Rip-off agent fees: when will it end?

For renters, the cost of moving home can be substantial.  Not only are deposits of 6 weeks’ rent commonplace - on top of this, tenants are usually charged fees by letting agents to cover referencing, contract signing and other “admin”. Earlier this year consumer magazine Which? found that the average fee charged to tenants was £310 each, and the highest was £420. Since these fees aren’t usually disclosed until a tenant has already seen a property, and sometimes not until they’ve put down a deposit on a property they like, it’s not hard to see why many consider them unfair.

But since the start of the year there have been a few encouraging signs that the days of the rip-off agent fee may be numbered. First, the issue has received a high profile in the media thanks to campaigns by Which? and housing charity Shelter, drawing attention to the fact that fees often bear no relation to the costs or work they are meant to cover and are simply profiteering by letting agents. In several cases, Shelter found that landlords and tenants had both been charged for the same reference checks - and at several times the market rate. Then there were protests: already tenant action groups like London Renters have co-ordinated events in Islington and Haringey with the Telegraph reporting that more are planned over the summer.

Perhaps heeding public pressure, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled in March 2013 against estate agent Your Move for an advert that appeared online; the first formal recognition that agents are breaking advertising rules by not making it clear that non-optional fees are due.  And a last minute change to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act means it looks set to include a requirement that tenants at least have access to an impartial ombudsman if they feel aggrieved.

Online letting agent OpenRent has a different approach: their online platform helps landlords to find tenants and handle all the usual admin using technology to make the process secure, quick and above all, low cost. Admin fees are banned, with tenants only being charged £20 each for referencing if it’s required.  Co-founder Adam Hyslop said “Admin fees are often outrageously high and deliberately hidden from tenants until the last minute. We think charging tenants for referencing is the right model as it encourages genuine applications, but as a team of landlords and tenants ourselves we are proud to take the lead on making all our charges as low and as transparent as possible.”

About OpenRent

OpenRent turns renting a property into a streamlined, online process offering drastically lower costs. 

100% of the properties on our site are guaranteed available and agent/admin fees are banned.

We help landlords find tenants via all the major portals and handle the usual admin (referencing, contracts, deposits, etc) online to create a low cost, high quality experience for everyone.

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A landlord’s guide to property photography

OpenRent makes it easy to advertise your property to millions of potential tenants - but if you haven’t spent much time thinking about photos, you might not be making the most out of your audience.  A survey of some of the 4,500 properties rented via our platform in the last year shows that a listing with good photos can generate a staggering 10x as many enquiries as one with poorly taken shots - so here’s a quick 1-2-3 to taking great photos.

1) Prepare your property

An essential yet often overlooked step - tidy up! Showing clear surfaces and floors creates a positive, professional first impression and makes your property look bigger. Some tenants are able to “see through the clutter”; others are quickly browsing multiple properties and will be turned off by the mess, so don’t lose out.

2) Choose your camera

Although it’s tempting to use the one on your phone, if you can borrow or buy one it’s worth the effort to get hold of a decent camera. The ideal setup is a digital SLR with a wide-angle lens and tripod, but even a small point and shoot camera is likely to have a better lens than an iPhone.

3) Take your shots!

Your main consideration is the time of day. First thing in the morning is usually best for outside shots due to friendly lighting and fewer people around, while most rooms look at their best while in direct sunlight. Night time is generally a no-no as it will create reflections off windows and a gloomier look.

When you take your photos, shoot from the corner of the room in “landscape” (ie the camera’s long edge horizontal). If the lighting still isn’t quite right, experiment with each room’s lights on/off and using flash, and make sure to take plenty of shots so you can pick the best ones!

Once you’ve got some great photos to show off your property in its best light, check out our guide to getting the most out of your property ad.

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Now listing on Gumtree - and free daily bumps!

At OpenRent we’re building a one-stop shop for all a landlord’s needs, from finding great tenants to referencing, contracts, deposit registration and everything in between. Use as many or as few of our services as you like, from just £29 per property! Since we ban admin fees and only charge £20 each for referencing when it’s requested, we’re great for tenants too.

We’re big fans of talking to our customers and letting them tell us what services we should offer next. That’s why we’re delighted to announce a new partnership with Gumtree starting today - from now on your property will not only be listed on Gumtree but “bumped” to the top of the listings twice a day too, to make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

More than 11,000 viewing requests were made through our low cost, convenient online platform in January alone. We are still offering a free trial to all new landlords and you can earn more free listings with our easy to use referral scheme, so there’s no excuse not to give us a try and tell everyone you know!

