The Accidental Landlord

Victoria Whitlock discovers that it’s not always that easy to rent a property privately
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Yay! More great news for landlords! There’s been yet another survey of the rental market, this time from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) that suggests rents are going up again. Not that that means the early retirement plan is back on. Oh no. I heard the RICS’s note of caution. The evidence is tentative at this stage and clearly there is a long way to go, it said, but it does seem to suggest that we have seen the bottom of the buy-to-let slump and that things are starting to get better.

Certainly, in my bit of south-west London rents are going in the right direction. My four-bedroom house is back on the market, so I’ve been trawling lettings sites such as and and it seems that asking prices are creeping back up towards pre-credit-crunch levels.

There are definitely far fewer houses available, too. This time last year all the streets surrounding mine were littered with To Let signs; this week I counted only three in a half- mile radius.

I felt so confident that things are picking up that I tried to re-let my house privately to save myself the 10 to 11 per cent fee from a letting agency, plus its outrageous charges for tenancy agreements, inventories, check-ins etc, etc.

I put an ad on Gumtree but I didn’t get a single enquiry. The problem, I think, is that my ad was lost on the website. At any one time there are more than 500 other ads for four-bedroom houses in south-west London, almost all of which are from letting agents. So while there might be plenty of prospective tenants looking, they weren’t seeing my ad.

A friend who has been in this game for years told me the only way to keep my ad visible on Gumtree is to update it every few minutes so that it stays at top of the listings. That’s what the letting agents do, apparently. I decided that as I can’t beat them I’d join them, so I engaged one I have dealt with before.

An offer was made immediately but it was from a group of five sharers. As the house is over three floors I have to get an HMO licence from the local council if I let to more than four individuals, which sounds way too complicated, so I turned them down.

An agent in a sharp suit and pointy shoes turned up with a yummy mummy who explained as she stepped through the front door that she wanted to live in Putney but couldn’t afford it, so she was slumming it at my end of the borough. When I explained that the property would be left furnished, she turned to the baby on her hip and squealed: "Oh dear, that might be a problem for mummy. Mummy’s got a lot of furniture."

Trying to suppress snorts of laughter, I suggested to "Mummy" that she should look for another property. The agent said: "I’m sure you could remove the furniture if the lady made you a suitable offer?" I explained that was not possible but he suggested they take a look upstairs anyway. “I think we’re wasting Mummy’s time," I said. The lady smiled weakly and continued the tour.

Upstairs I heard: "Does Freddie like this room. He does, doesn’t he? He does, he does, he does." Freddie started to scream and the lady shot down the stairs and out of the front door. I wasn’t sorry to see her go.

Victoria Whitlock is a mother of two who lets three properties in south London.

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