Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Lower Than A Letting Agent

My flat hunt has convinced me. There is nothing lower than a letting agent. Traffic wardens, bankers, slugs, and tax inspectors all have their detractors, but letting agents are special.

I was trying to avoid them, but they’ve established a virtual stranglehold. And so, I opened the door of one office. Ignoring the whiff of sulphur I waited, hoping to be invited to take a seat (I’m old-fashioned that way.) I waited. And then I waited some more as the agent took personal calls, shuffled papers and glimpsed slyly up at me.

“Yeah-esss…” he said, like a cross between Jeremy Paxman and Basil Fawlty. He didn’t look up, and smirked when I mentioned my requirements and the price I would pay. He asked for my details but didn’t appear to be writing them down.

Another sneered at me and even giggled. Then she regained her composure and reached for a hefty file of vacant flats. As she opened it, bats flew out, and the dust choked us all. It was the collection of one beds and studio flats. She did what they all do: offer me crap to see how high I’d go on the gullible meter. I haggled. She refused, as there are plenty of tenants. I said: how come there are so many vacancies, then.

One fine, arrogant chap looked me in the eye, insisting that, in a booming market, flats are snapped up as soon as they come in. He’s never been so busy. His best customers were (you’ll like this…) Saudi princes. I know; awash with money, they select the luxury of a cheap, nasty newbuild.
He reiterated the buoyancy of the rental sector.
He’s a big fat hairy liar.

He offered me a flat, £100 over my starting price, and £50 more than it was worth for a one-bed newbuild with no trimmings. He knew he could get the landlady to go lower. I knew he could as well. That’s because he had persuaded her to ramp up her rent; she was panicking because the flat had been empty for weeks (I’d checked.) I agreed to view the next day, time to be confirmed later. He never contacted me and never returned my calls. That flat is still empty.

It gets better. Another agent said: “I’ve got just the thing.” It was a bargain: lovely area, great building, well-managed.

He showed me a picture of Dovecot Towers.

I took a deep breath. Then I told him (oh, the nostalgia) about the crime, the security, the door, the management etc. The one sliver of his psyche that was human, not lizard, took hold, and he appreciated my explanation of a turnover so high they might as well have removal vans on standby like taxis. The rent has dropped another £50 per month. That’s a full £150 from what the letting bastards had initially tried to squeeze out of me.

By the way, I’ve noticed something else. When Letting Agents stand in front of a mirror, they don’t have a reflection.


the reaper said...

'letting bastards '

loving it..:):):):):):)

MattW said...

Dovecot Towers again?! That block is like something that would not flush away!

"he appreciated my explanation of a turnover so high they might as well have removal vans on standby like taxis." Brilliant description!

What is it about Letting Agents who seem to treat their tenants like 3rd class citizens? Its about time the Letting Industry was regulated.

Ciara said...

Thanks for that:D

Anonymous said...

Am I missing something here--a supply of empty flats, demand from prospective tenants--surely the agents are there to bring the two together? If they're paid a percentage of the rent, why would they care if it drops by a couple of hundred? Are these drama queens trying to defend the honour of the housing market?

RenterGirl said...

Everybody hates them, but they don't care. They move in mysterious ways. And the point about preserving the status of the housing market is what I think they are up to. Sales plummet so they embrace letting. They look you in the eye and lie. And everybody loses.

the reaper said...

'Are these drama queens trying to defend the honour of the housing market?'

yes,somewhere deep down,they know the game's up.but being the pathological liars they are,(not least to themselves),they can't help giving futility one last go.

Basically look at it this way.Qualifications needed-nil.People who's lives you will have the run of,one way or another-loads.These will include people richer/more intelligent/better looking/more charismatic than they would in the normal course of life being given a superior position over.

It it therefore not surprising in the least that many of the snooty f*****s view the industry's survival as the only way they will ever get to excercise their inferiority complexes over other people.

When I last spoke to my previous letting agent,I naturally gave her some of the good news on the forward indicators I use.The look of foreboding in her eyes was palpable.She knows she will struggle to get another job,let alone one with the power over people's lives that she currently has.

I must say though there are some good ones.I know of one who is a gentleman.I also know from reading other blogs eg agents diary that there are some decent people who do it for a living(he's an EA) and seems a decent old sort.

the reaper said...

we've covered lying,now laziness.

think I've mentioned before how she refused to do a time convenient for a viewer.told them she could only do one in the afternoon.

never mind them needing to work,as long as they fit in with your donut munching you fat old cow

TheRenterMonkey said...

Renter Girl, your blog is great!