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How Landlords Can Advertise on Rightmove and Zoopla

In the UK, high street letting agents charge landlords anywhere from 4% to 15% of their annual rent to find them new tenants.  In addition they often charge tenants fees of several hundred pounds for services like referencing and contract signing.

Over the past few years, services have appeared which offer to cut out much of this cost for landlords who are prepared to “self-serve”.   For an upfront fee, these online letting agents offer to market properties on popular property sites to find interested tenants, while the landlord carries out viewings and deals with the tenants directly.

But which one to choose?  Prices range from free to several hundred pounds for a listing, some include services like referencing, contracts and deposit handling, and there are important differences in the service levels on offer.

At OpenRent, we think transparency is best since more information for landlords will allow them to make better decisions.  So we’ve compiled a list of all the online letting agents we can find, looked into their pricing and features and put them in one place for easy access.  

We’ve noticed that most of the variation in service is in 4 key elements:

  • Listing Price - all the sites we checked have a fixed fee model rather than a contingent fee like a traditional letting agent
  • Referencing Costs - usually an optional service, but some sites charge tenants up to £200 each for referencing and make this compulsory in exchange for free landlord listings
  • Legal & Admin Services - some sites offer contracts and deposit registration, either included with a listing or as part of a premium bundle of additional services
  • Opening Hours - times when tenants can call to request viewings can vary, although only 25% of enquiries to online agents are made via the phone.

So here it is - a full list of all the Online Letting Agents we can find.  All of them list on all of the major portals including Rightmove, Zoopla, FindaProperty and Primelocation, and we’ve ranked them by the number of properties they have listed to rent on Rightmove as of November 2012:

Online Letting Agent Price Analysis

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A free Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement (rental contract) you can use offline or online!

Most residential lettings in England and Wales are arranged as an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) - an agreement introduced by the Housing Act 1988, and subsequently updated by the Housing Act 1996.  When an AST is established, the document everyone signs to agree terms is often referred to as an AST as well.

Despite being defined in law, not all ASTs are the same. Although tenancy agreements tend to look broadly similar there can in fact be quite a lot of variation in language and structure.  The reason for this is that there’s often a trade-off between being broad enough to cover all aspects of a tenancy, being specific enough that there aren’t any loop-holes which inadvertently permit bad behaviour, and having a contract that is understandable and reasonable for all parties.  

There’s also a lot of variation in price: a search on Google turns up a few free ASTs, WHSmith sell a template for 7 quid, and some high street letting agents charge several hundred pounds.  So is it worth paying big bucks in order to get a quality document, given that the future of your property could be at stake?

As if often the case in property, the answer is no. Price is a pretty poor indicator of quality - and a much better indicator of how much someone thinks they can get away with charging you at a particular point in time!

The OpenRent AST draws on industry best practice to balance the considerations above - it’s broad reaching, protects the interests of both landlords and tenants, and is currently in force in hundreds of tenancies across the country.  Like pretty much everything else on our site it’s also totally free - you can download a sample copy of our Free Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement - For Entire Premises. Of course, if you use OpenRent you’ll also benefit from digital signing, which makes the process secure, convenient and much faster!  Once your tenancy is under way you can also access all your tenancy documents including the AST from your OpenRent Manage tab.

Individual Tenancy Agreement

If you’re renting out rooms in a shared property and are renting to individuals who don’t already know each other or who will be moving in on different dates, you might be interested in our Individual Tenancy Agreement for Shared Houses.

A regular (Joint Tenancy) AST names all tenants on the same agreement and no tenant has exclusive possession of any part of the property - they are all jointly liable for looking after the property and paying the rent.  This is easily the most common form of AST used today.  With an Individual Tenancy each tenant signs their own, separate agreement with the landlord.  This means each tenant has exclusive possession of a specific room in the property, as well as access to shared facilities like the kitchen, bathroom, lounge, etc.

