The accidental landlord: call the professionals

Victoria Whitlock decides to give letting agents a go after struggling to find a tenant for a four-bedroom flat
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Sssh… if you listen carefully, you’ll hear an unusual noise. Yes, that’s the sound of me eating a big slice of humble pie. After months slagging off letting agents, I might have to resort to using one to find tenants for a large, unloved flat I own.

I’ve been marketing it myself for only a week and I’m already exhausted. Trying to juggle viewings and a job, while keeping my children entertained during the school holidays, isn’t that much fun.

I’ve spent hours dashing back and forth, spraying Febreze and opening windows, shoving the current tenants’ clutter under sofas and flinging their rubbish into bins before showing viewers around, but I’ve yet to have an offer.

One guy liked the flat and we were discussing the possibility of his mates taking a look at it when one of the tenants emerged from the bathroom, one hand clutching a skimpy towel wrapped around his waist and the other holding a razor. Startled, he went to shake hands with the guy, the towel slipped, he dived into his room, the viewer fled. I haven’t heard from him since.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy to find tenants for this particular property as four-bedroom flats are notoriously difficult to let — they’re too small for families yet too big for sharers — so I had been mulling over accepting tenants on housing benefit, thinking this might make things easier, but I was put off by the very first applicant. A single mum with an unspecified number of children and another on the way, she admitted she had no deposit and couldn’t pay any rent upfront.

However, I tried to keep an open mind. She promised she had good references from a previous landlord so I invited her by phone to take a look. “Hang on though,” she said. “It must be right next to a train station.”

Given her circumstances, I was surprised she could afford to be so choosy but yes, I confirmed, it was only five minutes from the Tube. “Too far,” she said — she wasn’t prepared to walk. I suggested the place might not be suitable for her after all.

An agent who contacted me via my ad on Gumtree offered to take over the management of the flat, and he said he’d guarantee the rent for a year. “How come?” I asked. “I evict anyone who’s more than seven days late with their rent,” he said. “Simple. Don’t bother serving them notices and stuff. Just get rid of them. I put a special clause in the contract saying I can kick them out in a week. See, I’m not like other agents.” Err, no, hopefully not.

I have found one agent I like, though. He says he can get what I think is a realistic rent for the property and he’s not too pushy. However, what I like most is his finder’s fee, which is just five per cent of the annual rent. I reckon he’d be worth every penny if he could let it fairly swiftly.

I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet, mind you. I’ll market it myself for another week or so, maybe at a reduced price to see if I can whip up more interest, but once this last can of Febreze is empty, I’m calling in the professionals.

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