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How can I find a letting agent who won’t let tenants run riot in my home?

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I have to let out my flat because I’m moving abroad for work for a couple of years. The last time I did this, the flat got pretty bashed up by tenants – not just a bit of wear and tear.

The letting agency was meant to manage everything for me while I was away and couldn’t do it myself, but didn’t appear to have taken much interest in cleaning it up and properly re-marketing it until I intervened and came back to resolve the situation.

I’m about to have a new set of agencies around to have a look. 

Are there any giveaway questions I should ask, or telltale signs I should look out for when I am interviewing the agents, to work out if they will find better tenants and do more to look after my flat? It’s my home, and I’ll be moving in again when I get back.

This reader is looking for a professional letting agent who will find good tenants for their home

This reader is looking for a professional letting agent who will find good tenants for their home

Helen Crane of This is Money replies: Handing over the keys to your home to someone else can be hard – especially if they are just keeping it warm for a short while while you are working away. 

A good managing agent should take away some of that stress, ensuring your property is well taken care of while dealing with any issues that come up, from a lost set of keys to a broken boiler to finding new tenants if it becomes empty.

For your peace of mind, you will also want to be kept in the loop with regular inspections and updates. 

This is especially important for you, as you will be out of the country for long periods of time – and it sounds as if your previous agent let you down in this area.

You’ll also be paying them a pretty penny for the privilege, so you need to know they are going to do a good job.

According to insurer Simply Business, landlords can pay anywhere between about 12 per cent and 20 per cent of the monthly rent collected to their managing agent, depending on the level of service they require.

There will also be one-off fees for things like finding new tenants and referencing.

I asked four property experts the questions they would ask a prospective managing agent to sort the wheat from the chaff, and they came up with the following advice. 

Get recommendations and check out online reviews

When you are searching for agents to interview for the job, a glowing recommendation can help you decide which firms should be at the top of the pile. 

If you know any other landlords, or perhaps colleagues who have also worked abroad, ask them if they used letting or management agents and whether they were happy with them. 

However, you will first want to check that they have similar properties to yours on their books. If they’re used to managing student houses or working for large portfolio landlords, for example, they might not have the right set-up for your flat. 

You should be able to get a feel for this by looking at their website, or giving them a call to ask.  

Renting out your home can be hard, but property managers can take away some of the stress

Renting out your home can be hard, but property managers can take away some of the stress 

‘Firstly, pinpoint three local agents that service your area and that have similar properties to your home,’ says Lara Bradley, head of lettings at property developer and manager Strawberry Star. 

‘Most of our business is from referrals, so try and partner with an agent who has been recommended to you. Then, do your research on all of them.’

Online reviews are also a useful tool. Look at independent sites such as Trustpilot and Google reviews, but bear in mind that reviews can still be faked, and some companies will give their customers incentives to post a good one. 

‘The first step to finding a good managing agent is checking reviews,’ says Jack Reid, founder and director of estate agent Orlando Reid. 

‘The agent should have a good number of high-quality reviews specifically mentioning management. 

‘Although it may be laborious going through hundreds of reviews, it should save the heartache of choosing an agent who doesn’t look after your property well.’

However good their service is, most agents will get negative reviews from time to time. How quickly and professionally they respond to these is a good indication of their competence. 

‘With online reviews, look out for when the agent takes the time to respond to any negative feedback and tries to resolve these issues’, Bradley says. ‘Look out for more recent reviews too; ones during the pandemic.’ 

Make sure they have the right qualifications

Another easy way to rule out agents is by discarding those who don’t have professional qualifications, although do bear in mind that these are voluntary and not required by law. Some agents with many years of experience may not have these qualifications.

‘Make sure the property manager is ARLA qualified so they are fully up to date with all legal requirements – their job is to protect you,’ says David Mumby, head of prime central London lettings at the estate agent Knight Frank.  

ARLA Propertymark is a professional body for letting agents, and has more than 17,500 member firms. 

While the property industry is not regulated, ARLA members voluntarily agree to provide company information to the organisation every year to demonstrate transparency. 

This includes details of their standard tenancy agreement, money laundering checks and data protection policies, for example. 

