Why do we still have to pay lettings agency to promote our rentals on popular websites

Victoria Whitlock bemoans still having to use - and fork out for - a lettings agency to promote her rentals on popular websites
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Any landlord who's paid a letting agent the cost of a kidney to find a tenant must rejoice at the fact they can now advertise their properties themselves on all the major property websites for less than the price of an NHS dental check-up.

However, you still need to use an online letting agent to place your ad because the big property websites, such as Rightmove, stubbornly refuse to deal with us direct, presumably for fear of annoying the high street letting agents.

So now there are lots of online agents jumping up and down for our business, some reeling us in with the offer of free ads while others charge almost £100. So why pay for an ad when you can get one for free? Well, I've just tried out two of the online letting agents that offer landlords free advertising and found that they didn't offer quite the service I was expecting. But maybe I was just being greedy.

Rentify calls itself 'the leading online lettings service' and it offers landlords free adverts on some big property websites including Zoopla and PrimeLocation, but and here's the catch to advertise on Rightmove, which is the biggest of them all, it charges £14.99.

Admittedly that's a small price to pay for such wide exposure, but it took so long to publish my ad that I nearly scratched my eyes out in frustration. I made a cup of tea and drank it in the time it took to upload photos of the flat. Then it took FOUR days for the ad to appear.

Rentify told me that my case was unusual - that its standard turnaround time was 'within' 24 hours, but other online agents I've used can get my ad live in less than four hours.

After a couple of days, I defected to OpenRent, another online agent, which offers landlords one free trial. Its website was easy to use, the photos took seconds to upload and my ad pinged up on Rightmove in about three hours. I also liked the fact that I could include a video of the property.

However, there's a catch with OpenRent too. A free ad is only listed on the big property websites for five days, after which time you will be charged £29 to keep it live. Open Rent says: "Many landlords don't need more than five days to find tenants."

Admittedly, £29 is not a lot for unlimited advertising, but I wasn't entirely satisfied with my OpenRent ad. It didn't look nearly as professional as those of the high street agents and, I might be flattering myself, but I don't think it was my fault. I've advertised with other online agents and thought my ads looked superb. The trouble with both OpenRent and Rentify is that they limit what you can write and, in Rentify's case, automate much of the description for you.

Rentify says its automated service makes it easier for landlords, and it says it has a 'very high' satisfaction rating, so it might be a good option for those who want to leave a robot to describe their properties.

OpenRent says it publishes only a bullet-point list of a property's key features and exclusions, without any of the prose we're used to seeing in property ads, because its own testing showed this led to more enquiries from tenants as they shop primarily by location, price and photo.

However, there's a danger that if you reduce a property entirely to a list of features it will seem bland.

On balance, I think there are better (albeit more expensive) online letting agents, but OpenRent isn't a bad option for those with a very limited amount to spend on advertising.

Follow our accidental landlord on Twitter at @VicWhitlock

* Find many more homes to rent at www.homesandproperty.co.uk/lettings.

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