Why not have a go at letting without a high street agent, to save yourself a fortune in commission? You can use an online letting agent to advertise your property on all the major property websites (with the exception of OnTheMarket) and they’ll also do a lot of the admin too, but for a lot less money than a high street agent. How much you do yourself and how much you farm out to the online agent really depends on you but the more you can manage, the less you’ll pay.

If you’ve never done it before, here are some tips.

Writing the ad

It’s quite simple to write an advert because with many of these online letting agents you select your property’s features from a drop-down menu, although I find these a bit restrictive.

Some online letting agents, including Upad, allow landlords to write fuller property descriptions, but there’s no need to write anything fancy!

Just keep it simple, use bullet points if you like, but remember to highlight your property’s key selling points, such as how many bedrooms, has it got outside space, does it have a sunny balcony, is the garden well-stocked with plants, has it been recently refurbished, any USPs such as dishwasher, power shower, double glazing, is wi-fi installed?

What about the area, is your property close to public transport, local schools, universities, mention if it’s near any large employers such as hospitals, schools etc

If you’re targeting a particular sector of the market such as families or sharers or nurses from the nearby hospital then say “ideal for sharers, very convenient for nurses at St George’s Hospital” etc.

If, on the other hand, you won’t consider letting to certain types, such as unemployed students with pets, then it’s best to say so in the ad.

Should you mention negatives, such as if the property is on a busy main road, above a pub, next to a railway line, on a council estate? Well, you can’t hide these.  You can’t disguise a train track with a strategically placed potted plant so you might as well be upfront in the ad. Some people won’t mind what you see as negatives, but you don’t want to waste your time showing people round who will hate some fundamental aspect of your property.  Nothing is more depressing than opening the door to a viewer who looks like they want to cry.

So, yes, be clear in the ad about what you’re offering BUT make sure you have plenty of plus points in there so these aren’t outnumbered by any negatives.

Don’t forget to also include in the ad when the property is available and for how long. Also you need to state if you want a deposit and how much, don’t assume viewers will work this out for themselves.

If you intend to charge the tenant any fees, i.e. for credit checks or check-in reports (inventory), then you must say so in the ad, but it’s okay to state NO ADMIN CHARGES to make it clear tenants won’t have to shell out the sort of fees charged by letting agents.

You’ll have to include the EPC rating too.

 

Working out the rent

This is the single most important thing to get right in your ad. If your property is over-priced you won’t get any interest in it. Obviously you don’t want to under-price it either, you don’t want to lie awake at night wondering if you could have squeezed more money out of your investment. So, to find out the right price you could be cheeky and get a few letting agents round to value it for you, but remember that they’ll exaggerate to get your business (it’s in their DNA, they can’t help themselves) so knock 10% off what they tell you.

I find a better way to value a property is to look at rental websites like Rightmove or Zoopla and see what similar properties are being advertised for in the same area. Remember to compare like with like, if it’s got outside space it might be worth about 15% more than one without, if it’s recently been refurbished you might get about 10% more.

However, once I’ve worked out the going rate I price mine at just a smidgen less than the others. So, say I have a one-bedroom flat and the going rate for a one-bed in the same postcode is £400 a week, I’d advertise mine for £399.

If after a week you’re not getting any interest in your property, it’s probably because the price is too high; if after 2 weeks your ad hasn’t generated much interest, you can be sure it’s too high; if after 3 weeks your ad hasn’t resulted in many inquiries, you’d be a fool not to reduce it. You can amend your ad and adjust the price at any time so I wouldn’t leave it too long, better to take a slightly lower price for a property and let it straight away than ask too much and risk it being empty for weeks – remember, every week it’s empty you’re losing money.

Remember to make it clear whether the rent is monthly or weekly and if anything is included in the price, such as heating or wi-fi, then say so. If you advertise a service in the property that isn’t included in the rent, such as wi-fi, you need to make it clear there’s an extra cost.

[Incidentally, although tenants like a property with wi-fi already installed, I’ve found it’s only necessary to provide this where letting by the room, for students, or for short lets, otherwise tenants are generally happy to arrange installation themselves. If you do want to provide wifi, I’ve found Talk talk to be the most affordable, but you need to arrange this asap as it takes AGES to set up.

Taking photos

Photos are also essential in a property ad. Think about anything you buy online, you want to see what you’re getting. People just skip over ads without photos.

You don’t have to have any expensive equipment to take decent pictures; you can even take decent images with a smartphone. However, if you’re photos look a bit drab, consider paying to get a professional set. Most of the online letting agents offer this service.

Get a set of photos before you let a property the first time and you can re-use them every time you re-advertise without having to disturb the current tenants – but don’t re-use pictures that might make it look as if your property has been on the market a long time. So Christmas decorations in photos anytime between February and November are a no-no, similarly photos of snow in the garden in the summer are going to put off viewers.