It is also worth doing some background research on the company and their staff’s level of experience – perhaps by looking at reviews on Glassdoor or Linkedin. 

Says Bradley: ‘You want to understand the size of the team and their collective experience – if everyone has been in the office a good number of years, it’s an indicator that the office is happy and customers are happy, as good people tend to stay.’

Check out the company's credentials online to find out whether their staff are happy - if they are, they will stick around longer and work harder for their customers

Check out the company’s credentials online to find out whether their staff are happy – if they are, they will stick around longer and work harder for their customers

Check their workload

You will also want to find out how many homes each member of staff is responsible for, as you don’t want your flat getting forgotten by an over-worked agent. 

Mumby says it should be no more than 100 per agent, while Bradley puts her estimate at 150 to 200.   

‘Find out how many properties they manage in their portfolio and how many staff,’ she says. ‘If they have 300 properties and only one property manager on the ground, this should be a red flag.’

Ask about their inspection policy 

In addition, you should find out how many times the agent would plan to visit your home for an inspection if you appointed them. 

‘How many times will the property manager visit the property, and will it be the actual property manager, or is this outsourced?’ Mumby says. ‘I would look for at least two visits per year, and more as required – should a neighbour call and say there was a party for instance.  

You might need to pay extra for more regular inspections, but it could be worth it for the peace of mind that your home is being treated well.  

Reid suggests asking for quarterly inspections, to encourage the tenants to keep the flat in good nick. 

‘There is normally a cost related to this, however, the fact that the tenant knows mid-term inspections will take place throughout the tenancy will encourage them to maintain the property in good condition,’ he says. 

The agent should provide you with reports after each inspection to keep you abreast of any issues with, or damage to, the property. 

Ask your prospective agents whether these will include pictures, if that is important to you. 

Since the pandemic began, some agents have been taking videos to send to landlords who aren’t able to visit the properties themselves. 

‘We’ve started doing video reports over lockdown, and that’s been very well received by our landlords – adding an additional layer of transparency and confidence,’ says Bradley.  

Grill them on current regulations

The pandemic has led to various changes in the rules surrounding rented properties, particularly when it comes to evictions and the notice period landlords need to give before evicting a tenant. 

Chris Morris, head of lettings at estate agent Cluttons, says this provides you with a good opportunity to check an agent is up to speed on the regulations.  

‘The agent should be able to confirm the amount of notice required to end the tenancy,’ he says. 

‘This has changed numerous times recently owing to coronavirus, so it’s an opportunity for the agent to demonstrate that they have a good command of current legislation.’

Currently, tenants should get two weeks’ notice of an eviction date and four months’ notice before court proceedings can start.  

Inventories and returning the deposit can be a source of drama between landlords and tenants, so if you are appointing a letting agent ask them how they manage the process

Inventories and returning the deposit can be a source of drama between landlords and tenants, so if you are appointing a letting agent ask them how they manage the process 

Ask how they carry out references and inventories

The vast majority of disputes between landlords and tenants occur because of disagreements about the condition of the property and how much of a deposit should be paid back – as you unfortunately found out when you let your home previously. 

This is why finding out how an agent carries out inventories is crucial. 

‘The process must be robust and incredibly thorough,’ says Bradley. ‘For this to happen, we use an external agency, as in case of any dispute they can act as an independent neutral party. 

‘Often, having an external inventory and check-out agency can remove the need for multiple back and forths, as it elicits much more trust in the process from both the tenant and landlord.’

Hopefully your next tenancy will run smoothly. But in case it doesn’t, you may also wish to ask what the agent’s track record is in deposit disputes that end up going to court. 

‘If the agent says they’ve had five claims on the deposit and they’ve won three, that’s considered pretty good in the industry, relative to the number of properties on their books,’ says Bradley. 

‘Claims often rest on how thorough the initial inventory is – it’s pretty standard that a one-bed property can have a check-in report 40 pages long.’ 

Tell them finding a good tenant is your priority 

From your message, it seems that finding a respectful tenant is perhaps more important to you than securing the highest possible rent. 

