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Agent advice - The experts at Belvoir reveal the essential questions you should ask an agent before signing on the dotted line...

Offering valuable services for landlords both experienced and new, a good property management agent can form a key part of your property investment strategy

Offering valuable services for landlords both experienced and new, a good property management agent can form a key part of your property investment strategy. And with a nationwide surge in lettings – and an influx of new agents entering the market on a monthly basis – there are certainly plenty to choose from... but making the right decision is essential for your property portfolio success.

“You need to ensure that the person or company you are trusting with your investment is going to provide you – and your future tenant – with the level of service you both require,” explains proprietor of Belvoir Liverpool West Derby Adam Rastall. “A poor agent can potentially lose you a great tenant and cost you a lot of revenue if the service they provide isn’t of a high standard.”

So, how do you know which agent is the right one for you... and your property?

Of course, obtaining information about an agent’s fees and a list of their included services is essential, but in order to gain a fuller insight into ‘what they will do for you and how they will do it’ it’s important to ask other key questions too:

Key question 1: How will you advertise and market the property?

“It is important to ask this question as you need to see that the company you choose will market your property in as many different ways as possible,” says Adam. “This will ensure you attract many quality tenants in a short space of time and help avoid the dreaded ‘void’ when a property is left unoccupied.”

Proprietor of Belvoir Liverpool Central Paul Rice agrees. “It’s important to understand how your agent plans to advertise your property because this will give you an idea of how much exposure your property will get,” she says. “Generally speaking the more exposure a property has the more people see it and the quicker it lets.

“Will your agent use all available media? For instance, do they have a website and will your property be seen on Rightmove, Zoopla and the other popular property web portals. Will an advertisement or editorial be placed in the local paper? How about a ‘to let’ board to attract on-street attention and a window display at the agent’s office to further support this?

“And let's not forget social media either,” she continues. “Used creatively, Facebook and Twitter can let homes.

“Your agent should aim for maximum exposure to ensure all potential applicants see your property... and these methods will individually and collectively ensure your property is not left empty for any longer than necessary.”

Proprietor of Belvoir Liverpool West Derby Adam Rastall adds, “At Belvoir Liverpool West Derby we ensure that we give our landlords’ properties maximum exposure. We advertise them on our own Belvoir website, as well as Rightmove, Zoopla and PrimeLocation. We also run various Google AdWords campaigns, plus advertise the properties in our city centre office.”

Key question 2: On average how long does it take for you to let a property?

“Understanding how long it will take to find a tenant allows you to plan ahead,” says Patsy. “Perhaps you need to complete some maintenance work before re-letting? Or, importantly, you may need the rental income to pay your mortgage or other bills.

“It's important to note that the reduction in ‘empty property relief’ previously awarded by most local authorities has been drastically cut meaning an empty property may cost you from day one!

“Another important factor is your asking price. If you have time on your hands you can possibly hold out for a higher price. But, if you need to let quickly, you may have to be more realistic about the price you are asking.”

Key question 3: Do you do credit checks?

“You need to make sure that the agent will do in-depth checks on prospective tenants so that the risk of the tenant falling into arrears is minimised,” says Adam.

“At Belvoir Liverpool West Derby we carry out credit checks using Experian as this gives us an in-depth report of a potential tenant’s credit file and previous addresses. It also shows if they’ve ever received a CCJ or have been declared bankrupt. We also seek employment references to confirm their income, plus landlord references if they are currently renting.”

Key question 4: Have you already got a waiting list of tenants looking for properties?

“You need to ask this question as many agents will claim to have tenants waiting for a property but are these claims genuine?,” says Patsy.

“Does the agent register and pre-qualify applicants? A pro-active agent will discuss the needs of all prospective tenants (applicants) in order to ascertain if they are serious motivated movers or 'serial lookers'. If the agent takes time to talk to every caller they will gain vital information, such as where the tenant wants to move to, why and when.

“There are a myriad of reasons why people need to move (including new jobs, new babies and marriage breakdowns) and understanding these reasons will allow an agent to match the right property to the right applicant.”

Paul agrees and adds, “At Belvoir Liverpool Central we talk to all potential applicants to assess their needs. We have a large database of tenants who are actively looking for properties – and every time we take on a new property we email details of it to relevant people looking in that area.”

Key question 5: How do you ensure you’re up-to-date with current legislation?

“Asking this question is vital because if your agent isn’t keeping up-to-date with legislation, then it could potentially make you vulnerable... especially if the tenancy turns sour,” says Adam.

“At Belvoir we actively make sure we are kept up-to-date with changes to lettings legislation. Our Central Office provide many staff training days that we are advised to attend. Plus, in our office, we require all our staff members to be qualified to ARLA (Association of Residential Letting Agents) standards, and therefore all staff members have a good level of knowledge of the lettings industry and property management.”

Key question 6: How often will you visit the property once tenanted?

“This is a great question to ask because there are some agents who don’t carry out periodic inspections on properties,” says Adam.

“Checking on a property is advisable and we find this a great time to catch up with our tenants and see how they are getting on. It is also a good opportunity to assess any repairs that need to be addressed.

“At Belvoir Liverpool West Derby and Belvoir Liverpool Central we do our first inspection after three months, then continue to carry out regular inspections throughout the tenancy.

“We now take photos during our inspections for the landlord too, so that they can get a better idea of how the tenant is living in their property – and we’ve had a great response from landlords to these colour photo inspection reports.”

Key question 7: What services do you offer that go beyond the usual services expected from an agent?

Some agents will offer more services than others, so it’s definitely worth finding out exactly what they offer... or don’t.

For example, some will offer an out-of-hours emergency phone line for tenants, while others may provide use of their contractors for maintenance issues. Perhaps the agent is happy to carry out viewings outside of office hours, or will make themselves available to accompany you to court in the event of an eviction hearing? Maybe they offer educational workshops and seminars for landlords, or perhaps they are happy to advise on potential investment opportunities in the local area?

Each agent will offer their own bespoke range of services... but without asking the important key questions it’s impossible to access whether the agent you have short-listed to manage your property will effectively fulfil your needs.

20 questions to ask an agent before you commit – at-a-glance ticklist

1. What are your rates? Does that include VAT?

2. How do you advertise and market your properties?

3. Do you put up a ‘to let’ board?

4. Have you got your own website and/or phone app?

5. What kind of rental return can my property achieve?

6. Have you already got a waiting list of tenants looking for properties?

7. How many properties do you currently manage?

8. How long does it take for you to let a property on average?

9. How do you do credit checks?

10. How long have you been established and what is the company history?

11. Do you advise on investment opportunities?

12. How do you ensure you’re up-to-date with current legislation?

13. How quickly will you start marketing a property once a tenant gives notice?

14. How often will you visit the property once tenanted?

15. Do you have an out-of-hours emergency service?

16. Do you have trusted contractors or tradesmen that you use?

17. How often will you communicate with me and the tenant?

18. What’s feedback like from tenants and landlords? Do you have any testimonials I can look at?

19. Have you won any industry awards?

20. What services do you offer that go beyond the usual services expected from an agent?

Let. us do all the work!

Belvoir

Liverpool West Derby

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