Overview: Listening to the letting must-dos is ever more essential

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The Independent Online

One of the traditional bonuses of buying a property while young and single used to be the promise of a nice lump sum towards purchasing a home with a partner.

One of the traditional bonuses of buying a property while young and single used to be the promise of a nice lump sum towards purchasing a home with a partner.

Except, over the past few years, it has been more usual for couples to hold on to one of their places as a ready-made investment.

At times, even though they may have had to accept a net income yield as low as 4 per cent, the capital growth was so exciting it didn't seem worth worrying about. Holding on to the property was what it was all about.

But in a changing climate where prices are static at best and showing a slight fall at worst, these easy calculations are undergoing a subtle shift.

The place bought as a home may not necessarily let easily and if house price inflation can't be relied on to bump up its value month by month, it has to earn its keep somehow.

Enter, please, the experienced letting agent who will tell it to you straight.

It may not be what you want to hear but as interest rates head for 5 per cent, and more than 75 per cent of estate agents believe that house prices have reached their highest point and will now decline, according to the National Association of Estate Agents, it is probably worth listening.

Take the situation Emma Hattersley finds herself in. Two small children, a husband in the City and a small house in central London.

They would rather be living in the country and know they should make the move soon but, nevertheless, are determined to keep their place in town.

Mindful that tenants dislike too many personal touches, everything in the house is new and neutral, and guaranteed not to frighten the horses. Its potential as a rental would seem a done deal.

But not in the opinion of the letting agent whose list of must-dos will run into a few thousand pounds.

It needed repainting - two years is a long time in rentals - the colour is too cream, the lamps not contemporary enough, the furniture too old-fashioned and the blinds not smart enough.

The upshot is that, in order to get the right tenant, a full rent (essential for their finances) and no voids, Emma would have to spend far more than she had expected.

Clemmie Bailey, the lettings director of Lane Fox, is used to telling people that having the right address simply isn't enough.

A flat on the third floor without a lift that, as an owner, you found enchanting, is far less likely to find favour with a tenant who wants nothing higher than the second.

If an owner fails to take her advice on changes from door knobs to sofas, they will either have to lower their price or accept a second-rate tenant.

In some case they may be lucky to find anyone at all - even in London's most prestigious addresses. Those owners who, until now, have been comforted by the thought that their property was earning money all by itself are having to think hard. Spend money advisedly or else be prepared to subsidise its upkeep.

The wisdom of investing in a particular kind of property, if rental income is paramount, has always been the hobby-horse of lettings agents, who have sometimes found it as hard a job convincing their sales colleagues as they have clients. Turning a deaf ear might not be an option any more. The assumption which has for so long underpinned our attitude to property - that it will be worth much more next year than last - looks rather doubtful. Keeping a property in the family for the long term is one thing, but it is quite another if it cannot earn its keep.

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