Whoa! I've just had my first creepy experience showing a man a vacant room in my maisonette and, to be honest, I'm still a little freaked out by it.
It was just getting dark when this guy arrived for the viewing. He'd made an appointment so it's not like he showed up unexpected, but he was more than an hour late. I let him in anyway and immediately felt uncomfortable.
There was something about his demeanour that made me nervous: he was very tall, dark and kind of moody-looking, but not in a good way. When I asked him his name, he muttered something unintelligible and walked past me into the hallway.
I realised at that point that I'd made a classic schoolgirl error of arranging to meet a stranger without knowing a thing about him. He'd responded to my ad on Gumtree by email, using a Hotmail account, and he'd given no other contact details.
He seemed uninterested in the kitchen and only glanced in the living room. When I indicated that he should go upstairs to look at the bedroom, he motioned me to go up ahead of him. Perhaps he was just being polite, but there was no way I wanted to let him get between me and the front door. I insisted he went first. "Off you go," I said and followed him up.
He stuck his head in the bedroom then rounded on me on the landing. "This place is too expensive," he said. "Ah well," I said, hugely relieved that I wouldn't have to think of an excuse not to let him have the room. "Thanks for coming." He shook his head. "No, I mean you're asking too much." His eyes bored into mine. "This room should be less." His tone was challenging, almost menacing.
He asked how much the deposit was and when I told him I needed six weeks' rent I saw a flash of anger. "Huh," he said. "That's wrong, it's too much. It should be a month's rent, no more." Fingering my keys in my jacket pocket and wondering if they'd make a good weapon, I told him the price was the price, take it or leave it.
Without another word he turned and left but even after he'd gone I felt a bit wobbly. I've never felt nervous about my personal safety before, though I do try to avoid doing viewings after dark, but I realise now that it was pretty stupid to let someone into a private property without checking them out first, even during the day.
In future, I'll talk through the room with people over the phone to try to suss them out before arranging to meet them, and dodgy-sounding people won't get near the place.
Driving home from the viewing I recalled Suzy Lamplugh, the young estate agent who went missing about 25 years ago after going to show a "Mr Kipper" a couple of properties in Fulham, and her parents, Paul and Diana Lamplugh, who set up a trust to protect women.
Their website, suzylamplugh.org, has some good tips for staying safe when showing people around properties. If you're at all worried, you should take a look at it.
I suppose one of the safest ways to let a property is through an agent and insist they send someone to accompany every viewing. It will mean giving away a chunk of your rental income but it could be a price worth paying.