Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Letting Agents - Slight Return

Yep – letting agents again. I’ve written before about these mythical monsters and wondered if I’d been too harsh. Then I thought: what if I’ve been unfortunate, only encountering the worst examples. Somewhere in the solar system, jovial, informative, honest, helpful letting agents must exist. Don’t they?

But the examples I’ve encountered recently have been horrible. They also seem to have gathered up all the properties in all the world in order to control them. Furthermore, some of them are weird.

One company in particular monopolises the flats in one of the best areas, leaving me with little choice: I had to deal with them. But these days prices aren’t too bad (rents really are falling) and so I arranged a viewing via their prickly and officious receptionist.

The apartment block in question was enormous and had been cunningly converted into a maze. I’d been given short notice of a viewing, and called to say I was on my way. The agent greeted me sharply: “I wondered where the hell you were.”
I did call to say I was lost, I said.
“Hmmm…” came her reply.

She looked me up and down with an armour-piercing squint. No small talk, no patter - just a disdainful, frigid absence of words.
“I have the keys,” she said as we approached the flat.
“Good because I don’t.” I joked lamely. Silence and another cyclopean death stare.

I asked about references. She ignored me. I asked about the landlord. More silence. The flat was okay - there was even some storage (yay - cupboards!) which I noticed was packed with half-empty paint tins, which, I was tetchily informed, I’d be obliged to hold on to (“…just in case.”)

I saw another flat. It was furnished bloke-style: matt-black and everything made of what the inventory will refer to as faux leather, with fake designer chairs. It smelled of damp. The wallpaper was peeling off in places; underneath I noticed blackheads of emerging mould.

“Does the roof leak?” I asked, quite reasonably.
Silence.
“It smells of damp – I think the roof leaks. Would you know anything about that?”
Silence, and another baleful squint.

I asked all questions I’ve learned from previous bad experience to ask, like does the owner have an official buy-to-let mortgage, but there was no reply, just another squint, this time paired with a terrifying sneer. Her face was so contorted by now that she looked like a life-model for Francis Bacon. Tenants who ask awkward, albeit pertinent questions are clearly not wanted round those parts

Another firm imposed complex, arcane rules on tenants, so strict that only the blessed Sir David Attenborough, or another modern saint would suffice. They advertised one flat as ideal for students, but operated a no-students policy. Get out that, if you can… I questioned this, but all the agent said, repeatedly was: “Those are company rules, and rules are rules.”

The thought of meeting letting agents has made me feel sullied by association. Seriously, how can I wrestle free of these vampires? And landlords, why do you associate with them?

16 comments:

Neil80 said...

There seems to be no stopping them either. Do any landlords, apart from those in the student letting business or at the absolute bottom end of the market, still rent their properties directly?

They also seem to have survived the financial meltdown.. cockroaches???

Matthew said...

If it's any consolation, they can be as useless and wilfully ignorant when dealing with the landlord.

We employ letting agents to find tenants for the flat we rent out above our own; we bought the flat because, after years of the previous slum landlord and his noisy, nightmare tenants, and when he had to sell we had the opportunity buy it [to let] and have some say in who lives up there.

It's a one-bed+box room / two-bed flat, first floor. No garden. So we told the letting agents we were after maybe a professional couple or two working people.

They then found us prospective tenants in the shape of a] a five-piece US rock band just signed to Sony UK who needed the flat to crash in whilst they were over here gigging and selling themselves. And b] a doctor and his wife and their three young children. And when I called up the office to query the doctor and family, the receptionist passed on the message from the agent:
"She wants to know: just YES or NO?"

Sadly, they are invaluable for getting and checking references when the landlord is also in a full-time job. And can be held accountable when the tenants do a runner.

RenterGirl said...

Neil80-cockroaches is an interesting analogy. How does a group of supposed professionals monopolise a perfectly reasonable service, and yet manage to annoy everyone in the process.

Mathew: they tried to persuade my wise current landlord to ramp up his rent. They have successfully convinced other owners, whose empty flats languish as they are too pricey.


Both those stories are priceless, but not funny if you had to endure the reality, I'm sure. And it's the fact that they can be so rude.

The tenant-find service is all they are good for. Even so, I know of a couple of landlords who used them for tenant checking, only for the people they found to be bolters/manifestly unsuitable.

MattW said...

I think its about time that Letting Agents start to think of tenants more as paying customers, as opposed to people who are perceived as not being able to afford to buy their own property.

It's ironic that most of the time you get treated like a King or Queen by shop staff when spending a few pounds, whereas you get treated with contempt by Letting Agents and some Landlords, who tenants pay hundreds of pounds to!

I'm surprised that the perception of renting being second best hasn't changed given the current economic situation. Left-wing rant over!

RenterGirl said...