Managing agents are often instructed to do the latter, so be clear about what you want to get out of this letting arrangement and ask them how they will find you the kind of tenant you are looking for.   

‘The landlord should look for a managing agent that places a lot of focus on securing a highly appropriate tenant, and has the capability to do this,’ says Morris. 

‘Some agents think that landlords are only motivated by achieving the highest possible rent. The landlord should ask for examples of similar properties let by the agent and what type of tenants they attracted.’  

Asking about the referencing process will be crucial to this. Some may handle it in-house, while others will outsource it to an external company. 

To make sure your rental income is secure, a credit check should always be included according to Bradley.  

‘An Experian credit check should always be carried out. The tenants have to earn 2.5 times the rent to pass the affordability check – this is the bare minimum.’

Trust your instincts and first impressions

After spending some time interviewing agents, you should start to get a feel for their service and responsiveness. 

‘How quick have they been to respond and what have their service levels been so far? If you are having to chase them at this stage or they are unprofessional, steer well clear,’ says Mumby. 

Trusting your gut instinct might also come into play here.  

‘If the landlord develops a good rapport with one of the agents and genuinely feels they are the best person to look after their home and best protect their interests, they are likely to be right more often than not,’ says Morris. 

Meet the tenant before you leave

Once you have appointed your agent and they have found a tenant for you, try to arrange to meet them if your moving schedule allows. 

Ultimately it is the tenant who you are entrusting with your home day-to-day, and putting a face to their name will get your relationship off to a good start.   

You could also use this as an opportunity to show them how things work in the property; where they can find the stopcock and gas and electric meters; and to explain any quirks.  

‘To give our landlords more confidence that they have chosen the right tenant, I always advise that they meet their tenant in person before the contract starts,’ says Bradley. 

‘By meeting each other, you become real humans and, therefore, they are much more likely to show respect for the property. 

‘Being able to explain that it is your family home, as opposed to a faceless landlord just taking their money, often marks the start of a special relationship where more empathy usually follows on both sides.’ 

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‘After divorce, I’ve fallen in love. But something is holding me back’

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Question: I’m a divorced man, and I think I’ve fallen in love. This woman I care about so much brought me back to life after my divorce woes and I feel happy when we’re together. My life would certainly change if the relationship progressed and I feel the need to hit the brakes. Is it fear holding me back? Some advice would be great.

Answer: I think it is great that you are able to identify fear as the block to your relationship and it is worth looking at this. You have had a divorce, so your experience of relationship breakup is real and is clearly causing you to pause before heading into a committed relationship again. Some areas worth checking are your capacity for self-awareness, your relationship patterns and habits and your history of decision making.

Looking at self-awareness first – are you conscious of what motivates your actions and speech? In terms of self-awareness, there are many aspects of our ourselves which we are aware of, but we do need help with uncovering the full picture. For example, we can often see that someone we live or work with is stressed but they themselves would not know or acknowledge this and think that they are operating from a calm and collected place. It might be worth you checking with friends what they see in your new relationship and how they see you behaving. Do you seem happier to them, or is there wariness or caution in your approach to your partner? Your friends or family will be able to evaluate your wellness (or not) without the emotion or fear that you may have operating.

Ask for some honest opinions and remember if you ask for advice, take it on board as they may have more objectivity than you do. We all have relationship patterns and habits, so it is worth looking at yours to see if this is influencing your current impasse. These patterns typically start with our family of origin. For example, if there were difficulties (silences, anger, distances, or lack trust and love) in your parents’ relationship it is likely that you have a capacity to put up with or repeat such patterns in your own relationships.

Send your query anonymously to Trish Murphy

It helps to talk it over with someone you trust, so that you can hear the emotion that is going on in your voice and then act to disperse it

It sounds as though you are mistrusting of someone who has “brought you back to life” and it is worth looking at whether this caution is coming from your own past experience or from fear of getting into a relationship pattern similar to your parents’ one. It takes courage to challenge our patterns and the nature of habit is that it operates outside of conscious thinking, so we can respond without even knowing where we are coming from, eg we push someone away just as intimacy is growing. Behaviour such as this could derive from a generational fear of rejection, or a fear of closeness, or of being discovered as not what we seem to be. It is good to explore such habits as we can struggle to see them operating and they can operate as a huge block in our lives.

