Advantages and disadvantages of using letting agents
With over 400 rules and regulations governing the letting and managing of property in the UK, choosing whether to use a letting agent or to self-manage your property is a decision that should not be taken lightly.
We've pulled together the advantages and disadvantages of using a letting agent, with advice from property expert Kate Faulkner, to help you weigh up what's best for you.
- Rules and regulations for letting property in the UK
- Do I need a letting agent?
- How much do letting agents charge?
- The best letting agents
- What is Client Money Protection (CMP)
- What is Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP)
- Letting agent regulation
Rules and regulations for letting property in the UK
But before we take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of using a letting agent, it's important for any landlord to be aware of the rules and regulations for letting property in the UK. Many of the rules for landlords concern the health and safety of tenants, and the penalties for breaking the law - even unintentionally - can be severe, from unlimited fines to prison time.
Everyone involved in the industry must be able to stay up to date with both new legislation and changes to existing laws. For example, from April 2018 to April 2020, 14 pieces of lettings legislation came into force - there always seems to be something under consideration by the government. And during the Coronavirus stay-at-home measures, the government introduced 21 pages of guidance, including a temporary extension of eviction notices.
So, if you're trying to decide between self-managing and using an agent, the legal side of things should be one of your biggest considerations. A letting agent will help you keep up with all the latest legal changes regarding letting and managing a property, but Gov.uk is also a great place to stay up to date.
Do I need a letting agent?
In order to decide whether you need a letting agent or not, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the advantages and disadvantages of using their services, which can usually be tailored to your needs.
Advantages of using a letting agent
For one, operating a professional let is a time-consuming process. Letting agents will help you with advertising, handling queries, conducting viewings, drawing up the lease and inventory, managing the deposit, and administering the let.
As experts in their field, and with good knowledge of market conditions and demand, letting agents will probably be able to achieve a higher rent than you would. Letting agents are experts, who let and manage properties day in, day out. The best ones belong to a trade association, are experienced, well-trained and supported by professional industry bodies, so you can be confident your property is always legally let at the best market rate and properly managed.
They also have solid systems and procedures in place. Good agents know exactly what needs to be done, when, and how, and will have a reliable network of suppliers and contractors. All this generally means they can deal with things much more quickly and efficiently than an individual landlord.
Some more benefits include:
- Stringent vetting and referencing procedures mean you're more likely to attract reliable tenants.
- The Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP) administration is taken care of for you.
- Letting agents can handle all of the paperwork in relation to your property.
- Rent can be collected and chased up on your behalf.
- Letting agents can deal with all the day-to-day property management and maintenance issues.
- Letting agents are up-to-date on current legislation affecting landlords.
- You have an objective and impartial buffer between you and your tenants. If there are problems during the let, letting agents are experienced in negotiating dispute resolution.
- Evictions are not straightforward. If you need to evict a tenant, a letting agent knows the correct legal process.
- Employing an agent should reduce your workload (and possibly stress and anxiety.)
- Letting agents may be able to offer legal, landlord insurance and tax advisory services.
Disadvantages of using a letting agent
One downside to hiring a letting agent is that you're reliant on them doing their job properly. If you're not careful about choosing your agent and they get things wrong, you may not find out until there's a major problem with the property or the tenant, which could put you in a difficult position, legally and financially.
If the letting agents arrange any repair or maintenance work on your behalf, you may be charged an arranging fee, on top of the actual repair costs. Some agents charge a fee for arranging repairs and some apply an additional charge to third-party services, such as Energy Performance Certificates, Gas Safety Certificates and even using their tenancy agreements.
Some more disadvantages include:
- Typically, they charge a set-up fee and anything from 12% to 20% of the rental income for a full letting and management service.
- If there are any problems, such as evicting a tenant, it will mean extra administration, paperwork and possibly cost.
- Lack of control. Some people like the idea of being able to choose the tenant themselves and build a relationship with them.
Questions to ask a letting agent
If you do decide to use a letting agent, make sure you ask them the following:
- Are you a member of a professional body, such as the National Approved Lettings Scheme www.safeagents.co.uk or The Association of Residential Letting Agents www.arla.co.uk/
- Do they have Client Money Protection (CMP)? (see more below)
- How do you find tenants & how thorough is your referencing process?
- Who and how will the property be maintained?
- Can you have a full list of services and charges on one page?
