No two ways about it: finding potential tenants – and making sure they're the right tenants – is a pain. While it's something you can get down to a pretty fine art with practice, it's still a time-consuming business – but given that the alternative is an empty property that's not making you any money, it's something every landlord should spend some time getting right.
If you don't have the time to (or don't want to) go through this process yourself, you can always use a letting agent – either to provide a “let only” service, or to manage every aspect of the tenancy.
In this article we'll have a quick run-through of the steps involved:
- Deciding where to advertise
- Writing the advert
- Conducting viewings
- Referencing potential tenants
Although it might not feel like it, this really is just a quick run-through of the key points. There's a lot more detail in my book, How To Be A Landlord.
Deciding where to advertise
Where would you start if you were looking for a property to rent? Chances are you immediately thought “Rightmove” or “Zoopla” – and as it turns out, it's the same for almost everyone else.
As a private landlord, you can’t directly add your property to the main portals yourself, but there are a large number of “online agents” who’ll do it on your behalf. You give them all the info, they place the advert, then pass enquiries on to you.
There are lots to choose from, but I like OpenRent.
Depending on the location and the type of tenant you want to attract, you might also consider trying:
- Local Facebook groups
- Spareroom (for rooms in shared houses)
- The local paper
- Student accommodation offices
Writing the advert
What you ideally want is to generate a huge amount of interest, so you can then get picky and whittle the applicants down to your dream tenant. The one thing that will make or break your ability to do that? The advert.
Before putting your advert together, spend some time in the shoes of a tenant (not literally) and browse your chosen channel – Rightmove, Facebook groups, the local paper etc. – as if you were looking for a place to rent that's similar to yours. You'll notice that some listings jump straight out at you, others blend into the background, and yet others frustrate you because you can't find the information you need.
Bring those insights to putting together your own advert. For a typical online advert, it should include:
- The rent
- When the property is available
- Whether it's furnished or unfurnished
- Requirements for the tenants you'll accept
- The Energy Performance Certificate rating (this is a legal requirement)
- An accurate yet compelling description of the property
Again, I go into all of this in a LOT more detail in How To Be A Landlord.
The other information is necessary, but the description is the part on which your advert will live or die. A common failure of adverts is not to give enough information for a potential tenant to make up her mind – and rather than phone up to ask questions, she's far more likely to just move on and book viewings at properties that she knows are suitable.
The description should include:
- The type of property – house, flat, maisonette and so on
- Whether it’s terraced, semi-detached or detached (if it’s a house)
- Which floor it’s on and whether it’s part of a converted house or purpose-built block (if it’s a flat or maisonette)
- The number of bedrooms, and whether they’re singles or double- The number of bathrooms (and whether or not they’re en suite), and whether there’s a shower, a bath, or both
- The number of reception rooms, and a description of each
- What’s included in terms of furnishings (if any)
- Which appliances are included in the kitchen
- Whether there’s any kind of outdoor space, like a balcony or garden
- Any kind of parking arrangements, such as if there’s a driveway or allocated on- or off-street parking
A floor plan can be a handy extra, to help people better imagine what the property is like and put the photos into context.
Speaking of which…good photos make all the difference in the world. Don't just take a few snaps on your phone and hope for the best: if you don't have a good camera or you lack the skills, £100 on a professional photographer is an investment that will pay for itself many times over.
If you have to keep calling your own phone to make sure it's actually working, one of two things has gone wrong:
- The rent is too high
- The photos and description don't cut it
If you're convinced that the rent is competitive, look at your advert in context: make the same search that potential tenants will be doing, and look at yours alongside all the other listings. Get a friend to do the same, and come up with ideas of what you can tweak to better compete.
Once the phone is ringing, it's time to book in some viewings: but before you commit to spending your time showing someone around, qualify them on the phone to make sure they sound suitable for the property (and vice versa).
- Why they want to move
- When they want to move
- Whether they meet the requirements you set out (tactfully!) – such as working, or with no pets
- What about the property attracted them, and make sure they understand the basics of what's on offer – like the number of bedrooms, outside space etc.
If the conversation goes well, book something in. Chances are it will need to be in the next few days, because people tend to look intensively for a property for a short period of time then stop as soon as they've found something. Do, though, try to batch viewings together where you can – some percentage of viewers just won't show up, so it's a waste of your time travelling there for just one viewing that no-shows.
At the viewing itself, get there a bit early to make sure the place looks presentable, turn on the lights and heating if appropriate, and generally prepare yourself. Once they arrive, don't rush them around: point out the main features, then gracefully withdraw and let them look more closely without you breathing down their necks.
If they seem to be asking lots of questions and sticking around, that's a good sign. Don't be afraid to ask questions of your own: in the guise of casual conversation, you can find out where they work, where they're living now, if anyone else will be living with them, and so on.
Whether they say they want it there and then, or call you the next day, the next step is to take a holding deposit and put some important details in writing to avoid confusion:
- When they plan to move in
- The length of the tenancy agreement
- The amount of the rent
- The deposit they'll need to pay before moving in
- The documentation they'll be asked for as part of the referencing process
How do you vet tenants?
Once your potential tenant wants to move ahead and has paid the holding deposit, the first step is to establish that they are actually who they say they are. You'll also need to establish that they have the right to be living in the UK, thanks to a government scheme called Right To Rent.
You can do this by asking to see the original copy of their passport, along with any other relevant residency documents like a work visa. You should see this for every tenant (not just the lead tenant), and take a copy. If you're unsure about what the documents show, you can use the government's online checking service.
Once you've established that they're allowed to be in the UK, you can answer the next question: are they the kind of person you want to allow to live in your property?
Some landlords make all referencing checks themselves, but I think it makes sense to use a professional referencing service. (Google “tenant referencing” and you'll find lots of options.)
For around £20 and within a day or two, the company will obtain:
- A check to see if they have any county court judgments (CCJs) against them
- A bankruptcy and insolvency check
- Any undisclosed previous addresses, and any credit linked to their past addresses (because if they’re not telling you about a past address, is that because they didn’t behave brilliantly there?)
- Confirmation that they’re allowed to reside in the UK (although this doesn’t remove the requirement for you to do your own checks: the Right To Rent law requires that you see the original documents, whereas the referencing provider won’t)
- An electoral roll check to see if they can be found at the previous addresses listed
- Verification that the bank account details provided genuinely belong to them
- A reference from their current or previous landlord
- Verification of their employment status and income from their employer
That's a lot of work off your hands for a small amount of money. Of course, you can still supplement this with your own checks if you want to: you might want to speak to the previous landlord yourself, for example, or want to see their last couple of months' bank statements to satisfy yourself that they manage their finances well.
However long it took you to find someone or how inconvenient you found the process of conducting viewings, you should absolutely not scrimp on referencing or ignore anything suspicious that emerges during the process. Ultimately, it will be a lot more expensive and painful if you let the wrong tenant move in.
If you have the right property at the right price, the thought of finding tenants shouldn't intimidate you. Although there's a lot of work to be done in terms of viewings and referencing, the process of actually getting the phone ringing with potential tenants isn't difficult – and once you've got an advert written once, you can re-use it every subsequent time the property becomes empty.
Again, you can read a step-by-step guide to everything you need to know about letting and managing a property in my book, How To Be A Landlord.