Are you joining Britain’s growing army of accidental landlords? If you're deciding to rent out your property you're becoming a Landlord but you mustn't underestimate the importance of following the rules. I'm not about to tell you what they are - that's when the experts come in handy!
In this guest article, Martina Lees, author of The Accidental Landlord, tells you how to let out your London home with complete peace of mind.
You’re leaving London — intentionally — but are you about to let your London home accidentally? That would make you one of about 500,000 accidental landlords in Britain: owners who never meant to let their property, but have done so through circumstance.
Yet there is surprisingly little help for people like you — and me. My husband, Daniel, and I ended up letting his Wimbledon bachelor pad after we got married and learnt the hard way. Eventually, he started swift.property, a lettings agency that looks after the London homes of accidental landlords living on five continents. Amongst thousands of callouts, he has had to close a neighbouring brothel and rescue a pet python.
I became a property writer for The Sunday Times, and together we have written The Accidental Landlord to help others like us. Here we answer five of the biggest questions asked by accidental landlords.
1. How long does it take to find tenants?
Much depends on you. We all think our children are adorable, but being blind to the peeling bathroom floor will put off the professional tenants you seek. Fix snags and dress your property for your target audience: students want fully furnished, while families prefer empty houses to fill with their own belongings. Use a professional photographer for £50-£125 — your home will stand out in the morass of fuzzy phone snaps on Rightmove.
Set a realistic rent: look online for similar local properties, then call the agents and ask what rents were agreed. If you ask too much — whether you’re trying to cover your costs or an agent buttered you up with an overestimate — your property will languish empty.
And be flexible on tenant types, start dates, contract length, pets, furnishing and pre-tenancy works. The narrower your brief is (‘single Aquarius, no cat’), the smaller your pool of potential tenants becomes – and the longer your property will take to let.
That said, if your property is a fourth-floor flat with no lift, or miles from a station, it will be harder to let.
Doing all of the above gives you the best chance of finding tenants who will look after your home.
Never let to friends. You’ll feel bad for charging a deposit or increasing the rent, and they won’t like it either.
Once you have an offer, do thorough checks: call via their employer’s switchboard — not via the number the tenant supplied — and check on the Land Registry whether the named landlord owns their current address. A tenant referencing company will do the legwork for about £30.
Above all, go with your gut. Would-be tenants who keep changing their minds or make lots of demands will keep doing so after they move in.
3. Do I need an agent?
It takes about eight hours of work to find tenants, another two to four hours per month to manage a property, plus five or so to end a tenancy. Unless you have that time and can save more by self-managing than what you would earn elsewhere, the right agent can be good value. Remember, too, that agent fees are tax deductible from your rental income so the saving might be less than you think.
You may, however, love fixing things and want to retain control even if it makes little sense financially.
You also need to be organised, or ensure that your agent is. Ultimately the buck stops with you, not them. Their “Oops, my bad” for breaching any of the 140-plus landlord laws is your invalid insurance, unlimited fine or tenant you can no longer evict. Far more important than whether to self-manage or use an agent is to self-manage effectively or use the right agent.
4. Should I do any works?
Get advice from a good local agent on which improvements will make a difference in your market. Works should make more money than they cost – lost sleep and lost rent included. That new kitchen or bathroom will take years to recoup through raised rent, but there may still be good reasons to go ahead, such as to:
- Increase the sale price if you’d like to sell soon.
- Up the property standard so it attracts better tenants and rents faster.
- Add a bedroom – done properly, this will add both rental and sales value.
- Tackle a big maintenance problem.
- Maximise the property’s potential, raising both the rent and the long-term capital value.
When it comes to spec for rental properties, there are two big newbie mistakes. The first is to choose finishes of the same standard that you’d have liked. Look at comparable ‘let agreed’ properties on Rightmove and Zoopla and use their finishes as a guide. For all except top-end rentals, durability and functionality are all that matter. Tenants won’t fork out for bespoke built-in wardrobes or marble fireplaces.
And the second mistake? That’s easy – don’t impose your taste. Keep walls white, floors neutral and ceilings clear of taxidermy chandeliers. Most tenants simply want clean and bright.
5. What if the boiler conks out over Christmas?
Fixing that boiler is a legal requirement, contrary to the belief of one landlord who said: ‘Why do they need hot water? I shower in cold water.’ So are repairs to the building’s structure, power, water or sanitaryware.
Arm tenants with a house guide on how to use your home, boiler manual included, and give them a number to call in an emergency. If you use a managing agent, it will usually be them. If you self-manage, screen tenant requests before calling a tradesman — the “broken” boiler might just be switched off. Update tenants on progress and be honest on timescales; keeping them in the dark makes it worse.
Inspect the property for slow-burning maintenance problems at least once a year and set aside 5–10% of your annual rental income for repairs. A new build flat will likely have fewer costs than a period house. The most important thing, though, is to set aside something.
The Accidental Landlord: The Keys to Letting Out Your Own Property with Complete Peace of Mind is out now at £12.99; accidentallandlord.info