Questions a landlord must ask their rental agent

A good rental agent can save a landlord a tremendous amount of frustration and time, provided of course the landlord chooses to work with the right agent, says Susan Watts, Broker/Owner of RE/MAX Living. 

She notes that given the fact that the rental agent will be handling such a large and important asset, it is vital for landlords to select an agent with the appropriate experience within the industry to ensure a beneficial outcome.

Certified residential rental specialist at RE/MAX Living, Grant Rea, says that when it comes to selecting a rental agent there are vital questions that landlords should ask that will assist them in vetting each agent and ultimately making the right decision.

How long have you been handling rentals?

“The business of property management has become popular with people hoping to earn extra income,” says Rea, “Many real estate sales agents are turning into rental agents as they find the uncertain nature of sales income too variable. As a result, many rental agents do not have the crucial experience needed to troubleshoot numerous potential curveballs within the property rental sector.”

Rea warns landlords to be aware of the fact that almost every estate agency can assist with rentals, however not all have a designated rental specialist in their office. “Be very careful of an estate agent who does not specialise in rentals. Certain estate agencies only take on rentals to boost cash flow and to leverage sales. When this happens, the rentals are often handled by an inexperienced admin person and the rental properties treated as a ‘sideline’ business - never use a sales agent to do a rental agents’ job.”

What qualifications do you have and how often do you update your expertise?

According to Rea, very few rental agents have any qualification at all. “In fact, only two out of 10 rental agents are adequately experienced and trained to sufficiently protect the interests of a landlord. Landlords should ensure that the rental agent they choose to work with has some qualification or updates their expertise regularly,” advises Rea.

He notes that it is vital that the rental agent has a full understanding of rental legislation and can explain each and every clause within the lease agreement. A knowledgeable agent will be far more equipped to protect the landlord from questionable tenants and from unnecessary cost by distinguishing between the obligations of tenants and landlords.  Adrian Goslett, CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, says that landlords should ask their agent when last they were on any credible course and how they are qualified to be in the fiduciary position they are portraying.

What is your current arrears rate?

Rea says that an exceptional agent will answer this quickly and confidently. An arrears rate for a rental agency should be no more than 3%. If it is higher, the landlord may be facing an inefficient agent. “It goes without saying that a very low rate will indicate a well-run system and a good agent to use,” he adds.

Do you offer legal backup and services?

“A very valuable service to enquire about is the relationship the rental agent has with legal professionals,” advises Rea. “Ideally, any rental agent should have a lease set up with legal input from professionals and offer some form of legal assistance in the event of a dispute in a lease scenario. A good agent will include these added value services into their fee. Do not trust a rental agent who does not have a good rapport and relationship with an attorney who specialises in aspects of lease law.”

How do you handle arrears?

Landlords should ensure that the rental agent they are questioning answers this with specifics and conviction, says Rea. A clear process and system needs to be followed when a tenant fails to pay his rent timeously. He warns that failing to promptly inform a tenant of their obligations and breach can result in delays to legal action. Tenants have to be informed of their breach in good time to avoid delays in further legal action, which could save landlords a significant amount of lost revenue from unpaid rent and lengthy court action.

Do you have a list of client testimonials and can clients be contacted for references?

“Anyone can paint a masterpiece of their abilities and credibility, but the best way to prove this is through testimonials. If an agent is exceptional, the compliments from clients will be numerous and generous. A good agent will keep a list of these testimonials and chances are good most can be contacted to discuss the service,” says Rea.

Where do you advertise properties?

Rea advises that the best agents will advertise on premium sites where listings are paid for, and not only on free classified sites. “This attracts a good cross section of tenants to ensure the calibre of tenants is high. Good agents will advertise on these sites and will have a social media page on Facebook, twitter and a personal website. Landlord’s should Google their agent’s name and agency to see their market position,” adds Rea.

Do you offer rental guarantees?

According to Rea, this is a valuable service for landlords who simply cannot afford any loss of income from a delinquent tenant. He explains that good rental agencies will be able to offer a service underwritten by an insurer where the rental income is guaranteed for a period of time. Naturally this service comes at a premium, but may be worth the extra cost.

Am I in a position to give you notice if you do not perform?

“Agents have a fiduciary responsibility in terms of the Code of Conduct of Estate Agents to perform their duty. Many agents will not allow the opportunity for a landlord to hold them accountable or to terminate the relationship due to poor service delivery. Landlords should make sure that they work with an agent who, if they are not performing in terms of their mandate, may be put to terms and even fired if the job is not done properly,” advises Rea.

He concludes by saying that with the rules constantly changing within the rental sector, a credible and experienced rental agent can be a valuable ally in this game. Asking the above questions will help to ensure that the landlord makes the best decision for the management of their rental portfolio.

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