The secret to a successful letting

Many landlords complain that they can't find the right type of tenant, yet drag their heels over spending money to update a letting. Cheryl Markosky visits a Kensington property so classy the new occupants might never want to leave
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The Independent Online

Although they would couch this in suitably polite terms, the bane of many a lettings agent's life is, well, their landlords. Some are fine when it comes to regularly refurbishing the properties they rent out, and might even listen to sage advice from experienced agents. Many, however, regard a quick slap of thin paint and propping up the wobbly legs of tired MFI furniture as a major design statement.

When you take a quick, guarded look round some of these places, you reckon most of the rubbish that landlords have dared to press upon the paying public is really old cast-offs from Granny. And instead of carting it off to the local Oxfam after her funeral, why not put it in those investment flats? "Those horrid tenants will probably wreck the place anyhow," you can hear them sniff. Often you feel you are only one half-step away from depressingly rickety student housing - and who wants to replicate such Men Behaving Badly-meets-The Young Ones territory?

That is why winning the lucky job as agent to the Martins, who are letting out an unusually high quality and stylish terraced family house in Kensington, must be akin to winning the Lottery. Lisa Bradley from the lettings department at Knight Frank's Kensington office, who is indeed this lucky person, agrees. "It is extremely rare to get something of this calibre. The layout is fantastic and the house is bright with splashes of colour." She adds just how much she loves showing prospective tenants round, as they cry out, "Wow, how different," as soon as they come through the front door.

So what have the Martins got right, while a good number of landlords stumble miserably at the first hurdle - or should that be first sanded-down skirting board? Essentially, the Martins have not cut corners anywhere or stinted on absolutely anything. The flooring is of the sturdiest oak or latest sea grass, there is "proper" halogen spot lighting, a great deal of thought has gone into layout and design and you can easily imagine settling in for a good long period, if not forever. Which is A Good Thing, as they might well sell the house if they find it tricky to let.

The four-storey house, which is well placed just off Kensington High Street with four double bedrooms, bathroom and shower room, is contemporary, with great bursts of colour to accent what could have been a haughty minimalist statement. There is a whimsical retro flavour too, with Sixties-style hanging units and chrome-legged purple B&B Italia sofas, along with fun and chunky reclaimed radiators. The pink egg chair, which most of us would kill for, sits in a corner of the living room to brighten up what could have been a dead space. The owners refer to it as "the G & T chair", which seems a noble purpose for those returning from a stressful day.

Owners Sarah Martin and her property developer husband Neil are temporarily in residence here with their children Molly, three, Isabel, one, and Callum, eight, who comes to stay on weekends. They are gutting a house nearby that has plenty of space to house them all and are willing to move out immediately into rented accommodation if someone wants to be the new tenant. "We did it up the way we would want to live in it," says Sarah Martin. "We are surprised that people don't always do things to a high standard, considering the amount they ask for rent. It is crazy to have the place empty because you couldn't be bothered."

She has a point. As a general principle, the more you put into a property at the mid- to top-end, the more you are likely to get out of it. Agents say that tenants will look after a well-presented and kitted-out place. Four years ago, the Martins totally stripped out and re-built the house, put in new fireplaces, restored the sash windows, moved the staircase so you don't hit your head any longer and decorated it in a modish but timeless fashion. If they don't get around the £1,800 a week figure they are hoping for, it will be surprising.

"The money isn't a problem for those viewing the property," explains Bradley from Knight Frank. Some with larger families have said they would like a bit more space in the kitchen/dining room and oddly, some are worried about the police station round the corner. Martin thinks this is a plus, however, if you want instant action from the boys in blue. Other than that, the response has been very positive, with many requesting second viewings. More people have wanted to view this property after seeing the particulars, compared with everything else currently on the agent's books. In fact, Bradley seriously thinks it would not be a bad exercise to bring round other landlords to learn a thing or two about how things should be done.

Sourcing the right items without being gimmicky is another plus. Martin says they are flexible and you can rent the house furnished or unfurnished. But you would have to reluctantly turn down the chance of living with the Designers Guild bed linen, paint, curtains and blinds. And there is the wonderful collection of B&B Italia furniture, including the sofa and chairs in the living room. And what about the Conran coffee table and stools? The foldaway Bang & Olufsen TV and stereo system would be hard to pass up too. "The majority of tenants at this end of the market would want something unfurnished," admits Bradley, but the marketing potential of having so much great gear in situ has to help when it comes to finding that ideal paying guest.

She adds it is great having "something of this size - it fills a gap in the market". It also is a welcome relief to see someone come up with a neutral enough scheme, with enough character thrown in to make the place homey and desirable. For most rental properties - usually regarded as "second best" - this will never be the case.

Abingdon Villas is available to let at £1,800 a week through Knight Frank's Kensington office, 020-7937 8203