On the subject of the Letting Agents not passing on your reduced offers to the Landlord;
Have you thought of doing it yourself, just to make sure the Landlord is getting the information?
You can obtain the address of the landlord for about £3 from the Land Registry website I believe.

Might be worth the odd £3 here or there if one of them accepts your offer.

I've made offers on flats, last one was £500 against £550, and am met with contempt from the LA. Really rude and personal. They usually say that it will be gone at the asking price by next week or some such none sense.

I know it is none sense as they are still on the market months later.

In the case of that £550 flat, 4 months later!

RenterGirl said...

Thank you Renter Monkey!
That's a good point. My new landlord encountered their ramping ploys, and saw through it. If they are all as bad, they are driving landlords into insolvency. This sector needs regulation, using (as the military would say) extreme prejudice...

Anonymous said...

Also there's the propensity for hair gel, nasty suits, fat ties and clown shoes.


RenterGirl said...

It's the general air of disdain that irks. Nobody likes them. Not tenants, not landlords and even estate agents look down on letting agents. Should we pity them?

the reaper said...

one million empty homes.renats going up?or down!

Save Dave! said...

How goes it renter girl?

I've been following your blog for a long time and have since escaped the creepy world of private landlords who did nothing but rip me off and crap on me... eventually I thought I'd be safer applying for local authority housing or joining a housing association but in the meantime have been staying in a friends who's sort of vanished leaving me with the place to myself but they wont sign the flat over to me... and now "Guinness Northern Counties" housing association (a private company in disguise with the same questionable ethics as the lazy money grabbing private landlords you blog so much about) are trying to evict me... so I'm starting a new movement!... EVICTION PARTIES!

check out my Facebook group "Dave's Eviction Party!" and campaign to help others to Stop Evictions!

We're having an eviction party & protest on Monday morning (9th Mach 200( - love to see you there, I'll keep you cool can of "Guinness" in the fridge before the bailiffs change the locks!

RenterGirl said...

I agree that certain so-called housing associations enjoy the veneer of acceptability that comes with their outdated status as social housing. Some are even charities. But Dave, I don't have much sympathy with mass, open-invitation parties in a block of flats; in my last home, Dovecot Towers, they were threatening, disruptive, and ignored the fact that people work all hours these days - even weekends. I hope you find somewhere to live, but don't annoy neighbours when it's the HA you are fighting.

Dara said...

RenterGirl - this thing about regulation rather misses the point. Surely the whole argument about private renting is that the market regulates? Yes, I know that is oversimplified and so on but the point of a 'private rent' is surely that it is 'private.'

I agree, that renting is hit and miss to say the least - I had good landlords and bad. But if the market is not offering you what you want then regulation hardly solves that does it?

One option would be like on the continent where there is a strong market in very long-term lets, but I get a sense that this is not in the 'spirit' (for want of a better word) of what you are looking for. Do you not get a sense that perhaps the market you defend so eloquently on here may be trying to tell you something?

Letting agents are a product of a private rental market - short of some sort of central clearing house I am not really sure what you propose, and would be interested to hear your thoughts.

There is, to my mind a stronger argument that you seem to miss. Surely if rents are not being lowered to reflect changing market conditions that, by definition, is a failing market in need of intervention? Ultimately however I struggle to see how you get around the lets being private.

I suspect that you are assuming a level of rationality on the part of landlords that is just not there.

Best of luck to you.

the reaper said...

dara,interesting thoughts.

I am all in favour of free markets and would welcome one in rented housing.You are right,the good LL's would do well and the bad would fail.

Besdies the need for a clearing house of some sort to faciltate the return of deposits,I can see no real barriers.

Except,unfortunately,Landlords are all to keen on govt intervention when it comes to bailing out their toxic finance plans.If these idiots were allowed to fail,thereby allowing rental yields to rise to sustainable levels for sensible traders like myself to step in and run things for a mutually beneficial arrangement,then your argument would hold water.

Unfortunately,we live in an age of supreme poltical stupidity.Regulation is in every bit of our lives,but not the lettings industry,which in my opinion is far more worthy of monitoring than say,diversity awareness in the public services,or the curve of bananas and whether they be sold by the pound or the kilo.

Also,Dara,even in a clearing hosue,you do need someone there monitoring counterparty risk,to make sure the market is both transparent as well as liquid.

Tha's jsut my view

the reaper said...

'Surely if rents are not being lowered to reflect changing market conditions that, by definition, is a failing market in need of intervention?'

have to deal with this separately,Rents are not being forced lwoer because,instead of letting bankrupt banks fail and calling on their collateral,the socialists keep bailing them out with our money.

