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Should You Operate as a Private Landlord or Should You Use a Letting Agent?

Many homeowners throughout the UK who are considering letting out a property they own have to make a tricky decision long before any paperwork even gets signed. This question (as indicated by the title of this article) is whether they should work as a private landlord, or whether they should make use of a letting agent. The path you ultimately end up choosing will significantly impact the overall experience, so it’s important to think this through carefully.

In the following article, we’ll be going through both options as a way of best preparing you to make this decision for yourself. Bear in mind that, at the end of the day, it’s your call to make, and nobody else’s — we’re just going to present you with the facts as they apply to letters in the UK.

Definitions and differences

The main difference between a private landlord and a landlord who uses a letting agent has to do with the amount of distance between the landlord themselves and the person renting the property. A letting agent is somebody who managers properties on the part of private landlords. Because it’s part of their job to ensure that any and all legal requirements are being met by the landlord, this can be a good way to outsource a lot of the tricky, bureaucratic aspects of the process. This comes at a cost, however, since letting agents are paid for their services.

Landlords themselves can be either of the professional variety (which means they derive their main source of income from managing properties and renting them out), or they can be regular individuals who happen to come across a property in some way and decide to generate a little extra money by renting them. The main difference between these two kinds of landlord is usually to be found in the way in which they handle their properties. Somebody who ended up with a property as a result of inheritance, for example, is likely to be more lax when it comes to procedures and precautions than somebody who treats their rental properties as a professional task.

Advantages of operating as a private landlord

The biggest advantage of becoming a private landlord as opposed to using a letting agent is remarkably simple: cost. Because there’s nobody else who needs a fee to be paid to them, this can be a good way to cut down on operating expenditure; this will be especially appealing to somebody who has never been a landlord before, and would like the sole experience to be as straightforward and hassle-free as possible.

Self-managing your rental property is more cost-effective and you’re in control of what goes on. Nobody cares more about your money than you do.

Another reason to consider operating as a private landlord is the fact that you’ll have control of everything that happens with regards to the property. Again, whether this is the right choice for you will probably come down to the particularities of your own personality. Some of us like to get elbow-deep in everything we do, while others prefer taking a hands-off approach when possible. If you’re not an especially detail-oriented person, becoming a private landlord might not suit you, since there are tons of boxes that need to be ticked for everything to run above board.

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Disadvantages of operating as a private landlord

At the end of the last paragraph, we mentioned that there are boxes that need to be ticked; here, we’ll go into these a bit more. Broadly speaking, landlords have two main areas of responsibility. These are responsibilities with regards to the property itself, and responsibilities with regards to the tenant. It’s also worth noting that without a letting agent, you’ll have to market and advertise the home yourself, but that’s not the same kind of responsibility as the ones we’re about to go through.

Responsibilities to the property include:

  • Staying up to date with structural repairs, including any and all faults with ceilings, floors, walls, and the foundations of the home
  • Ensuring any and all electrical components are in good working order and have been properly maintained, including items like smoke and carbon monoxide alarms as well as more standard pieces of equipment like toilets, kitchen utilities, and gas facilities
  • Ensuring legal compliance with regulatory standards when it comes to safety, hygiene, and general habitability

Responsibilities to the tenant include:

  • Making sure that the tenant’s personal information is compliant with the GDPR standards (GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation; you can learn more about it here)
  • Furnishing the tenant with everything they need, including energy and gas safety certificates, as well as the landlord’s own name, address, and emergency contact details
  • Handling any eviction issues (in the unfortunate instance that these should arise) professionally, promptly, in compliance with UK law, and as humanely as possible
  • Ensuring that the tenant is fully aware of any and all financial commitments they’ll be undertaking, including rent, utilities, and other potential expenses
  • Working out a payment scheme that works for both the tenant and the landlord — flexibility goes a long way when it comes to payment plans, and it’s the landlord’s responsibility to create a plan that the tenant will be able to follow

Advantages of using a letting Agent

The biggest advantage you’ll be giving yourself by making use of a letting agent’s services is that most of the above points will be handled for you. It is their job, after all, and it’s what you’re paying them for. As well as being able to handle things like making sure the property is up to scratch and any legal requirements have been met, letting agents will be able to ensure that the tenant’s own rights are being met.

For somebody who doesn’t have much experience with letting properties, all of the details can be a little overwhelming, to say the least. That’s where letting agents really earn their crust — they’ll have previous working experience when it comes to renting out properties, so they’ll know ahead of time what needs to be done, and when it needs to be done by. As well as saving time, this is an effective way of saving on hassle for both the landlord and the tenant, and can often be well worth the expense of the letting agent themselves.

Disadvantages of using a letting agent

As mentioned above, the main downside to employing the services of a letting agent is the cost. While most of them aren’t particularly expensive, there’s no getting away from the fact that it can often be unpalatable to pay for something you’d be able to do yourself. Whether or not you’ll be able to use a letting agent will depend a lot on your budget, so it might well not be an option for many private landlords (at least until they’ve been able to collect a few months worth of rent).

Another significant stumbling block with regards to letting agents is the fact that before they can even get to work, you’ll have to choose one. There’s no end of letting agencies out there, which can actually sometimes do more harm than good, since it can make the choice seem overwhelming. If you’re in doubt about with letting agencies to employ, it’s a good idea to check out some landlord forums on the internet and see what other UK landlords have to say about the options available. Time you spend on this aspect of the decision will save you a ton of time, stress, and money down the line, so it’s well worth spending an afternoon researching the subject to find the best fit for your particular situation.

Other considerations

On top of the legal requirements landlords need to meet with regards to their properties and the tenants who reside in them, it’s important to note that the job doesn’t exactly end there. Even if everything is running smoothly, you’re going to need to be available for any emergencies within relatively short notice. This won’t necessarily impact you majorly, but it has a tendency to seep into other plans, especially when travel is involved.

Vacations, for example, can be made less fun by the fact that you could be worrying about your property. Similarly, letting out a property is going to become another thing you need to worry about. If you don’t have much on your plate already, it likely won’t present too much of a challenge, but if you’ve already got a stressful job, be aware that letting out your property might eat into your downtime.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the question of whether you should operate as a private landlord or whether you should employ the services of a letting agent. Each choice has its own pros and cons, and the only person who knows the ins and outs of your own situation well enough to tell you what to do is, well, you. However, by consulting this checklist regularly as you begin to make up your mind, you’ll be giving yourself the best chance at making a decision which you’ll be happy you made in years to come.

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