How much do letting agents charge?
Letting agents are legally obliged to clearly advertise the fees they charge. The cost can vary considerably, depending on where you are in the UK and how individual agents choose to structure their fees.
For a full letting and management service, you should expect to pay:
- An initial set-up fee for marketing the property and securing the tenant – commonly the equivalent of one month's rent
- Somewhere between 12% and 20% of the monthly rent for ongoing management (including rent collection), depending on where the property is and what's included
You may also be charged separately for:
- Right to Rent checks
- Deposit protection (see more below)
- Arranging repairs
- Third-party service premiums
So, make sure you understand exactly what's included and, importantly, whether VAT is included. And check how they keep up with letting legals; be very wary if they don't belong to a recognised trade association.
Whatever fees and charges you're quoted, it's always worth negotiating. Lettings is a competitive market and every agent wants your business, so don't be afraid to haggle!
The best letting agents
Although there is currently no regulation of letting agents in England (see below) most agents - and certainly the best ones - are members of one of the three main self-regulatory industry bodies:
- Propertymark (formerly the Association of Residential Letting Agents)
- UK Association of Letting Agents (UKALA)
- Safeagent (formerly the National Approved Lettings Scheme)
Member agents are held to a code of practice and are supported in training their staff and keeping up to date with legal changes. All the industry bodies have legal helplines should agents need any advice.
In addition, by law, all letting agents must:
- Have Client Money Protection (CMP)
- Belong to one of the two government-approved redress schemes
What is Client Money Protection (CMP)?
Client Money Protection (CMP) schemes make sure landlord and tenants are compensated if a letting agent cannot repay their money, for example, if a letting agency went into administration. Letting agents can be fined up to £30,000 if they don't join a CMP scheme.
The COVID-19 crisis put the property industry under a huge amount of financial pressure, so it's never been more important to make sure that your agent has CMP. If they go bust mid-tenancy, you've got to be sure the money they're holding for you and your tenant is protected.
And with letting agent regulation in England on the horizon (see below) and private tenancies now lasting more than 4 years (EHS 2020-2021), it's important to make sure whoever's looking after your investment is qualified, professional and protected. So, check that your agent is a member of an industry body, has CMP and belongs to a redress scheme. If they don't tick all three boxes, then move to an agent that does. CMP is different to Tenancy Deposit Protection.
What is Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP)?
Landlords or letting agents must place tenants’ deposits in a Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP) scheme, to help ensure they get their money back at the end of the tenancy, so long as they meet the terms of your tenancy agreement, don’t damage the property and pay their rent and bills. Deposits must be added into the scheme within 30 days of getting it.
Letting agent regulation
In July 2019, the Regulation of Property Agents (RoPA) - a working group of professionals and businesses within the property industry, that had been convened by the Housing Minister - presented a report to the government recommending that:
- All agents should have to follow a Code of Practice
- A regulator should be created to ensure all agents comply with the rules and what is legally required of them.
As of May 2022, the recommendations surrounding landlord regulation continue to be considered.
Since November 2015, all letting and managing agents in Wales have had to be licensed and complete approved agent training. As a minimum, they must also have:
- Professional Indemnity insurance
- Membership of a consumer redress scheme
- Client Money Protection insurance
You can check the register of agents via the Rent Smart Wales website.
Under the Letting Agent Code of Practice legislation, it's been a criminal offence since 1 October 2019 for letting agents to operate without being on the Scottish Letting Agent Register.
The Code of Practice requires that agents:
- Are deemed a 'fit & proper person' to let and manage property
- Identify who within the business requires the specified qualifications and training
- Belong to a Client Money Protection (CMP) scheme
- Hold Professional Indemnity insurance
Agents must also put their unique letting agent registration number on all their communications and advertising. If your agent isn't displaying their number, you can search the Letting Agents Register to make sure they're on it.
The information contained within this article is for general information purposes only, it does not constitute advice. Direct Line for Business endeavours to keep the information up to date and correct but does not make any representation or warranties of any kind about its completeness, accuracy, reliability or suitability. Any reliance you place on the information is strictly at your own risk. Direct Line for Business will not be liable for any direct or indirect loss or damage arising out of or in connection with the use of this information.
An original article was created using advice from one of the UK’s leading, independent property experts, Kate Faulkner, which we’ve updated with new information.