The accidental landlord: there’s no room for sentiment in this business

Be cautious and always take a holding fee from prospective tenants no matter how keen they are.
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When looking for new tenants, I’ve learned not to count my chickens until they’re hatched. If a viewer tells me they want to take a property, I know it’s never a done deal until they hand over the first month’s rent.
I got a call from a guy who pleaded with me not to take any offers on my one-bedroom flat until he’d seen it. He said it was exactly what he’d been looking for, it was right around the corner from his office, he was 100 per cent positive he would live there forever and ever and he promised he’d put a deposit down the moment he saw it.
I’ve come across so many of these impetuous types before that I was absolutely 100 per cent positive he wouldn’t even turn up for the viewing we’d arranged for the following evening, let alone rent the flat. I take no pleasure in revealing that I was right. The following morning he emailed to cancel our appointment, saying he’d decided not to move after all.
In my experience, the more a viewer enthuses about a property, the less likely he or she is to take it. If someone has instantly fallen in love with my flat from a few photos on Zoopla, I know they’ll probably fall in love with another five minutes later.
Once or twice viewers have asked me to “hold” a property for them, as if it’s a new dress or a discounted holiday. No matter how lovely (or desperate) they seem, I always refuse (politely, of course), because I know that nine times out of 10 I’ll never hear from them again.
There’s no room for sentimentality in this business and, to stick with feathered proverbs, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, so I’ll take the best offer I get from the first suitable tenant who is prepared to pay a holding fee to reserve the property.
I’m not going to risk losing a suitable tenant by holding a property for someone else who may (but most probably won’t) take it, and I’d certainly never agree to let a flat to someone who hasn’t even viewed it. That makes me deeply suspicious, because who would agree to live somewhere they’ve never seen?
Even after I’ve accepted an offer on a property I make it clear to tenants that I’ll continue to show others around until they’ve handed over a non-refundable holding fee of £100 to £150 and provided me references and all the necessary information to run a credit check on them.
Most tenants seem to accept that this is normal procedure. After all, most letting agents do the same. I’ve only had one viewer who refused to pay a holding fee, saying she didn’t feel comfortable handing £100 to a stranger. Which is fair enough. But I pointed out that, ultimately, I would be taking a bigger gamble giving her keys to a property that was worth 2,500 times more.
I recently accepted an offer on a flat from a couple, but a week later they still hadn’t paid me the holding fee and they weren’t answering my calls, so I let it to someone else. I emailed to let them know, and five minutes later they were ranting at me down the phone, saying they still wanted the flat and they thought I was a big old meanie, but when I asked why they hadn’t paid the holding fee they said they didn’t want to lose £100 if they changed their minds!
Like I said, when you’re looking for tenants, don’t count your chickens until they’re hatched.

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