That's exactly it; tenants are sneered at - in the instances I wrote about, I mean actually sneered at. I am heartily sick of writing about them. I want to write a post about a happy encounter. What are the chances of that happening?

Nick said...

Neil,

Yes - plenty of Landlords rent direct, but they tend to be difficult to find on the internet because they don't have the advertising budgets of letting agents. I'll Blog next week giving tips on how to find them.

RenterGirl said...

Nick - seriously please tell me now! I am flathunting at the moment, and have found that all the landlords use letting agents. I found one ad in the window of a newsagent. Called the landlord - he put me onto his letting agent. He said he placed his own ads simultaneously as he didn't trust letting agents. I explained about 'tenant find,' service and that they take 15% of his rent for nothing. He was aghast. They aren't on Gumtree - that's still used by agents (and oddballs). Where are they Nick? Help!

DrGaz said...

What we need is a super-site for renting (a bit like Rightmove) but where letting agent scum are completely forbidden. Why doesn't this exist?

RenterGirl said...

It fascinates me. Landlords are terrified: if they own just the one property, then letting agents seem to offer security. The agents I've encountered over the past few weeks are blase about empty property and voids, and don't explain anything about the property, hate being asked questions and as I said, genuinely sneer at tenants. Why do landlords use them? Gumtree is apparently professionalising it' service, ie aiming at letting agents, and very few flats are let privately by individual owners.

Anonymous said...

Is it time to ressurect the Martinus van der Lubbe Firebomb Conspiracy?

RenterGirl said...

Thatwould just make evrything worse.. We'd lose our ads, and have noone to moan about.

MrPeregrination said...

I HATE letting agents. I just had a run in with the idiots who fully manage my current landlords property. They tried to insist I pay a renewal fee of 180 quid. I told them they worked for the landlord, not me, and if they wanted to get paid to go ask him. So they tried to convince the landlord that he would need to give me two months notice to get out since I wouldn't pay them. Idoits. My wife was 37 weeks pregnant at the time so it was rather stressful. The agents backed down in the end since it is bordering on, or possibly is, extortion and would never hold up in court. "Nice tenancy, shame if something were to happen to it....". Vile scum the lot of them.

Thankfully I wont have to deal with them anymore because the landlord is now convinced house prices are rising so we are getting kicked out with a three week old baby so he can sell the place. This country is truly evil in its treatment of renters.

RenterGirl said...

Mr Peregination: that is appalling. I am so sorry to hear about that, and sincerely hope that you are okay. Why do they do these things? I suppose it's a combination of greed, and disdain. Are there any decent agents out there, as nobody ever has anything good to say. I myself have had a truly dreadful experience just this very morning. I hope things work out for you.

G Murphy said...

Hi People, its very sad but have to say not at all unusual to hear the comments and stories regarding letting agents, now were a letting agent (myself and my partner) started the business just over 2 years ago now and decided from the start to build it slowly and not to a level where tenants or lanlords end up being neglected. I do think this is the number one problem that letting agents run into, they grow too big too fast and try to run things on such a tight budget that they just cannot keep track of whats going on. In the longterm this usually ends up being their downfall with some big names disappearing over the last 12 months. We just cover the liverpool area at the monent as this is also where we have most of our own properties. I do wonder how on earth some of them stay in business as long as they do. Another problem is that when the business grows to a level where extra staff are needed the agencies do tend to employ just any old fool who'll say or do anything to make sure a property is let, again this will only be worthwhile shorterm, word does get around as we can see here. Well there we go a short explanation /observation from an agent, so if you ever need an agent who talks sence, even listens ! then give us a call or email us, our website is www.stophereltd.co.uk

regards,
Geraldine @ Stop Here lettings

Anonymous said...

I have had similar experiences and had enough of uneducated complacent agents.

So I decided to do something about it...

www.IHateLettingAgents.com

Enjoy!

Joseph Carr said...

It's nice to hear someone saying something about this!
I live in Brighton where there's a shortage of houses and an excess of idiots willing to take just about anything.
We've had to move three times in three years because of damp and mould, blocked drains and generally stuff that I could fix but am prohibited from and that the agents could have fixed but don't.
My partner and I were once shown around a one bedroom flat where the current tenant had filled this bedroom with soiled (incredibly stinky!) clothes and decided to live in the front room instead. To top it off the place STUNK of weed. He had to be growing it somewhere. The agents response was that it would be fine to raise a family in (it would't- there was open plan stairs and was the size of a matchbox!) and that we were lucky to get a look in as one and two bed flats are so rare at less that £800 p/w.
Also, despite promises of decoration, the last flat we lived in came with wallpaper that fell off the week we moved in!

Since we are constantly being referenced (at our own expense!) why is there no site or service that rates, compares and logs complaints about letting agents?

You can compare mortgages, read sellers feedback on eBay or amazon, why not for agencies?