If you advertise an individual room on OpenRent, we’ll assume you want to create an Individual Tenancy, but you should only use this type of agreement once you’ve understood the considerations for doing so.  These are a brief summary of the pros and cons of using an Individual Tenancy rather than a Joint Tenancy:

Pros:

  • Flexibility and convenience - tenants can move in and out on different dates without the need to sign new agreements with all tenants each time, re-register deposits, etc.
  • Higher rent - the ability to rent out each room separately as well as the flexibility to allow shorter term contracts can often increase rental yield
  • Right to enter - unlike a Joint Tenancy, the landlord has the right to enter common areas for inspections and repairs

Cons:

  • No joint liability - the joint and several liability created by a joint tenancy (whereby any one tenant can be held legally responsible for the unpaid rent, damage caused, or any other breach of contract by any or all of the other tenants) is its major strength; this is lost in the case of individual tenancies
  • Tenant turnover - the flexibility for tenants to move in and out independently cuts both ways; a bad or incompatible tenant can drive out good ones who are free to cut them loose and move elsewhere
  • Council tax and bills - these are the landlord’s responsibility under an individual tenancy so are usually factored into the rental amount - however if a tenant falls into arrears or defaults on their rent entirely, the landlord is still reponsible for paying for these under an individual tenancy

You’re of course very welcome to print out our tenancy agreements and use them offline.  Alternatively why not list on OpenRent for free and benefit from digital signatures on these contracts, free referencing and deposit registration services?  All that in addition to free listing on all of the UK’s biggest property portals! We’re committed to finding high quality tenants and handling all the admin to make the landlord experience as straightforward as possible.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions - you can reach our team on info@openrent.co.uk.

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How to list your shared house on Rightmove, Zoopla, FindAProperty and more…

Up until now OpenRent has helped hundreds of landlords find tenants for their properties of all shapes and sizes, up and down the country.

Due to popular demand, we are pleased to announce that as of today we now also support Shared Houses and Flats.  Just choose the relevant option when creating your listing and you can advertise the room on our site and all our portal partners (Rightmove, Zoopla, FindAProperty, etc), just like a whole property. The price is still just £29 a listing, and your first one’s a freebie!

To support this we’ve also made our popular Rent Now feature compatible with house shares.  The main change is that when a tenant uses Rent Now on your house share, they get an AST custom made for such an arrangement - you’ll just need to describe which bedroom in the property you’re looking to rent out, and we’ll take it from there.

As usual we can also help with deposits, referencing and all the usual admin should you need them - so what are you waiting for?  List your house share on OpenRent today!

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How can I attract more tenants to my property listing?

So you’ve discovered OpenRent, you’ve heard the great news that your first listing is free, you’ve created your ad and we’ve published you to all our portal partners including Rightmove, Zoopla, Find a Property and PrimeLocation.  Time to sit back and wait for the tenant leads to start rolling in, right?

Well in most cases, yes!  OpenRent makes finding your perfect tenant easy by putting you on the biggest property sites in the UK, handling tenant enquiries and sending you an email and text message for every tenant lead we generate.  But sometimes even with all that support, your property might not get the response you’d hoped for - and for those cases we’ve put together this handy checklist to help you revamp your listing and take you a step closer to finding your perfect tenant:

1) Add Photos

Every listing should have some high quality photos - and in particular interior shots of the lounge, kitchen and bedrooms.   Having no interior photos is the number one cause of underperforming property ads! We help you out by providing a Google street view image if you don’t have any pics to hand when you create your listing, but it’s no substitute for leading with a high-res photo showing off your property’s best feature. If you need more advice, check out our blog post on taking great photos.

2) Adjust The Price

As obvious as it may be, pricing your property competitively is key to capturing the attention of tenants searching in your area.  Searching for your postcode on OpenRent and Rightmove is a good place to start to get a feel for what you are up against in the local market - if there are similar properties in your area priced lower than yours, it’s pretty unsurprising that tenant attention will be drawn away from your property. If you’ve used an agent in the past, you might consider investing some of the 10%+ of rent you’ve saved in fees in a lower price to increase the number of tenants you have to choose from!  You should also bear in mind that tenants often search within fixed price limits (eg under £500 per month) so if you are just above a round number, dropping within a popular price band can significantly increase the number of searches your property shows up in.

3) Add To Your Property Description

All listings on OpenRent are reviewed and edited by one of our consultants before they go live - but you know your property best and we can only work with the information you’ve provided us.  In particular you should make sure to mention:

  • Location, transport links and local amenities (shops, restaurants, schools)
  • Rooms, including their size - and tell us about their best features
  • Appliances and kitchen / white goods
  • Outside space, no matter how small
  • Any recent work to improve, refurbish, refit or decorate
  • And don’t be afraid to use bullet points to emphasise the key features!