Remember that you’re selling a viewer a lifestyle. You’re saying to them “You want to live here, living here will be amazing, if you live here, your life will be fabulous”.  Nothing wrong with using photos of the local area to demonstrate this: the park, cafes, the local gastro-pub, you’re selling them the area as well, but don’t use too many local shots otherwise viewers might be suspicious there’s something wrong with the property.

You don’t need to furnish your property for the photos if you intend to let it empty. 50% of tenants are looking for unfurnished accommodation and these tenants might assume yours isn’t suitable if they see furniture in the photos, so skip over your ad.  Upad, the online letting agent, did an experiment recently that led it to believe that if you dress a property for photos you’ll get more interest, and that might be the case, but it’s an expensive exercise to buy or even rent furniture just for a photo shoot, and I don’t think it’s worth the money or the hassle.

However, if the property is furnished you should make it look as appealing as possible by making sure it’s sparkly clean and tidy, everything is at least co-ordinated, and dress the beds and put up some lampshades – bare mattresses and light bulbs can make a room look like a prison cell.

So to recap, your ad should include:

  • The price and what’s included in the rent
  • The date the property is available and for how long
  • Number of bedrooms
  • Furnished or unfurnished
  • USPs i.e recently refurbished, double-glazing, outside space, low council tax, low energy bills
  • Deposit
  • Fees (i.e. credit checks, inventory, check-in reports)
  • Any exclusions i.e. non-professionals, students, pets
  • EPC
  • Photos

Some online agents will also create a floorpan of your property, for a small fee. It’s a useful tool as it helps tenants to visualise the size and layout of rooms, but I wouldn’t say it’s essential to include one. However, you only have to pay for it once and then, like the photos, you can re-use it time and again.

Viewings:

It’s very exciting when you first start getting enquiries from prospective tenants but don’t rush to show everyone around.

First you need to you need to weed out the time-wasters.

So ask lots of questions. No need to sound like you’re interrogating them, adopt a “we’re just having a friendly chat” tone of voice, but use this “friendly chat” to make sure they’ve read the whole of the ad (most people don’t) and that they know what you’re offering. It’s amazing how many people don’t check to see when a property’s available or how many bedrooms it has, or what sort of tenants you’re looking for/excluding.

Ask when they’re looking to move in; some people are merely ‘window shopping’ and if they don’t have a move-in date you’ll know they’re wasting your time. If you want a professional tenant, ask where they’re working to make sure they do actually have a job, if you don’t want pets make sure they haven’t got a Rottweiler, and generally try to find out as much as possible about them so you can make a judgement and decide whether you want them living in your property before you show them around.

When you’ve established that they’re a serious viewer, get an email address so you can drop them a friendly message saying how you’re looking forward to showing them round your property and confirming your appointment. I also attach a list of documents they will need to provide should they decide to rent the property, which will save time later on and also weed out any unsuitable viewers who might otherwise have slipped through the net!

Tell viewers what to bring

My list includes:

– a holding deposit

– a copy of their photo ID

-references from both their current landlord and from their employer

-copies of the past three months’ bank statements and, if for some reason they believe they might not pass a credit check, a name and email address for a guarantor

Get a landline and a mobile phone number for every viewer and call them on the day of the viewing to make sure they’re still planning to come. Ask them to call or text you if they aren’t going to make it. At least a third of those who arrange to view a property are no-shows so it’s best to find out if they’re not going to turn up before you head out to the property.

If your property is hard to find, make a map and email it to them or send a Word document with instructions of how to find it from the nearest train or tube station.

If possible, try to do viewings during the day as most properties look best in daylight.

Open days at weekends are a good idea if you are getting a lot of interest because you can show several people round at the same time and save yourself a lot of trips. Also, if tenants see other people are interested in a property then human nature means they’re more likely to want it too. You might need to take someone with you to manage an open day, especially if you’re expecting a lot of people.

Put the date of your open day in your ad to whip up interest, but be prepared to show viewers at other times too.

Nothing wrong either with block-booking individual viewings; once again, if a prospective tenant sees another might be keen on the property, they’re likely to come to a quicker decision.

Finally, letting without an agent doesn’t mean going it alone

Some of the online agents, like Upad, will give you plenty of advice and support and they’ll handle all of the paperwork, including writing the tenancy agreement if you want them to, but if you’re still nervous or worried you won’t find a tenant you can always hire a traditional agent to market the property alongside you. That way, you’ll cover all bases! Just make sure they agree that if you find a tenant yourself, you won’t have to pay them commission.

Don’t forget, that if you are a newbie landlord and you’re not intending to use a high street agent who would be able to talk you through your legal obligations, make sure you are aware of the rules.