It is true that the “in-love” feeling can sometimes mask some of the adored person’s characteristics and this is why we always need the “head” as well as the “heart” when making decisions. What is your decision-making like normally? Do you have enough knowledge of this person to make a decision about joining your lives together? Have you spent enough time with them and their circle of friends to make an informed choice? Sometimes the feeling of intense connection at the beginning of a relationship can make us lose sight of the fact that we don’t know the other person very well and in these situations we would do well to slow it down and let our judgement work when the time is right. If you are happy that you have enough knowledge and information to make this decision, then you are probably right that it is fear that is stopping you moving forward.

A little fear is natural and can even help us, for example we drive under the speed limit oftentimes out of fear of getting a speeding ticket. However too much fear can be debilitating, and it can completely bock our intelligence. All relationships involve risk, in that we have to trust that someone else will value us and not reject us. Fear is such a powerful emotion it can cover other more rational and sane judgements and so we need to ensure that we are not just operating from that place.

It helps to talk it over with someone you trust, so that you can hear the emotion that is going on in your voice and then act to disperse it. However, it is worth knowing that fear and panic are closely aligned so we need to tackle them slowly and incrementally or else we go into a kind of frozenness. Overcome small fears first – this might involve speaking with some honesty with your partner – and gradually build up to the bigger fears. Your confidence and self-awareness will grow along the way and this can only benefit you. 

Click here to send your question to Trish or email tellmeaboutit@irishtimes.com

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Lighthouse workers end up with front-row seats for Storm Barra

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Four lighthouse workers who went to Fastnet Lighthouse in west Cork to carry out maintenance on Friday ended up having front-row seats for Storm Barra as they had to stay onsite due to the conditions.

The lighthouse recorded a wind gust of 159km/h on Tuesday morning but Irish Lights electronic engineer Paul Barron said that it was a safe place to be as the country battened down the hatches to face the storm.

Mr Barron and his colleagues Ronnie O’Driscoll, Dave Purdy and Malcolm Gillies made the journey to Fastnet on Friday to do maintenance work and were due back on Tuesday but their helicopter flight was cancelled because of the storm. They hope to arrive back on the mainland on Thursday.

Mr Barron said they are passing their time onsite by watching Netflix and having a few steaks and rashers. He admitted it was a day to remember on the lighthouse which is 54 metres above the sea.

“There is a team of four of us out here. It has been quite a rough day. We started off this morning at around 2am and by 10am or 11am we were in the eye of the storm. I was in the merchant Navy before as a radio officer so I have seen a lot of bad weather. I am with Irish Lights 32 years but I haven’t normally seen it like this. We wouldn’t normally be out in this. You are talking 9m swells with winds gusting up to 90 knots.”

He captured some footage of the storm on his phone. During the worst of the weather the men found it hard to hear each other as it was so noisy during the squalls.

The tower was “shuddering a bit” but Mr Barron managed to shoot video footage which attracted attention online and even a call from Sky News.

He says the lighthouse has kitchen facilities and they always bring additional food in case of emergency.

“It could be a fine summer’s day and there could be thick fog and the chopper wouldn’t take off so we always bring extra food. We are passing the time by watching Netflix! This is a good place to be in the eye of a storm. This lighthouse has been built a hundred years so it has seen a lot of storms.”

As for families being concerned about the men Mr Barron jokes that their loved ones are probably relieved they aren’t at home hogging the remote control.

Meanwhile, in Cork city centre the river Lee spilled on to quays and roads on Tuesday morning but no major damage to property was caused. Debris and falling trees kept local authority crews busy and power outages were reported in a number of areas across the county.

At least 23 properties were flooded in Bantry in west Cork. The council had placed sandbags along the quay wall and the fire brigade had six manned pumps around the town.

In north Cork, a lorry driver had a lucky escape in Fermoy when his vehicle overturned on the motorway during the high winds. Traffic diversions were put in place following the incident.

