Tips to avoid being let down by your letting agent



'Thousands owed to landlords and tenant deposits not secured as estate agency collapses.'

Mike White, Martin & Co. Pic:

Mike White, Martin & Co. Pic:

This is the sort of headline which appears in newspapers up and down the country on a nigh weekly basis.

As a result, I thought this might be a timely reminder of what people should do as a matter of course, to protect themselves from the clutches of potentially unscrupulous agents.

As I've said before, the vast majority of letting agents see their clients and their clients' properties, quite rightly, to be cherished and nurtured. However, as we have frequently seen, there are some who take a different view. So, how do you make sure you don't become a victim?

Well, you'll be pleased to know, it's quick to do and, if you follow this simple advice, it could save you a lot of grief in the future.

First off, you'll need a recommendation from a trusted friend to their letting agent.

If you can't get one, take a look at the Agents' Reviews on Google (don't bother with those on other review sites as these can be spurious, in my view).

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If you're confident in your initial selection, let's add a look at the agent's individual website; as a minimum, it should include, Company Registration Number, VAT Number, Address of Registered office, Full details of fees to both landlords and tenants all quoted inclusive of VAT.

If the agent either doesn't have its own website – just relying on the likes of Rightmove – or doesn't conform with these basic legal requirements, why bother investing any more of your time? Next!

Next stop – off to the Companies House website to verify the company registration details.

While there, take a look at the date the company was incorporated – longevity is good – also that their mandatory accounts filings are up to date and who the directors and shareholders are.

Also, have a look at the directors' other company appointments and be extremely wary of anyone who has a long list of previous companies now dissolved.

This will suggest a distinct lack of prior success (or worse).

From here, take a quick pit stop at the HM Customs and Revenue website to check that the VAT number is genuinely registered to the agent.

The individual agent website is also supposed to tell you if said agent doesn't carry Client Money Protection, this is basically a bond which all self-respecting agents have in place to protect their clients from the agent 'doing a bunk.'

It is perverse that agents only have to publicise that they don't carry CMP but most who do, will rightly be keen to make a virtue of it.

Indeed, it is a requirement of the voluntary regulatory bodies, NALS, ARLA, RICs that their members must have this in place. Again, any self-respecting agent will want to be a member of this type of body and submit themselves to the ethical standards demanded by them.

So, look out on the agent's website for an emblem to indicate which of these bodies they subscribe to. BUT, since it's dead easy just to copy and paste a logo from the internet, you should actually search the register of NALs, for example, to see if the agent purporting to be a member genuinely is. Like the other checks you've already done, walk quickly past if either no membership of a regulatory body is shown or worse, it is but a check of the actual register shows there might be some fibbing going on.

There's loads of other checks you can do but I promised to keep this quick and simple. Doing these I've outlined here, if you're online savvy, will take you about twice as long as it took you to read this article. You can't even make beans on toast in that time but it may well save your beans being put on someone else's toast!

You can contact Martin & Co in Norwich on 01603 766860.

Martin & Co has sponsored this column.