The accidental landlord: I’ll put money on beating the professionals

Victoria Whitlock tests herself against a letting agent to find out who can find a tenant more cheaply and easily
I’ve just conducted a little experiment to see which is easier, re-letting a property via an agent or finding new tenants myself. I had two properties to re-let at exactly the same time, one I placed with a well-known London letting agent, the other I advertised myself.

I was keen to see whether the whole process would be less stressful with an agent and whether I would actually save any money going down the DIY route. So people, this is what I found.

It took the agent six weeks to find tenants for Flat One, it took me just six days to find tenants for Flat Two. To be fair, I should point out that the agent started marketing Flat One almost two months before it was available, whereas I didn’t advertise the other property until six weeks later. In neither case did I end up with a void.

The agent charged me 10 per cent of the first year’s rent, which came to roughly £1,700. To advertise Flat Two on all the main property websites cost me just £48 via However, the agent achieved a much higher rent for Flat One than I would have asked.

I know from previous experience that agents aren’t always able to command enough of a premium to cover their commission, but in this case they did, so fair play to them. However, they also presented me with a list of additional fees, including £175 for a tenancy agreement and £35 to protect the tenant’s deposit. That’s right, they wanted me to pay for protection against them running off with the tenant’s cash.

To save money, I provided my own tenancy agreement, although that didn’t stop the agency charging my new tenant £250 for the contract, even though all they had to do was print it out. I also registered the tenant’s deposit myself with, saving £5.

In the end, I only paid the agent the commission agreed at the outset, which, as I’ve said, was covered by the higher rent, so effectively its services cost me nothing.

The agency also vetted the tenants, saving me time, and I am very grateful that they spotted that the gas-safety certificate I supplied hadn’t been correctly filled in by the engineer, rendering it invalid. Without a proper certificate, it would have been illegal to let the flat, but the agent swiftly arranged for the gas engineer to issue a new one before the tenant moved in.

However, letting via the agency wasn’t totally stress-free. For a start, it offered the tenant a fixed two-year contract, presumably to guarantee them another 12 months’ commission. In my opinion, it’s never a good idea to give a new tenant more than a one-year lease and I always insist on a six-month break clause, just in case things don’t work out. It took a couple of phone calls to sort this out.

The agency was painfully slow processing the paperwork, gave the tenant the wrong move in date, left everything to the last minute and was apparently too busy to return my and the tenant’s phone calls, leaving us both frustrated.

With Flat Two, things were much more straightforward. I emailed the tenants a lease agreement, they signed it, emailed it back, transferred the first month’s rent plus deposit to my account and I let them into the property the next day.

At the outset I’d expected it to be easier but more expensive to use an agent. In the end it didn’t cost me any more than letting the flat myself, but the process was more stressful. Go figure.

* Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London

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