Agencies seem like a fantastic idea. They are the landlord’s friend: managing the property, collecting rent, organising repairs, thoroughly checking references, and - should circumstances dictate - initiating legal action. Simultaneously, they are the tenant’s guardian angel: they have property on tap, and control lazy, irascible landlords, ensuring properties are neat, water tight, and generally tickety boo.
Except, that’s a lie.
Agencies don’t do a thing. Once they’ve lured us in, they charge up to eight weeks rent in advance, with admin fees, on top of sundry mystery monies. Their latest wheeze is demanding and entire six months rent upfront. Landlords are charged a large percentage for a cursory background check on villainous tenants. Alternatively, they want five years certificated accounts, from renters who must all be nuns, and demand references stretching back ten years. Even those in their forties find themselves in need of a guarantor, despite spotless credit checks, some savings and years of respectable employment as a teacher. Agencies see all renters as losers, ands are strangely suspicious of us, the people who make their living.
What task they perform, or what services they provide to earn their money remains an enigma. Complain of damage and you’ll be redirected, testily, to the landlord, who also prides himself on inactivity. I was recently shooed from my management company’s posh offices, as they were very busy, didn’t I know? And yes I did know, but could I have those blinds I’d been promised, please?
Try and find an unfurnished flat, and you’ll be treated like a sky blue deviant. Tenants are wastrels and we never own furniture. We are sad. We are poor. We couldn’t possibly organise a sofa. My landlord realised that providing my own furniture relieved the burden of buying household items, or suffering wear and tear. Even so, he’s never put in the shower curtains, or supplied the blinds he promised, and the agency refuse to intervene.
These establishments their windows with information about bright and chic display flats, all cheap and available. This is just a ruse to snare you. In reality there are no flats with balconies, unfurnished close to town; that was just an artistic representation. I have been told that Hulme counted as Manchester City Centre. I have been shown flats, which – while spacious in the spec - was tiny on the inside as well as out, and fondly described as ‘bijou’. I have viewed refurbished flats which genuinely were refurbished, but eighty years ago.
There was one beacon of sanity. In a world where agencies want to scan your retina, check your great grandparents credit reference and keep siblings hostage in a basement, along with an entire years rent on deposit in ten pence pieces, I encountered a small, family run, well established agency in Glasgow. They had no truck with these superficial fripperies. ‘If you don’t pay your rent, we’ll be reasonable.’ They said. ‘We’ll chuck you out straight away.’
Agencies are deceptively polite, and very reasonable when first showing tenants around. But always remember this; these people are estate agents.