Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Don't Make Me Angry

I didn’t want to do this, but I am writing about letting agents again. I was hoping that if I ignored them, they’d go away. It didn’t work.

First of all, they are rude, and their manners worsened as my flat-hunting progressed. I’ve been ordered to hurry up during phone conversations when I was obviously asking too many pertinent questions, airily dismissed through an audible haze of impatient sighs, sneered at (again) then mocked for checking the days date.

I called one agent to arrange a viewing. Now, in every city, there are areas where at one end of the neighbourhood, life is sweet. Let’s call that Easy Street. At the other end, life is dominated by burglaries and fear - let’s call that Death Row. You can’t always tell from the postcode or a map, and once you are seen to be an out-of-towner, agents will try and palm you off with a shack in Death Row.

I asked the agent: “The flat’s not in Death Row, is it?”
“No; no – of course not.”
“It’s not on the ground floor?”
“No; the very idea!”
“…and it’s definitely fully furnished?”
“Of course!”
“I’ve seen some nasty places recently; please don’t waste my time.”
“It’s lovely – trust me.”

Fifteen minutes and one costly taxi ride later, I was viewing an unfurnished ground-floor hovel in a slum, with a view out onto the bins, after the neighbours had eyed me up like vultures circling a carcass. I didn’t take the flat, and the agent was incredulous: “…you mean you don’t like it? Do you mind if I ask why?”

The worst encounter so far involves that old letting agent ploy: lying. Where I am living, agent admin fees are illegal - a detail cheerfully ignored by them all. I visited an office. Briskly, they mentioned a fee. I said:
“I thought charging admin fees was illegal here.”

It was like the scene in Oliver where that brave little orphan asks for more gruel, but here with letting agents snorting with derisive laughter. Illegal – yeah right. I couldn’t work out if they were actually lying, or simply didn’t know. What do other readers think? Still, I really made their day.

Then they gathered their composure. Speaking to me slowly, as if I am an idiot, they said: you want the flat – we charge a fee – that’s how it is. They demanded a higher than usual deposit all the while looking me up and down like I had rolled around in dog muck and wrapped myself in cling film before visiting.

I know for a fact they haven’t followed up a single reference, which means they are charging both myself and the landlord a horrible amount of money for an online credit check, which costs about a fiver. The application form they gave me was badly spelled, poorly formatted and full of improperly used legal terms, which I kept quiet about.

Thing is, I’m really angry now. They shouldn’t have made me angry. This might well go further.

7 comments:

MattW said...

How annoying for you, RG. Once again, a case of the Letting Agent forgetting who the client is.

Perhaps next time you decide to view a rental, you could ask them if they would be happy to let it out to their children, nieces or nephews?

Anonymous said...

RG

Assuming you are in England I cannot see why you thought admin fees were illegal. Limited by Accommodation Agencies Act but not totally banned.

Matt, is the prospective tenant the legal client of the agency or is it the landlord?

Burbage said...

A usefully self-serving explantion of the fee business, from Bushells, is here.

As well as a handy tip about credit references, they also point out that agents should belong to some sort of ombudsman or association. Most of the big estate-agent chains do. But it's a very different picture with the independent agents.

That's sometimes because, especially where large numbers of flats are in the hands of a few owners, the agencies are owned by the landlords. That way, they've got a scapegoat and buffer against any awkward tenants, and it's much easier and quicker to dissolve a letting agency than it is to get rid of a property empire should anything go legally unfortunate.

Either way, an agent works for the landlord, and their job is to drive tenants into desperately accepting whatever rubbish is left on their books as quickly as possible. It's in their interest to churn tenants (on account of the fees), and often it's in the landlord's too (especially when they're one and the same). As long as demand outstrips supply, they'll put as little effort into their work as possible, and many do see tenants as arguably necessary vermin.

I'd generally avoid agencies. You don't really know how independent they are of the big landlords, and there's no good reason why a small-scale landlord would use an agent rather than put an ad in the paper themselves. If they do, then they're either absentee or too lazy to bother, and in either case they're unlikely to worry too much about your comfort.

Neil80 said...

Burbage.

You definately have a good point about it being in the landlords and agencies interests to move tenants around.

I'm starting to think there are a lot of similarities between letting agents and Football agents. Eric 'monster, monster' Hall certainly springs to mind.

Letting agents are only going to start being nice to tenants when they are a.) Forced to by legislation or b.) Forced to compete for business by lack of demand.

On the subject of fees one high street estate agent I went to a couple of years back wanted astronomical fees for a flat going at about £450 p.c.m. Then there was my personal favourite a 'check-out fee.' These people could give Ryanair ideas.

RenterGirl said...

I am outside of England so fees are illegal, an inconvenient truth merrily and staunchly ignored. They never did check my references. A check-out fee? A make-it-up-as-you go-along-fee, in all but name. And I'd love to avoid them, but they are tightening their grasping grip with every passing day. I wish landlords would realise: they don't do anything for the money. Nothing. Also - the bigger the agency the bigger fee, which can't be right. I am aware that various people are trying to set up online 'dating-agencies' for tenants and landlords. Let's hope this idea takes off.

Shoe said...

The fees are very annoying, and even in places where they are illegal agencies and landlords do find ways to add hidden extras on at your expense. One former landlord added 12 cent per electricity unit to my electrical meter, for example. He had been forced to put in a hot water tank because me flat had no hot running water except for the power shower - which was technically illegal. I'd previously had free electricity (useful as I'd also no heating, which is actually still legal here) so he started charging me for that - at double the then rate.

I gave my notice and moved out within 2 months.

As for agencies, oh dear, don't start me. I was at a food festival the other in the town of my old agent for the place I moved to with my now ex, after we left the penny pinching electricty cheat. I noticed their office was gone. Not surprised - this particular agent took our references for a quiet 2 bed flat in town, but then pushed us towards a bigger 3 bed place - which it turned out his wife owned (we found this out through colleagues of my ex, not the effective agent/landlord). She wasn't declaring it for tax purposes either, which we discovered when we looked for them to sign our tax forms!

Now my current landlady runs her own agency, but there are no charges. There is one agent in this city who charges a percentage of the monthly rent to tenants to show places, but generally people bypass these thieves and use other agents instead.

Likewise there is also one other large landlord who owns a lot of property who also operate their own agency - whats disturbing is that their other business is as moneylenders . . .

MrPeregrination said...

If you can take these people to court or something over the illegal fees then please do. This crap wont stop until people start standing up for themselves.