Houses: how to land them, flog them and rent them

Don't be rude to estate agents, bin the garden gnomes and avoid cowboy agents. Felicity Cannell on these and other tips for buyers, sellers and letters
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A word from "the poor old estate agent" who is the one taking the flack for any disappointments in the current market.

The lack of decent properties for sale has led to a re-emergence of gazumping, and the agents would like to point out that the seller is entirely to blame. "If the seller decides to accept a higher offer or reopen negotiations once a sale has been agreed then the agent is duty bound to act upon these instructions," say the agents. Well, yes but perhaps an agent who knows his stuff should have advised the seller to hang on for a higher offer in the first place.

The estate agent is now the one to be wooed by prospective buyers. What a turn around. "Agents can now almost pick and choose who they send house details to. Hence if you are not on that 'hot list' the chances of finding your cottage in the country are at best slim and at worst, non existent," says one agent who offers some tips on how to get on to the hot list.

Difficult or rude buyers go straight to the bottom of the pile, so be polite. This is sound advice and hopefully most of us remember being told this at about age four.

Visit the agent regularly. "A visit in person shows you are more committed than just a phone call." That's all very well for the agent to say, sitting behind his desk waiting for the punters to come in. But isn't that the idea of the wonderful invention of the telephone, to keep in touch from the workplace, home, public call-box at the children's nursery? And how regularly? "If he doesn't hear from you for more than a week or two, you will probably be deleted from the mailing list." What sort of service is that? Some of us don't even manage to get to the supermarket that often.

Sell your own home first. This is always a hard one. Supposing you sell but can't find a replacement. If properties really are being snapped up at this phenomenal rate why leave someone else hanging on for an exchange date while you frantically search for your dream home?

Make a full offer. "If you can afford the asking price, pay it." Now there's a surprise piece of advice coming from an estate agent!


And now on to the hot tips to sell your house. A survey recently undertaken by NatWest Mortgage Services, asked potential buyers to rate what they think are the good, bad and the ugly aspects of homes and neighbourhoods. Most are obvious, nice garden, large kitchen, tasteful bathroom, although these priorities vary throughout the country. A nice garden is most valued in the South; only a third of those questioned in Scotland deemed it important.

The most attractive features are a quiet street, gas central heating, nice garden, large kitchen, garage, low council tax and en suite bathroom. Close proximity to a motorway or sewage works unsurprisingly comes out pretty high on the no-no stakes.

Potential buyers should also be aware in the current climate of grabbing whatever's available, that exteriors painted pink, orange carpets, flock wallpaper and brown bathroom suites are generally abhorred. So there's some more bargaining power for you.

And those having problems selling - take the mirrors off the bedroom ceiling, change the doorbell from an amusing little ditty to a normal ding-dong and bin the garden gnomes.


As the rental market continues to boom and the number of private landlords increases, thanks to the buy-to-let scheme, so does the number of cowboys hoping to cash in as managing agents for your property.

Now that the new Government is planning a mandatory licensing scheme for private landlords, the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) is calling for a policy to control managing and letting agents.

You will have seen the adverts - tacked to lampposts, leaflets through your front door - Landlords Wanted. We have tenants waiting to rent your property. For a rogue agent it is easy money.

ARLA have over 1,300 bonded agents with professional indemnity insurance. The agent will find a tenant and take up references, both financial and personal, make an inventory and change utility accounts into the tenants name. If he is a Lettings Only agent he will usually collect the rent and pass it on to the landlord, less commission. A Managing Agent will act in loco parentis for the landlord, inspecting and maintaining the property, or whatever has been agreed. ARLA also has an arbitration service for any disagreements.

If a tenant defaults, the association will advise on the course of action. If he has left the property it may be cheaper to do nothing, lick your wounds and start again. If the landlord needs to take repossession, the courts will order eviction after two months non-payment of rent.

The dangers of letting through an unscrupulous agent were experienced by Michael Leigh, with his two-bedroomed flat in the Barbican. "The initial service was fine. They found a tenant and completed an inventory. But each month the rent was late, as they hung on to it for as long as possible, and after nine months they went bust owing me three months rent, which the tenant had paid."

ARLA provide information on trouble-free letting - "What every landlord and tenant should ask", available by calling 01923 896555.

But alternatively, if you live within a reasonable distance from the property, it is not that onerous to do-it-yourself. The Housing Act 1996 has created a fairer system for landlords, to protect their property. Repossession can be enforced not only for non-payment of rent, but also for anti-social behaviour, and all tenancies are regarded as shorthold unless there is written evidence to prove otherwise. This removes the danger of sitting tenants.