The diary of a W1 estate agent

Long days mark the start of the busy season. A Swiss solicitor rents a Covent Garden flat without viewing it while a Moroccan student agrees to pay six months' rent in advance to secure his Fitzrovia digs.
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It’s 6.35am and I grab a quick breakfast at Café Téo near Goodge Street on my way to work. I’ve got a long day ahead of me, and this will be the pattern for the lettings team for the next six weeks — welcome to the busy season.
At this time of year, there is an annual influx of students and professionals to the city. Much of my time will be spent rushing around, showing flats and houses to hopeful groups of sharers and their parents, who invariably have to dig deep to help with the rent and act as guarantors.
I arrive to an inbox full of enquiries. They are mainly from students looking for affordable accommodation near their university — we have so many nearby, such as University College London, School of Oriental and African Studies and London Business School.
It’s our job to profile the applicants and get them into a suitable property. We have to check carefully, as tenants that sub-let are a serious issue — when landlords lose control of the individual living at the property, it can invalidate the tenancy, as well as any insurance.
I speak to a solicitor from Switzerland looking to rent for a year while he studies in London. He decides to take a flat we have in Parker Street, Covent Garden, for just under £400 a week without even seeing it. This is not unusual at this time of year. I spend most of the remainder of my day arranging viewings and leave at 7.30pm.
My first viewing is at Lancaster Court in Newman Street, Fitzrovia. Notably, this flat was lived in at different times by actor Sir David Jason, of Only Fools and Horses fame, and the late Hughie Green who hosted Seventies TV talent show Opportunity Knocks — a distant ancestor of Britain’s Got Talent.
My Moroccan student applicant and his mother decide it is too small for them and I take them over to Montagu House in Whitfield Street, where they agree to take a bigger flat at £625 a week. When I mention that six months’ rent is needed in advance to secure the flat, the young man politely informs me that his father will pay. London is such a multicultural city and the demand for property constantly amazes me.
Finding new landlords is a key part of the job and it’s important to demonstrate our worth as their agent. This morning, I’m back in Covent Garden to advise a landlord on marketing his gorgeous little pied-à-terre overlooking Drury Lane. He’s a first-time landlord, so I naturally expect to run through things a few times to ease any concerns.
We have a long conversation about changes within the law, including the Immigration Act, health and safety laws, carbon monoxide detectors, anti-retaliatory evictions and the Energy Act 2011, which requires landlords to improve efficiency of rented homes next April. He decides to let us manage the property. I leave with a sense of “job well done” but with all this “exciting” knowledge, I can see why I don’t get asked to more dinner parties.

I have a block booking day, with 10 groups of sharers wanting to see a flat in Maple Street. Designed to accommodate three tenants — who will need to know each other very well, given the space they will have to share — this one is squarely aimed at the student market. Maple Street is just a stone’s throw from UCL and a fantastic location for students. We get two competing offers that we put forward to the landlord, so all the hard work is worth it.
The team rounds off the day with a quick drink at the London Cocktail Club in Goodge Street.
This is our busiest day, when we get most offers and acceptances. In this competitive world, it’s vital to demonstrate your value to your customers. While online agents try to reduce costs, they will struggle to compete in central London with “boots on the ground” and specialist local knowledge.
I am really looking forward to relaxing this weekend — before it all starts again next week.
  • Tony Dobbins is a letting consultant at Hudsons Property in Charlotte Street, W1 (020 7323 2277).

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