Although landlord insurance will put your mind at ease once the contract has been signed and your tenants are in, getting a property ready for rental and maintaining it are big jobs.
The private rental sector is booming in the UK. The market is worth an impressive £1.4 trillion, and this figure is set to grow; around 5 million households are currently in private rented accommodation, and that is predicted to rise to 5.79 million by 2021, according to a 2017 report from the estate agency Knight Frank.
It’s clear to see why the rental market is an enticing option if you’re thinking of letting out a property you already own, or considering a buy-to-let.
But doing so isn’t without its complexities: there are currently around 150 laws that landlords need to adhere to while letting a property and failing to do so can lead to fines – or worse.
We talked to Chris Norris, Director of Policy and Practice for the National Landlords Association, and David Cox, Chief Executive of ARLA Propertymark, to get their tips on tenant-proofing your property and keeping your rental occupied and profitable.
Before you even think about letting your property out, you need to undertake repairs and deal with any issues that you won’t be able to fix once a tenant has moved in, such as flooring and insulation.
‘There’s regulation now about the minimum energy efficiency a property has to have,’ explains Chris. ‘You’ve got to be E-rated or above, and that does cause some problems for older properties. We always advise that you look at the simple things first. For example, insulating a loft is the cheapest and most cost-effective thing you can do upfront and it’s well worth doing.’
You can read about more recent and upcoming regulations in our article about what changed for landlords in 2018 and what they should to expect in 2019.
When it comes to flooring, Chris recommends choosing something that looks attractive to a new tenant but is also going to be hard wearing.
‘The day of the beige carpet has probably passed for the private rental sector. We would normally recommend going for hard floors that can be swept or mopped, or hard-wearing carpets in neutral or darker colours.’
‘Your property will be more attractive to prospective tenants if it’s had a fresh lick of paint, all repairs are done and, if necessary, new flooring has been installed,’ adds David.
Before going out and buying all the white goods under the sun, it might be an idea to have a think about who your target rental market is.
‘If you’re looking at a longer-term family market, quite often we suggest providing fewer goods,’ says Chris.
‘Plenty of these households come with their own belongings and their own preferences when it comes to fridge/freezers and furniture. Unless you’ve got a lot of storage that you can shift things into, keeping something unfurnished until you know what you need is quite a good step.’
If you’re targeting the young professional market and are therefore more likely to be furnishing the property, it’s best not to scrimp on the white goods and electrical products you buy, and to make sure you register them.
‘The old adage of spending well and spending once certainly rings true,’ adds Chris. ‘Also, by registering those products, you know when there are recall notices or issues around warranties or guarantees.’
Once your property is tenant-ready, the fire blankets and smoke alarms are in place, and you’ve clarified what each party is liable for in the contract, it might be easy to assume that all the hard work is over. But this is actually the most crucial moment for the future – and, potentially, the longevity – of the tenancy.
‘The best way to avoid empty properties is to have happy tenants who don’t want to leave,’ says Chris. ‘Having a relationship that allows a good two-way conversation helps because a landlord can be very clear without seeming patronising or overbearing.
‘One of the simplest things we advise landlords to do is to give the tenants a bit of a welcome pack – including things like where the stopcock is in case something goes wrong, how to operate the heating controls, what days the bins need to go out, et cetera. This way, in the first few weeks or months, your tenants aren’t left scrambling around trying to work out how to do the fundamentals.
‘You can also include things such as having the heating on at points over the winter to prevent freezing pipes and also, as counter intuitive as it is, opening the windows occasionally to let the moisture out to prevent damp and mould.’
‘As a landlord, you should be prepared to receive calls from your tenant at any time during the day or night, as some issues will need immediate attention, such as a gas leak,’ explains David. ‘You will be accountable for all repairs and maintenance, as well as taking care of refurbishment of the interior and exterior of the property when required – unless you agree for your letting agent to manage the property, in which case they will deal with all minor issues.’
‘Just making sure that you’re comfortable talking to each other prevents the relationship breaking down and means that any issues will be reported as soon as they arise, preventing any further damage,’ adds Chris.
It’s important to have the details of trusted local maintenance specialists on hand in case there is a fault at the property that needs to be fixed – especially in an electrical, plumbing or structural emergency. But how do you know who will do a good job?
‘The first step that we’d recommend at the NLA is coming to one of our local landlord meetings,’ says Chris. ‘You get a chance to talk to all the other landlords in the room who are based in your area and they can tell you who the good plumbers, maintenance engineers, gardeners and decorators are.
‘Beyond that, there are a lot of decent, reliable online platforms such as Trust A Trader. That’s not to say that every contractor using those is perfect, but you get an opportunity to read the reviews on there.’
‘When it comes to being a landlord, there are more regulations to comply with than you can shake a stick at,’ says David.
But you shouldn’t let that stop you. Tenant-proofing your property correctly and maintaining a good line of communication with tenants and local maintenance firms should help to keep any major issues to a minimum, leaving you with a relatively incident-free and low-risk source of income.