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Top tips on how to avoid a large energy bill this winter

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Five easy tips and five things to avoid to get the most from your heating this winter – and dodge a big energy bill

  • We reveal some simple steps to lowering your heating bills this winter 
  • Tips include tucking curtains in behind your radiators to stop heat escaping










Rising energy bills mean the cost of keeping warm is an issue for many households this winter.

But there are some simple steps that can be taken to reduce your energy bill without compromising on keeping cosy.

We take a look at 10 top tips for saving money on your heating, which include things to do and things to avoid doing. 

These include tucking curtains in behind your radiators to stop heat escaping, while not putting clothes on the radiators to dry, as this will block the heat from dispersing through the room.

We provide a list of little fixes that will help to keep your energy bills low this winter

We provide a list of little fixes that will help to keep your energy bills low this winter

John Lawless, of designer radiator company BestHeating, said: ‘Winter weather always sparks the debate around leaving your heating on low all-day versus a couple of hours a day. 

‘Sure, your boiler will have to work a little harder to heat up a cold home when you first switch it on but having it on constantly will use more energy than just switching it on when you need it.

‘The best thing to do to lower bills and keep warm is to insulate your home, prevent draughts, and set up better heating controls. Don’t have the heating on full whack in a room you don’t use, just heat the room you spend the most time in.

‘Our advice is to heat smarter. You can’t control the weather but you can control your heating and how your home loses that heat.’

NetVoucherCodes.co.uk agrees, saying: ‘Saving energy can help you be more energy-efficient and considerate of the environment, but it’s also a great way to save money.’

Here are the top ten tips…

The things you can do

1. Use thick curtains

Having thicker curtains helps reduce the amount of colder air coming in, while also helping to reduce the amount of hot air escaping.

The thicker the material, the more heat will be contained. Also tuck your curtains behind your radiator to stop even more heat escaping.

INSULATING PIPES 

Pipes can be insulated by covering them with a foam tube. 

This includes the pipes between a hot water cyclinder and a boiler. 

That will reduce the amount of heat lost and keep your water hot for longer. 

It is as simple as choosing the correct size from a DIY store and then slipping it around the pipes.

2. Cover up exposed pipes

Exposed pipes allow for heat to escape easily. Try covering them in an insulating material to maximise their efficiency.

3. Only heat the rooms you spend most time in

Heating rooms in your home that you don’t spend much time in will not only be a waste of energy, but also a waste of your money.

4. Cover up draughts

You can lose a lot of heat from gaps in your doors and window frames. Make sure you fill in these gaps with a draught proof material, such as draught-proof strips or even just a thick cloth for a quick solution.

5. Turn your thermostat down by one degree celsius

Experts have proven that reducing the temperature of your home by one degree celsius saves you up to £80 a year.

Drying clothes on your radiator will block the heat from dispersing through the room

Drying clothes on your radiator will block the heat from dispersing through the room

Things to avoid

1. Dry your clothes on the radiator

Drying clothes on your radiator will block the heat from dispersing through the room and will have to be left on much longer to have the same effect without a blockage.

2. Keep the heating on all day

Your home will take longer to heat up if you keep turning it on and off, but it will save you more money by putting your heating on a timer for a few hours a day. Try setting a timer on your boiler, so it only turns on for a few hours a day.

3. Allow your radiators to get dirty

If you notice any cold spots at the bottom of your radiators when the heating is on full this could mean you have a build-up of sludge in the system.

This stops the hot water circulating properly, stopping your radiators from getting hot enough when you need the heating the most. Give your radiators a good clean to make sure you aren’t wasting money on heating.

4. Turn your thermostat above 18 degrees Celsius

Research shows that the average thermostat setting in Britain is 20.8 degrees celsius. However, experts have stated that 18 degrees celsius is warm enough for a healthy and well dressed person to remain comfortable during winter. This will be controversial suggestiong for many, for whom 18 degrees might feel a bit chilly – and how you feel at 18 degree central heating will depend on how well your home is insulated.

5. Don’t place large furniture in front of your radiator

Blocking your radiator with furniture, such as sofa or a table, will stop the flow of warm air. This blockage will cause your boiler to work harder to heat your home, resulting in expensive heating bills.

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