Benefits of renting through an agent
Standards across the residential market can vary substantially from landlord to landlord, and it’s difficult to know in advance what your new landlord is going to be like. At the moment, there are no national review sites to help you decide which landlord to work with and often people make a choice based on the property rather than how good the landlord is.
Using an agent will help make sure that your experience is up to standard and will give you the reassurance that there is a professional on hand. The agent will be employed to find a tenant and may also be managing the property for the duration of the tenancy meaning they will be your ongoing main point of contact.
Agents in England are not required to be registered, so you should always look for agents who are members of professional trade bodies to ensure you get the best service. Propertymark (ARLA) and NALS (National Approved Lettings Scheme) members both work to codes of practice and the relevant logo will be displayed in their offices. You can check on the trade body websites to ensure an agent is a member if you have any doubts.
Since November 2016, landlords and agents who let and manage rental properties in Wales must now be licensed via the official scheme – Rent Smart Wales. Failure to comply with this new legislation is an offence. You can ensure your agent and landlord are registered to this scheme via the search on the Rent Smart Wales website.
The Scottish Government is introducing a similar scheme in Scotland. As of 1st October 2018, any agent who lets properties in Scotland will need to have submitted an application to be on the Letting Agent Register. It will be a criminal offence for any agent to do lettings work in Scotland after this time if they are not registered.
As part of being a professional and holding membership, there are a number of key areas an agent needs to ensure are in place:
- Client Money Protection – All agents are required to state whether or not they have Client Money Protection, so consumers can make a choice. This is an insurance which provides compensation to landlords, tenants and other clients, should an agent misappropriate their rent, deposit or other client funds.
Registered agents have to have CMP as part of their professional membership and also the relevant procedures for handling your money and to ensure that it is kept separate from the money that they use to run their business.
SAFEagent is one of the main independent Client Money Protection schemes that ensures each of its registered agents are complying with the strictest codes of practice for holding clients’ money – you should look out for the SAFEagent logo.
- Professionalism and Training – Agents will need to maintain professional standards by ensuring that their staff have a minimum level of on-going training to keep up to date with their skills.
- Redress Schemes – All member agents will be part of a redress scheme. If you have a complaint about their services and you are unable to resolve it with the company directly, you can refer your complaint to the redress scheme and they will adjudicate in order to resolve the dispute.
- Reputation – Agents have to uphold their reputation to maintain their business and therefore need to take a professional approach to their work.
- Knowing their client – As part of taking on a new landlord an agent will need to take some basic information and identity documentation so that they know who their client is.
Renting directly through a private landlord
If you decide to rent a property directly from a private landlord, you should check that they are the legal owner of the property and permitted to let out the property. Professional private landlords will be willing to supply this information in order to validate their identity and help you make an informed choice. If you want to check who owns a property yourself, you can do so at the Land Registry for a small fee, currently £3.
There are some people that appear to be landlords but who are actually tenants themselves and are subletting the property without the relevant permissions (there are also those that do it with permission). If you are not officially allowed to occupy the premises, your home may be at risk.
When you work with an agent, the agent will either have a well-established relationship with the landlord or, if they are a new landlord, will have checked their identity and address to ensure that they are who they say they are. You should consider your personal security and personal information when replying to private adverts, as anyone can set up an advert to rent a property. If you’re going to undertake a viewing, take the usual safety precautions of having a mobile phone with you and letting friends or family know the details of where you will be going.
In October 2017, the government will be releasing a database of rogue agents and landlords which will help everyone identify those that are falling short of the required standards.
One of the newer types of accommodation available are the Build to Rent developments. These are often in the bigger cities and are dedicated buildings or collections of buildings, specifically designed and built to be rented. These businesses are very similar to the dedicated student or retirement housing providers, where everything is available to rent.
These businesses will also often have additional services that you can use if you wish, such as housekeeping, social clubs, gyms and roof terraces. There are lots of companies that specialise in operating their own buildings like these and they will often market the properties directly by having their own agency rather than going out to the high-street agents.