As landlords go, I am a remote control freak

You can pay an agent to handle your distant rental flat, but Victoria Whitlock prefers to keep the cash and rely on her trusty mobile.

A friend is moving into her new bloke's house in the country, but she wants to hang on to her place in London, just in case she can't get used to living more than 10 minutes' walk from the nearest Starbucks.

She has decided to let her house, but she isn't sure how she is going to manage the property when she will be based an hour's drive away. The simplest option would be to hire a letting agent to find tenants and manage everything, but she would have to give away at least 15 per cent of her rental income in commission and VAT, and she isn't keen on that.

Instead she is thinking of saving a few grand by finding tenants herself, advertising the property via one of the many online letting agents which charge less than £100. However, her dilemma is how to deal with repairs and emergencies from a distance.

I managed three properties in London while living in France and it wasn't difficult. As long as you've got a mobile phone and a good internet connection you can sort out most problems remotely.

In 10 months I had only a few maintenance issues to deal with, including a blocked drain, a lock and a broken washing machine, and I managed to arrange all the repairs by phone or by email. My tenants were always happy to let in the workmen.

The tricky bit, I tell my friend, is monitoring repairs to make sure they are not botched. I suppose this is the reason why landlords pay agents to manage their properties, but I have found this is no guarantee work will be carried out satisfactorily.

Managing agents have preferred tradesmen to carry out any repairs, which does save landlords a lot of hassle, but they don't necessarily employ the most reliable people and they don't usually inspect any work carried out. When a management company took care of one of my properties, an electrician who replaced two light fittings left large holes in the wall, one of the new lights was loose and the other was wonky. The tenant didn't complain, she was just happy they worked, so I didn't discover the botched job until long after the electrician had been paid.

Rather than paying an agent an annual fee to manage her rental, my friend is thinking of using a pay-asyou-go property management company, such as mycaretaker.co.uk which offers landlords in south London a subscription-free service but charges a handling fee of £15 to £30 for each small repair, and 10 per cent of the cost of any jobs over £500. Mycaretaker admits that it doesn't routinely inspect minor repairs, relying instead on photos submitted by tenants to show the job has been done, but at least you only pay for the service when you use it. Also, it does promise to inspect any work costing over £250. I can't vouch for this personally, as have never used them.

FirstAssist offers a similar service, but charges landlords a £49.99 membership fee. Alternatively, they can pay a £15-amonth subscription, which includes an annual gas safety check and boiler service plus an electrical safety PAT check and, most importantly, annual property inspection. As my friend is concerned about keeping an eye on her tenants to make sure they don't turn her house into a party pad, the latter option sounds like the better one for her. However, I still think it's wise for landlords to inspect rental properties themselves at least every six months. After all, no one cares about a property nearly as much as its owner.

Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock 


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