness.
So there they are: my top tips to letting agents, from the perspective of a potential customer.