Working through this list can dramatically improve the amount of interest your property receives.  And don’t forget that throughout the rental process and beyond, the team are always on hand to help, advise and answer any questions - just drop us a line at info@openrent.co.uk.

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Is it cheaper to buy rather than rent?

Halifax think it is.  Their Buying vs Renting Review released last month claimed that average monthly costs associated with buying a 3 bedroom house were 18% lower if buying the property rather than renting, although behind this headline-grabbing figure they showed that in most UK regions it was more like a 7% gap.

Halifax say these figures are representative and adjusted to include repair, maintenance and insurance but Alan Ward of the Residential Landlord’s Association isn’t so sure.  In a statement today he said he believes that the weighted averages used provide an “unrealistic comparison” and therefore make buying look cheaper than it really is for the purposes of the Halifax review.

Whoever is right, for a lot of people the decision of whether to rent or buy isn’t based on monthly costs alone.  The need to raise a hefty sum as a deposit when buying, as well as the lack of flexibility a mortgage brings are enough to put off large numbers of would-be buyers in the current climate.  Halifax recognised this in their survey which found that 58% of respondents mentioned the difficulty in raising a deposit as one of their main barriers to buying.

Unfortunately Halifax’s study only looks at monthly averages, and neither party has commented on the other various upfront costs of buying and letting.  Things like solicitors’ fees, surveyors’ fees, stamp duty and mortgage arrangement fees can add thousands to the cost of moving when buying, on top of the deposit amount.

Moving into rental accommodation isn’t always cheap either - the Guardian found last year that letting agent fees can run up to several hundred pounds per tenant.  Shelter are currently campaigning on this issue, highlighting in particular the fact that the fees are often unexpected when beginning the transaction, and seemingly disproportionate to the work performed.

On OpenRent, all our landlords agree to advertise their properties with no admin fees, and referencing costs just £20 per tenant should the landlord require it.  We’re working hard to make the rental market a fairer, safer place for tenants - and at the same time offer landlords a listing on all the major portals, tenant referencing, digital contracts and deposit protection all for free on their first listing!

Take a look now to see what all the fuss is about!

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More portals - and free listings for all!

We are delighted to announce some new features launching today on OpenRent!

More portals - Rightmove, Zoopla, FindAProperty, PrimeLocation and More

The first change is that based on feedback from our landlord customers, we have now partnered with Zoopla, FindAProperty and PrimeLocation in addition to Rightmove to give you even better coverage of tenant searches in the UK.  The sites we now list you with receive a combined total of more than 10 million searches a month, giving you the best possible chance of finding your ideal tenant!

Free Listings for All!

We’re also offering a free listing to all new customers to give everybody a chance to experience our low cost, high quality service.

And once you’ve signed up the news is even better.  Not only are we giving everyone who’s already listed with us another listing for free, but we now have a referral scheme as well.  Simply log in on the OpenRent home page and follow the prompts (or click here) - you’ll get an additional free listing for every friend you recommend via email, Facebook and Twitter who goes on to list with us.

As a quick reminder, our service now includes:

  • Listing on our site as well as Rightmove, Zoopla, FindaProperty, Globrix, PrimeLocation and more to advertise your property to millions of high quality tenants
  • Referencing of your new tenants
  • A tenancy agreement and access to our digital signing service
  • Registration of the tenancy deposit
  • Processing the first month’s rent payment
  • No further fees or hidden charges - you deal directly with tenants and do the viewings - we take care of everything else!

Sound good?  Check out our info page for more detail on how OpenRent works.  We look forward to helping you rent your property soon!

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OpenRent Launches £20 Online Letting Service!

The OpenRent team are excited to announce the launch of our Landlord service today!

For the ridiculously low price of £20 you get:

  • Listing on our site as well as Rightmove.co.uk to advertise your property to millions of high quality tenants
  • Referencing of your new tenants
  • A tenancy agreement and access to our digital signing service
  • Registration of the tenancy deposit
  • Processing the first month’s rent payment
  • No further fees or hidden charges - you deal directly with tenants and do the viewings - we take care of everything else!

Sound good?  Check out our info page for more detail on how OpenRent works.  We look forward to helping you rent your property soon!

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