Choosing an estate agent:

Alas, there are no real guidelines that dictate the running of a lettings agency or lettings department. Virtually anybody can set up such an agency and make a complete mess of it!

Choosing an agent has to be done with care. Many agencies will happily value your property and then give a lot of spiel about how many people they can get to view your property today or tomorrow as long as you sign on the dotted line. DON'T DO IT. Certainly ring up as many agencies as you wish to have value your property - this will give you an excellent idea of how much rent you can expect to achieve. Ask all the agencies to put their valuation in writing to you. Why? Because not only does this give you time to reflect on the caliber of agents who have visited you but also it will enable you to look at the figures presented to you and you can budget accordingly - what is the worst figure you could expect to achieve?

All the agents who value your property should:

1. Spend time looking around your property

2. Talk to you regarding your circumstances and why you are looking to rent your property - remember they are acting in your best interests.

3. Give you advice on Health and Safety laws.

4. Tell you what their fee is.

5. Give you a contract to look through.

6. Tell you how much they think your property is worth in the current lettings market.

If they fail to do any of the above they should have a very good reason for doing so and it is probably best to steer well clear of them! Make sure they carry out their business in a professional manner and do not be duped into thinking how nice they are! Often the less friendly ones are the ones who are very busy and have not got the time to sit and chat about the weather and what a wonderful property you have. Needless to say there is no room for rudeness!

Once they have all left you with their bits and pieces, you need to settle down and go through the contracts. Do this whilst you still have the impressions they would have left with you fresh in your memory.

Going through contracts can be horrendously boring. All the contracts I have issued in my time have been 3 or 4 pages long, dull and usually in small print. Depending on the service you require will dictate what you are looking for in a contract. For example if they are collecting the rent for you, how long before it will be put in your account? If it is not mentioned, get it mentioned - I have known companies take up to 6 weeks to get landlords rent into the right account, all the time the agent is earning interest and the landlord is struggling to pay the mortgage - it should take no more than 7 working days. Watch out for hidden charges i.e. BACS transfer of your money to your account �25.00 yikes!

On the management side, how much are they prepared to spend before asking your permission - no more than �100.00 I hope if anything at all - honestly though, you should allow a little leeway for times when they can not get hold of you and an emergency has occurred - they have to account for all expenditure though! Do they mention that it is their responsibility to employ suitably qualified contractors to carry out works on your property? Do they mention that they will get quotes from 3 suitably qualified contractors and present them to you, prior to any works being carried out with a cost in excess of �100.00? By the way, it never hurts to ring a contractor and get a quote yourself for the job - at least you know that the charges are reasonable - and check that all the contractors exist - it is very easy to make up a quote! What other charges are there. I used to charge my landlords an extra 10% of the cost for over seeing works with a value in excess of �500.00 What did I do - not a lot!

Remember that agents are supposed to work for you - you are their client - but at the end of the day most will be working for themselves especially as many will have monthly targets that must be met.

One very important note is to find out what we call the renewal charge is. A renewal charge is when the same tenant stays at the property for a second term. Most agents will try and get away with charging you the same amount as if they had found a new tenant. Money for old rope! All they are doing is printing off a new contract or one page addendum and sending it off for signature - no need to charge an excessive amount surely? They will often say that if it had not been for them then you would not have the perfect tenant that you have - reply - if it had not been for me you would not have made the money you have from my property! Negotiate on the fee - it really ought to be close to half the original fee - and if you think the tenant may stay for several years give the agent a sliding scale of fees. Make sure that the management fee is charged on a monthly basis i.e. only being charged as they actually manage your property - it is often very difficult to get a refund out of an agent!

Note that you want your property to get the best possible exposure so as to attract the best possible tenants. Check out the local newspapers and see which agents are advertising and make sure their advertising is neat, effective and large enough - at least 1/2 a page. The last thing you want is to have a single column box at the end of the property section.

Whether you go for a corporate agency or an independent is totally up to you. They both have their pluses and minuses.

Should a problem arise with the agent you must act on it immediately in writing to the top dog. No point in writing to the negotiator or manager that you are having a problem with, they will just brush it under the table. Go straight for the jugular and do not take no for an answer. If you are getting nowhere, try your local trading standards. They, I have found, are always willing to help people and if they cannot do anything for you, they will point you in the right direction. Also, find out if the agency belongs to any professional bodies such as ARLA or NAEA and write to them. Never let the matter lie as you will find that people will become less and less interested, but if they can see that you consider the matter urgent and important enough, they will act fast. Keep on at them. Also keep on at the agency as you may find they get so fed up with you calling them and leaving messages that they will want you off their back ASAP. no harm in going into the office - often a good idea when there are other members of the public there as the agency will not want to look bad in front of anyone!

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