It’s creepy. Private landlords, renting independently have all but vanished. You could be forgiven for thinking they’ve been abducted by aliens, or chased away by angry villagers brandishing pitchforks. Apparently, over the past few months, while we were asleep, nearly every flat in town has been taken over by letting-agents (and you know how I feel about letting agencies.)
Why does it matter? Well, sadly this could indicate that most, if not all private landlords are either too afraid to stay in business alone, or have gone under. Imagine the personal misery: the bankruptcies and evictions. Apart from that, dealing with agencies can be difficult for both renter and owner alike, since they can be lax about collecting rent and pass tenants straight back over to landlords when repairs are needed, while charging fees apparently at random.
But total corporate control of the private rental sector is fused with another emerging complication. It’s this: there are so many newbuilds in urban areas, and so much rented property flooding the market, that some letting agencies are even refusing new instructions. In certain blocks, entire floors are empty.
Smaller owners (silly; I don’t mean short landlords, but people who own just the one flat) are scared. And they have every reason to be: there are too many flats and not enough tenants. I suspect that when they are accepted onto the books, landlords are either grateful or over-confident and wait, as advised, for higher rents even where opportunities are shrinking.
I suspect that landlords are promised high occupancy levels by agents making free with the ‘c’ word i.e. certainty (although I’ve heard agents called a different c word altogether.) Mercifully, they’ve stopped ramping up the rents, but now they’ve added a flourish to their game. They’ve set an artificial ceiling on the cost of a one or two bed flat (as for studios, the prices are totally weird).
If agents have accumulated similar flats, what impetus is there to lower rents when knowledgeable prospective tenants barter? Instead, they hold out, to maximise their potential income. Consequently, rents are falling, but more slowly than might reasonably be expected.
Letting agencies do very little for the money, other than operate the Tenant Find service (even I think it’s a good idea for landlords to use this option to screen incoming tenants.) But with regard to prices, agents sit tight until the bitter end, playing poker for higher rents. They’ve far less to lose than a landlord who might willingly accept £50 less per month (still a reasonable income) in return for a good night’s sleep. It’s the callous and greedy leading the terrified and deluded.
In the future, perhaps landlords could stick together and form a co-op, or a gang, because the options for landlords are twofold: either (a) drop the rent or (b) go bankrupt. It’s that simple. In option (a) the only party losing out will be the letting agency, and my eyes are already damp with tears of laughter.