Old habits die hard. An oft-quoted fact is that people are more likely to get divorced than change their bank. You often hear people grumble about the agents managing their properties. But how many of them search and hire a new one?
It is obviously not a step to be taken lightly. Agents can often be encouraged to raise their game if you communicate your concerns to them clearly. Yet occasionally, replacing a managing agent does make good sense.
"Some properties are managed by the same agents for ten years and more, to general satisfaction, while others run into difficulties," says Jennifer Illman, portfolio manager at Kay & Co. "My advice to landlords is to find an agent who treats your property like their own home and is prompt and flexible in responding to your concerns. The best agents are natural problem-solvers."
Here are our top tips to help you tell the good agents from the less good ones:
1. Is your managing agent hard to get hold of, or slow to respond to simple queries? Sluggishness in communicating, particularly if it is habitual, should be a red line as far as the property-owner is concerned.
2. Do they operate from an office that is physically remote from the property being managed? It is worth keeping an eye on this one, as many problems with properties require a prompt visit from the managing agent. Having a London property managed by an agent in Luton may be a recipe for trouble.
3. Do they have a good knowledge of the property they are managing? And are they able to communicate that knowledge effectively? "We need to take care explaining the peculiarities of London leasehold properties to owners from both overseas and the UK, who may be unfamiliar with property law," adds Jennifer Illman.
4. Are their charges clear or do you keep getting what look like high bills, without explanation? Good agents will always have clear cost structures and notify you of any changes.
5. Do they perform relevant tasks quickly and efficiently? You cannot expect agents to be at your beck and call 24/7. But you should certainly expect professional standards.
6. Are you satisfied with the quality of the contractors they appoint to carry out maintenance and repairs? Do they regularly review maintenance contracts? "Agents should always monitor contractors and make sure, for instance, that they have the necessary insurance cover," explains Jennifer Illman.
7. Are they up to speed in making sure tenants honour their contracts – for example, by not sub-letting them? A managing agent should be your eyes and ears and spot any behaviour by your tenants that should be of concern to you. This takes vigilance and tact, so try to find an agent who embodies those qualities.
8. Will they pull out all the stops when swift action on their part is needed to seal the deal with a purchaser/new tenant? "It can be infuriating when deals fall through simply because of delays in the pre-contract inquiries," says Jennifer Illman.
Don’t expect perfection. Managing agents are fallible, like everyone else. But it is reasonable for you to set high standards, given that the agents are managing one of your most important financial assets.
* Contact Kay & Co estate agents for details of properties for sale or to rent in Marylebone, Bayswater, Paddington, Notting Hill, Mayfair, Fitzrovia, Regents Park and The West End (020 7262 2030 www.kayandco.com/property-search)