The accidental landlord: strike while London's rental market is hot

Victoria Whitlock advises would-be landlords to get on and advertise their flat - but organise an Energy Performance Certificate
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Anyone who has dealt with letting agents will know they're prone to exaggeration. Being economical with the truth is part of their job description, but, for once, an agent wasn't lying when he told me that the market in London had gone "mental". My friend managed to re-let her three-bedroom flat in south-west London to the first couple who saw it, even though it was a bit of a tip when they turned up for the viewing.

Builders were part-way through installing a new bathroom and hadn't managed to get a loo in before the super-keen agent started advertising the property. There was thick dust, piles of tools and general builders' filth everywhere. The flat was in such a poor state that the agent couldn't even take any decent photos — he advertised it with just a picture of the front door — but, evidently, it didn't put viewers off. He got an offer within 48 hours.

To be honest, the offer was a bit on the low side — my friend might have got more if she'd waited until the building work was finished before she allowed agents to start marketing the flat. But no matter, she really liked the couple and they'll be ready to move in as soon as the work is finished.

Sometimes it's better to take tenants you like than greedily hold out for those who'll pay a bit more but might be difficult to deal with. I'm in no doubt that my friend could have got at least an extra £50 a month from three sharers, but the pair she's accepted are likely to cause less wear and tear, so in the long run they might be the better option. Plus, who knows if the market will be as strong by the time she's finished tarting up the flat? What we can learn from this little tale, is that any property in a reasonably good area of London is rentable right now. So if you're considering letting a place but worried that it's not presentable enough, I wouldn't bother faffing about decorating. As long as it is in fairly decent repair and everything that needs to be safe is safe, I'd whack it on the market while it's hot.

Hang on just a minute, though, before you write that ad. Remember that if you're letting your property for the first time you need to arrange for an assessor to visit and issue an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) BEFORE you can legally advertise the property.

I mention this because the law regarding EPCs changed last month. Now it isn't just enough to prove that you've arranged for a visit from an assessor before you advertise for tenants, you must also have the certificate within seven days of first marketing it, with no excuses. You must also include the first page of the EPC, the one with those colourful charts, in any online advertising. This is to help tenants compare energy bills for similar properties, so if you've got once-loved original features such as draughty Victorian sash windows, bare wood floors and open fireplaces, you might find they suddenly seem less appealing.

I wonder if some letting agents are ignoring the law regarding EPCs, as I've just checked lots of online rental ads and some didn't include the energy rating. Even so, that doesn't make things all right. It's the landlord who could cop a fine for noncompliance, so don't forget to get that sorted out as a matter of course.

EPCs don't cost much. Expect to pay about £40 if you organise one yourself, possibly a lot more if an agent does it for you.

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