My epic quest, my odyssey of a house-hunt is progressing in a stately manner, and I’ve developed a world-weary sixth-sense about property people and their duplicity. I’m also starting to wonder if I might be better off using a medium, a psychiatrist or a private detective to discover whether or not landlords and letting agents are trustworthy, reliable and solvent, because sometimes they can pass for human.
Having grasped that tenants are suspicious of corporate letting agents, they disguise themselves as private operations. One ad from an apparently friendly amateur wanted their lucky tenant to be: “…as happy in the flat as they had been.” Turns out, this was lie. They’d never lived there; they didn’t even know where it was.
Any flat where the rent is lowered when you’re hardly through the door, and where crockery and other kitchen items are supplied smacks of desperation. That’s because these items are supplied by companies kitting out buy-to-let portfolios. The price drop should be good, but it’s the last desperate ploy of a landlord who can’t cover the mortgage and is consequently teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and about to topple over. Whenever I see cheap glassware, I can smell an Inside Track Seminar property, purchased in haste, regretted at leisure, repossessed behind your back in an instant.
There are other warning signs: being asked for repeated assurances that you’ll definitely, absolutely always pay on time (without fail, honest; no really) is worrying. An acquaintance’s landlady is paid via the letting agent, and calls if the rent is as little as a few days late to panic down the phone about being in the red, which does not inspire confidence. There are other signs that you won’t get along. Some time ago, one landlord asked, quite casually to see five years of audited accounts and all my bank statements. I said: I’ll you mine if you show me yours. He was most indignant.
Another landlady was upfront, mentioning some minor snags (and what she intended to do about them) whilst joking that she had excellent references from former tenants. She’d owned her only property for years, and offered to drop the price admitting it was a renters market, and that times were hard. The flat of course, was snapped up.
Most of all, beware this latest scam. I saw a flat advertised online. It looked lovely (totally ideal, actually) but something was odd, not quite right, or perhaps too perfect. I thought I might as well enquire, and received the following reply. The owner wasn’t sure if his former home had one or two bedrooms. He was busy with missionary work in…Nigeria (can you hear the warning bells?)
He couldn’t organise an actual viewing but was willing to email pictures of the flat (clang!) and I could move in after I had sent him my personal details and paid the deposit, when the keys would be sent by courier (DING DONG!)
Think of these ads as providing a useful service when there’s no bin close by to chuck away your money, or no match to burn your wads of cash.