Choose the right agent

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When it comes to choosing a home to rent, selecting the right lettings agent is probably more important than the place you eventually choose to live in.

That’s the advice of Colin Shairp – pictured – proprietor of Town and Country Southern Estate Agents in Havant Road, Drayton, which both sells residential properties and manages their letting for landlords.

‘There’s no hard and fast legislation regarding who can be a lettings agent and the law is actually tougher on estate agents who are far less likely to be handling large sums of client money because it’s solicitors who handle the finances of house purchase,’ explains Colin.

‘Many potential tenants are so focussed on the property they want that they fail to give a second thought to who is receiving their deposit and initial rent, never mind what will happen to the money once it’s handed over.

‘The same applies to landlords, who may be tempted to go with the agent who charges the lowest fees. But it’s more important to ask how the agent deals with the rents collected every month and how they are safeguarded.

‘Here at Town and Country Southern, we have a client money account so that all the third party cash we receive is separate from the business itself. It’s not unusual to hear of lettings agencies where the money somehow becomes confused and then lost as it’s swallowed up in operating costs.’

A good way to safeguard the money, for both landlords and tenants, is to use an agent that’s a member of a scheme such as ARLA, the Association of Residential Lettings Agents. ARLA membership brings with it Client Money Protection (CMP) so that if something does go wrong ARLA will take action.

Tenant deposits also need to be registered with one of the three government-recognised schemes. Deposit money must be returned within 30 days of the tenancy ending unless there is a dispute between landlord and tenant, in which case the scheme will adjudicate.

‘I am a Fellow of ARLA and take professional exams and keep up to date with the latest industry regulations and best practice,’ adds Colin.

‘We have also been a member of The Property Ombudsman scheme for many years, voluntarily for the lettings side of the business before it became compulsory to be in such a scheme last October.

‘TPO ensures that disputes between landlords or tenants and the member agent are resolved and the Ombudsman can order a member to pay back money where a client has suffered financial loss through the agent’s actions.

‘But equally important is that the Ombudsman keeps an eye on industry standards and issues guidance on standards. So if you are looking for a lettings agent, whether as a tenant or landlord, look for the ARLA and TPO membership logos in the window and ask about cash safeguards. Be safe, not sorry!’