Letting agents wouldn’t know Truth if it punched them in the face shouting: “I am the truth!” wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Truth” in sequins, whilst holding an official truth certificate, written in blood. That much at least is true.
Shameless mendacity informs their new hobby: ramping up prices. The market is so febrile and confused that bizarrely, for any given flat, there are three possible rents and guess what: agents reach for the stars.
First is the sky-high, crazy-mad, stupid and deluded oh-be-serious rent, the amount that avaricious, neophyte, naïve buy-to-let speculators were promised on those now discredited ‘How to Be a Millionaire Property Magnate’ courses. For a standard one bed flat, this is up to £100-£150pcm above the norm, and matches luxury privately rented flats, which are larger, and properly fitted out. I retain a small amount of sympathy for floundering landlords which evaporates whenever I discover that yet again, they or their representatives are still trying to exploit and over-charge tenants, even in this desperately saturated market.
Next up is the middle amount, requested by landlords who bought at the height of the ‘boom’ to cover their escalating mortgage which (including the agents cut) is still a silly £75-£50pcm over acceptable levels.
There is a fair and realistic price. It’s used by owners who bought at auction, or those who understand that they can either endure bankruptcy, or stump up their own cash to subsidise the mortgage when interest rates rise.
Astonishingly, if you check online, you can find all three prices applying to the very same flat. I’ve seen similar prices asked for: one beds, two beds, penthouses, houses, upmarket, downmarket, inner city and suburbs. It’s madness and demonstrates that the rental market has entered the realm of fantasy. Allow duplicitous, cynical letting-agents free-rein in this disastrous downturn, and the results are confusing if not actually strange.
Online prices are usually more grounded, but sometimes vanish once inside the office/lair. Having ascertained that I’m not a student, they assume I can afford the higher prices. At one letting agent I walked by and laughed. They’ve advertised the same exorbitantly priced ‘apartment’ for months now, causing a gaping void in income for the owner. You might imagine they’d attract passing custom by displaying the cheaper prices, when instead they keep the dearest flats posted up brazenly outside: a last gasp attempt, perhaps, at quelling the impetus to drop prices and reduce their own percentage.
Wise landlords who gained a foothold before property prices got totally stupid (five years ago?) have stayed on planet earth, and make money by accruing equity, and not by inflating rents. Unfortunately, urban newbuild values are widely predicted to fall by fifty per cent. One year ago, sale prices in Dovecot Towers had already dropped by a third, and are even lower now (I’ve checked.) Sensible owners avoid rip-off rents by topping up the shortfall thereby escaping insolvency, and letting agents should advise them to do so. Even the moustache-twirlingly ruthless agency responsible for letting most of Dovecot Towers accepted this some time ago.
If you think I’m unfairly maligning those kindly, righteous and angelic, agents, then here’s my worst encounter so far. I answered an ad for a privately rented flat, and was told that others were viewing.
Reader, I fell for it. I hurried over to the address in a taxi (and I’m broke). To my disgust and amazement, the address supplied wasn’t a flat, but an agency office (they “…thought it would be good to meet me.”) The agent was what we poets call “a right wanker,” having lied about the flat’s location, and its price. Elsewhere, agents lie about everything from A to Z reaching all possibilities in between, and I really wish they’d stop.
(NB: One online ad appeared to tick all my boxes, so I phoned the landlord for more information (you’re way ahead of me aren’t you?) The flat was in Dovecot Towers.)