Thus,I am forced to pay twice for my housing,once in rent,and then a second time in bail outs for imbeciles.

Dara said...

the reaper - I broadly agree

'Landlords are all to keen on govt intervention when it comes to bailing out their toxic finance plans.If these idiots were allowed to fail,thereby allowing rental yields to rise to sustainable levels...'

I think that you are assuming that 'landlord' and 'investor' are per se the same thing. To my mind the whole raison d'etre of this website can be summed up by that tension.

The bank rescues we are seeing now are indeed the result of failed investments on such a grand scale that they bring the economy down and - indeed - essentially leave us with a situation where people pay twice. I'm not altogether sure that letting banks fail would be a good thing for renters though. Indeed, it is interesting to wonder why provision for this sort of thing tends not to be in leases.

I own a leasehold property and the lease and mortgage clearly provide for those occupying the property in the event of substantial failures. None of may rental agreements did.

I agree also that some sort of regulation is needed in rentals, but what I was getting at is what form that should take. I do not claim to have an answer beyond a sort of clearing house, but I have no idea how that would actually work.

It certianly would not get around RenterGirl's problem that the market is not providing what she wants. I would be interested to know what regulation she has in mind.

On your second post - I agree that not letting bankrupts fail may well be working against tennants. It is indeed a separate question and I should not really have confused the issue.

the reaper said...

'I think that you are assuming that 'landlord' and 'investor' are per se the same thing. To my mind the whole raison d'etre of this website can be summed up by that tension.'

you're spot on there.I accept that there are long term landlords,and I know a few who work on a completely different level in that they seriously want tenants for twenty years.These are the landlords we need,providing short and long term rentals,so that those who can't or don't want to buy,can have the option of living somewhere half decent without the sort of intrusions into privacy that many recent buy to letters think is ok.

look at the figures though.in 1997 we had 30,000 buy to let mortgages outstanding,we now have 1.3 million.the 'old money' stopped buying somewhere in 2001/2 when the yields moved to low.They were replaced by a disparate bunch of random investors who have little or no understanding of the business beyond that which they picked up at their inside track seminar.

RG will get what she wants when the govt finally gives up trying to suspend the preoperty market in mid air and lets it revert to long term mean average of hosue/salary multiples around 3.5x.

the reaper said...

jsut imagine,renting your property via an exchange.all the hassles and lies are irrelevant.you buy 6 months and on a monthly thereafter,via an intermediary/clearing house reagulated by someone who doesn't sleep as much as the FSA does.

deposits collected and properties inspected by them,viewings would have to be online possibly to allow and increase functionality.

LL's who didn't post good piccies wouldn't get tenants.

LL's who failed to provide adequate maintenance would lose their licence.

crucially,there would be price and liquidity transparency.

Thats what I'd do anyway.

RenterGirl said...

My problem is that the letting market is not 'free.' I think agents are operating a cartel. Regulation would at least give some redress to the worst abuses. Thanks you for your erudite comments.

Rosemary said...

Hi we have just seen your blog,thank god thatwe are renters in Belgium, we have a very nice 3 bed house with a double garage and massive cellar, on a now get this a NINE YEAR LEASE which we can extend for a further 3 years, you do not have to jump thru hoops, there are no credit checks all you have to do is give 2 months rent as a deposit which is in a bank account in our name we get the interest. If we leave in the first year we have to pay the landlord, 3 months rent to exit the lease, then its 2 months rent in the second year and 1 months rent in the third year, after the third year all you have to do is give three months notice.are we are not going to returning to the UK to live not untill the regulations are changed and renting was not looked apon if you are a second class person.

RenterGirl said...

That's amazing! Actually, itshouldn't be amazing - it should be commonplace. The only thing is, while I deplore the UK's short termism, what if things go wrong, and you have to leave ie noisy neighbours, or lack of repairs? Thanks for reading Rosemary.

Indigo said...

His best customers were (you’ll like this…) Saudi princes. I know; awash with money, they select the luxury of a cheap, nasty newbuild.

One summer about 20 years ago, I worked for a Saudi prince in London. Thanks to oil, Saudis transferred from camels to private Lear jets almost overnight. The family I worked for had 70 limousines in this country, all taxed and maintained for their exclusive use at a moment's notice. All their country palaces were kept in a constant state of readiness (top of the door frames dusted, for instance) in case one of the family should take it into their heads to go there instead of, say, to a palace in Spain.

So, no, they are not into nasty newbuild. :-)

RenterGirl said...

Unless they are, literally, slumming it? That's funny though; I mean, as if...

Anonymous said...

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Carry on the wonderful work!