Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Lying Letting Agents and the Lies these Liars Tell

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.)


roym said...

very interesting post (and indeed blog). the trouble is that there seem to be too many mugs out there who fall for this. why dont people do some thorough research?

RenterGirl said...

I've tried, but when you ask the agents...they lie!

Paeony said...

It amazes me that ANYONE can set themselves up as a letting agent, without qualifications or any kind of basic competency test. I've spent much of my working life in catering, and to legally sell food I am supposed to have a current basic food hygiene certificate, and my premises will be inspected at least once a year by the EHO. It's staggering (and very, very sad) that in this country there's more regulation involved in selling someone a sandwich than there is in providing someone with a home ...

Great blog, and I hope you find somewhere soon. Having recently done the flat-search thing myself, my general rule of thumb is to treat everything that comes out of the agent's mouth as a lie - my particular favourites are 'yes, it's a quiet location', 'this is definitely a long-term let' and the number one, 'oh yes, it will be thoroughly cleaned before you move in' ...

RenterGirl said...

Thanks for reading, and for your best wishes, because I need them. I saw the head of a chain of letting agents on Newsnight last night, claiming that rental yields are racing to the sky. I tend to write specifically about urban flats, often newbuild and those rents are and indeed must fall. But it's the time wasting fibs that irk.

Anonymous said...

LOL, they are both liars and also typically incredibly thick.

Recently this happened to me: My landlord geve me his mobile number, which I put in my phone. A few months later I got mugged and my phone got taken, so I lost the number. Don't worry I wasn't hurt and it was a crap phone. Anyway, next day I rang the Letting Agent to try to get the landlord's number again. I just said call the landlord and get him to call me. They said they would contact him. Then they phoned me back and told me he would not give me his number.

The next day, the landlord came round to the flat for an unrelated reason. I asked for his mobile number and he gave it to me there and then.


frugalista, of globalhousepricecrash.com

Anonymous said...

Here's my wonderful experience. See a private ad in local shop window offering flat for rent. Phone number, listen to flats owner saying she is unable to answer her phone, but for me to leave my details?
My details are then passed on to a Letting agent without my permission. Agent then calls to tell me the flat has gone, proceeds to push unsuitable properties on me, and with a thinly veiled contempt.

And they wonder why we hate them so.

Keep up a great Blog RG.

RenterGirl said...

Unfortunately, none of this surprises me. It's not just the contempt and lies I/you all mentioned, but the time wasting. I write about the North, where rents are actually falling. The only people who are oblivious to this are the Letting Agents. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to tell me those stories. More appreciated!

MattW said...

I own my flat but I do like to keep an eye on the rentals as I may go to rented when I decide to sell to avoid a chain. I browsed one letting agent's window display and was surprised to see a scrappy looking terraced house in an average part of Norwich for £75 a month more than a better presented house in a more popular postcode area. What the properties were like internally I don't know.

I had a look on rightmove today at rental flats in my area for the £400-£450 mark. I see the same old properties week after week. How landlords are able to keep their properties untenanted for so long until the get 'the right level of rent' is beyond me.

RenterGirl said...

I wonder whether landlords are resistant to advice, or if they are being badly advised. In every area there is s standard acceptable level (with variations for 'nicer' flats, etc). This level is being pegged by the introduction of new housing benefit ie local Housing Allowance. As unemployment rises, growing numbers of claimants will mean that all owners will have to drop the prices. And the fall in house prices must be reflected in rental costs at some some point, too. I understand that Norwich has been semi carpeted with Dovecots too. Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

I think I've had some classic experiences of letting agents in my time. The ubiquitous new build flats I lived in had shocking build quality. We had our biggest falling outs over the repairs.

One left us without running water for a week. When we complained they said it wasn't their problem. I bluffed an appearance at court was in the works to get some rent back. In the end they passed the cost onto the landlord who had paid them to take care of repairs.

Another one left us without a working bath or shower for about 6 weeks. In case your wondering, the solution involved a new gym membership, and no I didn't get any fitter.

The difficulty is it's nearly impossible to tell the good from the bad until something goes wrong.

I'd say move away from the city for a while. I have and I find it a lot less stressful. Less things break (in this older house), rents are a shade cheaper, less thumping bass from "back to my place" parties... The list goes on.

RenterGirl said...

They are horrible. Really. I'm sorry you were forced to take such heroic steps to ensure bathing. I like the city. I just wish the flats were better and the letting agents were...competent. Thanks for reading!

Peter said...

If it is any consulation to you, and it probably won't be, agents in Germany are exactly the same. When I left the country after a 7 year work project ended, the landlord who owned the building (yes the building) tried to rent out my flat. He got a few bites, but people were appalled at the state of the main comunal stair case which hadn't be redecorated since the building was slung up just after the war.

Landlord employes agent, agent makes things move and we get two or three people a week looking at the flat. No skin of my nose, I work from home, but it did mean I was there to listen to the agent talking to the clients...

"lots of interest"

There had been. At least in looking, but no one came back for a second look.

"Could go at any moment"

We heard from a friend that our flat stayed empty for 3 months after we left.

"I'd sign now if I were you..."

He didn't, and I bet he was glad he didn't.

The flat itself wasnt that bad. But there were better to be had in the area for the same money. The Landlord (retired archtech) liked to do his own repairs, but sadly these were naff and just made things worse. We had securtiy doors that didn't close. Lights in the hallway that were mostly broken. A heating system that sometimes worked.

Rents are cheaper in Germany, but its mostly flats and mostly privately advertised in the paper. There are agents, but they want fees to sign you up BEFORE you look at their properties and are considered to the domain of serious business men with serious sallerys.

RenterGirl said...

That's interesting about renting in Germany, as everyone says that Germany has it sussed with regard to renting and the lack of need to buy.

Peter said...

It's a case of having too. Most German banks won't lend anything over 60% of the property value, and many insist that you save with them 5 years prior to applying for a morgatge.

This means that most people cannot afford to buy until they reach their mid 30's, often later, unless they have really good jobs or if they have parents willing to stump up the money.

Most people I know in Germany that bought either bought a wreck and then did it up, bought a plot of land and put a house on it (an advanced form of pre-fag) or they got the money through some kind of inheritence or retirment payout.

Effectivly this means that most Germans rent, and what they rent is flats. Visit Germany and you will see street after street of three to four story buildings. Most will be privatly owned (probably 90%), with some untidy looking blocks owned by the local councils.

Private landlords in abundance means you can get a flat out the paper without and agent, but good flats in good locations that don't cost the earth are hard to come by and even if the advert comes out in Friday evenings paper, it can be gone by Saturday morning.

Prices increase for things like allocated parking (parking is murder in most cities in Germany) and having a balcony. Room sizes tend to be twice that off Enlish flats, something akin to flats built in the UK in the 60's and early 70's, except that most have three meter high celieings.

On the subject of prices, most include things like having a maintence chappy on stand by, often one of the residents, and water and the heating, the latter supplied via a comunial bolier. Elec and phone are billed seperatly.

A two bedroom flat, with a fitted kitchen and an entry phone system (plus your own room in the cellar) will come to around 500 to 600€ in the north of Germany, add another 200 - 300 in the south.

So, renting is sussed out, but Landlords are still lazy. Most people look at the UK's insistence at buying a house as being a little bit crazy, espically when you consider how much houses and flats cost and how small they are.