The accidental landlord: finding good tenants without using a letting agent

Finding tenants without the help of a letting agent is possible, but expect to put in a little bit of legwork
A friend of a friend asked me for advice about how to find tenants for her five-bedroom family home without using a letting agent — “I really can’t afford to pay their commission,” she told me — and then she gave up her search after just one week. “It was hopeless,” she moaned. “I only got one inquiry.” Did this landlord seriously expect to let a large, expensive property within a week? 

Of course, media reports would have you believe you can let even a fleapit in London in less than a minute, and that there areso many tenants fighting over every property, you only need to put up a To Let board and they’ll be climbing over each other to get in.

However, let’s be realistic. You might get lucky and find a tenantstraight away, especially if you are letting a cheap, one-bedroom flat in an area where there is lots of demand, but you should be preparedfor the whole process to take at least three or four weeks, probably much longer for a large family home.

Last time I advertised a onebedroom flat, when the market was probably more buoyant than it is now, it took a few days before I started getting enquiries. Sure, it was a bit worrying when the phone didn’t ring at first, but it is important not to panic and rush straight into the comforting arms of a letting agent.

As long as a property is sensibly priced, someone will bite, eventually. Certainly, there is no reason why a landlord should fail where a letting agent will succeed. For a one- or twobedroom flat in London I would say it typically takes two to three weeks to find a tenant.

A larger property can let quite quickly if you are prepared to take sharers or let rooms individually, but if you want a family — like this friend of a friend of mine — it could take up to a couple of months. Parents need to plan ahead.

Organising a move takes much longer for them than for a single person or a couple, and they are not able to take spur-of-the-moment decisions, so you are unlikely to find a family that wants to move immediately.

Also, you will have to spend at least a little money to advertise your rentalplace on all the major property sites, including Zoopla. A well-written adwith some good photos of your property’s unique selling points will get you as many genuinely interested viewers as any letting agent will attract, but at a fraction of the cost.

I was flabbergasted when this landlord told me she hadn’t advertised on Zoopla or any other website because she didn’t want to “waste” the £10 or £20 the online letting agents charge for an advert. Seriously? That’s less than the cost of a small round of drinks in her local.

Instead, she has now signed up with a high street letting agency, which will charge her in the region of £3,500-plus if it manages to find her a tenant. What kind of topsy-turvy thinking is that?

I believe that, like many new landlords, she was unsure of her ability to find a tenant herself. I think she wanted to give it a half-hearted try to convince herself that it wasn’t possible so she could justify paying an agent after all. There’s nothing wrong with that —self-letting isn’t for everyone. For some landlords, especially those whose heart isn’t in it, using an agent is the best option. Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London.

To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock

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