The accidental landlord

It's always a ripe time to rent if the price is right. Victoria Whitlock discovers how £10 can make all the difference when renting out your property
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When marketing a rental property, even right now when there’s (apparently) a dire shortage of decent accommodation in London, it’s still vital to get the price right. Never mind arty photos and poetic descriptions, these might get people admiring your advert but if the rent is a smidgen too high you won’t get any I’ve just discovered.

Having got carried away by news reports of a mini-boom in the rental market and stories of flat hunters fighting over shoe-boxes, I decided to raise the rent on a room in my rental property by a modest £30 a month. The response? Not a single viewer. I placed adverts on Gumtree and, which is where I usually market the rooms, but they resulted in zero enquiries.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. I did get one email from a concerned father who wanted to take the room for his daughter who was coming to London from Nigeria to study. He offered to pay six months’ rent up front but because he was travelling and didn’t have his cheque book a colleague would send a cheque on his behalf, he said. The catch? He wanted to send me £2,000 extra and when I’d cashed the cheque I was to forward the surplus to his daughter so that she could buy her flight over.

Now, even though I have been known to email my bank log-in details to a man in Lithuania pretending to be my bank manager, I wasn’t quite daft enough to fall for this scam.

My adverts got lots of ‘hits’, presumably not all of them from conmen, so I knew there were plenty of people looking for rooms in my area. This was confirmed when easyroommate, the flatshare website, spotted my ad on spareroom and offered to waive their membership fee if I place an ad with them too, so desperate were they for properties. "We’ve loads of tenants but not enough landlords," they told me.

Only a month earlier I’d let a room in the same flat within 24 hours of placing an ad on Gumtree, the only difference being the asking price, which led me to the conclusion that I’d been too greedy and the rent was a tad too high. After a week I dropped it by £10 a month, which resulted in a couple of viewings but I could tell the guys weren’t interested, they were just window-shopping.

A friend who’s been letting properties privately for 20 years and never had a void said he always pitches his asking price ever-so-slightly below similar properties in his area. "Works every time," he told me. "They let immediately." Smug or what?

I took his advice, dropped my asking price by a further £10 and this time, bingo, the phone started ringing.

Of course, as Sod’s Law would have it, two viewers turned up at the same time, both of them wanted the room and I was then in the awkward position of having to choose between them.

The pair stood in the hallway, each clearly reluctant to leave until I picked one. What do to? Draw straws, pull a name out of a hat or suggest a race to the nearest cashpoint and back?

In the end I picked the one who wanted to move in the second the existing tenant moved out, which was just 48 hours later. The other viewer didn’t want the room for another 10 days or so, but she did offer to pay rent immediately if only I’d let her have it. See what a difference 10 quid makes?

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