Renting out your home is a very different proposition from buying to let. Most buy-to-let landlords either buy a new property specifically to rent it out, or perhaps they’ll buy a fixer-upper, do it to a basic standard and then rent it out for an income. Some may also be keeping an eye open for a profit on the property’s eventual sale. If you’re planning to let your home, you’ll need to approach it from another angle altogether and take several more factors into account, especially if you have any intention of living in it yourself later.
There are lots of horror stories about people who’ve had their homes trashed, and their possessions destroyed or stolen by undesirable tenants. Trashed House is one such example, but many expats have had a similar experience when they’ve returned from an overseas trip after a few years with the intention of reclaiming their homes.
Here are some tips to avoid having problems with tenants.
Choose your lettings agent carefully
Given that you won’t be close by to keep an eye on things, make sure you have a competent person or company managing the property for you. This might seem obvious and you might think it’s just a case of handing the property over to a letting agent. Not so, as happened in the Trashed House case, where the letting agent – to put it mildly – did not do a good job. Even though they were aware that there were about a dozen people and three dogs living in the house, which had been let to a woman and her three young children, they took no action to ensure the contract terms were being complied with. And later they seemed surprised that the house had been let furnished – even though they had carried out the inventory!
It’s probably best to talk to others and get word-of-mouth recommendations, or at least go onto a couple of property-related forums to see what people are saying about different letting agents.
Make sure you have a legally enforceable contract with your tenants
It’s usually the letting agent’s job to provide this, but you should make sure that it has been done properly. It’s often the case that the law will take the side of the tenant over the landlord. So, if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to evict them, make sure you can do so legally. Without the correct contract in place (usually an assured shorthold tenancy agreement), you could find yourself without a legal leg to stand on. You can download a free model agreement from the Department for Communities and Local Government. Of course, you’re not legally obliged to use this, but you might find the guidance helpful.
Do an inventory check at the start of the tenancy
Again, it’s normally the letting agent’s job to arrange this, but not all letting agents actually do it. A good letting agent will instruct an independent inventory clerk who will accompany the tenants when they first take over the property. The clerk notes everything! Some are very thorough. Not only do they check what’s actually there in terms of contents and fixtures, they also check the condition of everything and note marks on walls, stains on carpets, etc – often taking photographs to eliminate all doubt.
It’s well worth having this done, because then if you need to make a claim against the tenant or withhold their deposit, you have a reliable legal document to prove what was there and what condition it was in when they took over. Unfortunately, it’s not always a simple matter of keeping some of their deposit as some rogue tenants don’t pay their rent in the last month or more, so the deposit might only compensate you for part of the rent they owe you, never mind the damage they’ve done – but that’s another story. Even decent tenants may cause some accidental damage and it’s best all round if you have proof of what condition the place was in when they took on responsibility for it.
Make sure your letting agent inspects the property regularly
No good landlord wants to intrude on his tenants’ privacy. However, it is perfectly reasonable to request access by appointment to go round and have a look at the place. This doesn’t have to be done in a heavy-handed way. Most good tenants realise the need for this and are quite amenable to showing the landlord or letting agent around. After all, what’s the problem if they have nothing to hide?
Never just assume that everything is OK; it might not be. And if the tenancy extends into years rather than months, any problems could be quite serious by the time you discover them. So don’t be embarrassed by requesting an inspection every six months or so. This requirement is usually a condition of the tenancy anyway.
Don’t leave all your prized possessions in the tenants’ care
This applies to furnished accommodation. If your intention is just to walk back in at the end of your time away, you may well choose to rent it out furnished. That’s fine if your furniture is inexpensive and easy to replace. But don’t leave the valuable antique chest of drawers you inherited from Granny. It’s unlikely your tenant will value it as you do. Don’t leave anything behind that you can’t replace.
If it’s not possible to take it with you, or leave it with a friend, then there are some quite cheap self-storage options available where your possessions can be kept safely until your return. Better safe than sorry!