How to remain competitive in a tenant-dominated market

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If you are a savvy, street-smart operator, there are still rewards to be had in the beating heart of the city. Aim for a yield of more than 3% and bear in mind that this economic downturn will not last forever – your property will hopefully grow in value over the longer term. The keys to success are a good location, a good purchase price and a good tenant.

Here, Sarah Bikhit, Lettings Manager at Kay & Co, reveals her top tips for new and existing landlords on how to remain competitive in a tenant-dominated market.

Q: Is it better to rent a property furnished or unfurnished?
A: Be flexible to appeal to as many people as possible. But if you furnish the property – it usually lets faster. It does not need to have expensive furniture to give the right impression. Just spend your budget wisely. Decorate your property like a show home, but make sure it is welcoming.

Q: To paint or not to paint?
A: If you are debating whether to paint or not, then definitely paint. Similarly, if you have built-in storage, get the cupboards repaired. Some tenants look for anything that might be broken, so make your property standout in a positive, not negative way.

Q: Should I let to students?
A: Students are often tarnished with a bad brush, but be open-minded. There is such a wide variety of students from Masters to PhD students. We always get references and carry out the proper checks. Some students pay in advance, too.

Q: Should I allow pets?
A: This is definitely something to consider. My advice is to be open-minded to pets within reason, providing your lease allows them. We are lucky to be located so close to Hyde Park and Regent’s Park. Many tenants will want to take their dogs to the green open spaces nearby.

Q: I want to save money. Do I really need an inventory?
A: Even if the property is unfurnished, it is worth having a professional inventory. Make a note of the condition of the walls, the type of sofa and the make of fridge, for example. It might sound silly to produce an inventory for an empty flat, but it’s essential. You want the property to be perfect for your tenant, while protecting your biggest asset. It is a useful document if you need to make a claim against a damage deposit, too.

Q: Is there a best month to let a property?
A: Summer months are often the strongest months for rental demand. This is for many reasons; perhaps it is the hotter weather, the school holidays or the fact that prospective tenants may be on annual leave with more time to find their dream home. Properties are often viewed over the summer, with more daylight hours and natural daylight.

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Q: Should I try to let my property before or after Christmas?
A: Put your property on the market one week before Christmas. The end of December and January are the strongest winter months, particularly for corporate lets. The New Year is similar to the summer – people are looking for new jobs, a new home or fresh start.

Q: If there are building works coming up, should I tell the tenant?
A: Definitely, keep your tenant up to date or your lettings agency can do this for you. If you are aware of any planned works, always update your tenant.

Q: Should I pick the cheapest agent?
A: No. Those charging a higher commission may have better marketing, or offer a better start-to-finish service.

Q: How do I get tenants to stay for the long term?
A: Listen to their needs. Make sure they are the right ones for your property. Tenants who pick the wrong property may only stay for six months. Be clear about the benefits and drawbacks of the property.

Q: What are the must-haves in a rental property to let it faster?
A:
1. A modern kitchen and bathroom.
2. If space warrants – a separate washer and dryer, rather than just a washing machine, but this comes down to personal preference.
3. Wooden floors - where head leases permit it.
4. Think about storage with tenants in mind – they don’t want to outgrow the property too quickly.
5. Use ottoman beds for extra storage.
6. For long-term lets, properties should be freshly painted.
7. Be mindful of communal parts. They do make a difference – the experience starts when a tenant walks into the building.
8. Dressing – if you are thinking of dressing a property, keep it simple. Don’t mix colours or styles too much. Add a sofa bed, too.

Q: What advice would you give to a landlord who travels a lot?
A: If you know you will be out of the country for long periods or you live abroad, pay the extra percentage to have the property managed, so any issues that arise can be dealt with straightaway. Prompt attention is very important to tenants, particularly if there is an emergency, such as a water leak.

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Q: If you are letting, are you willing to take offers – or do work?
A: Spend your budget and time on re-decorating. For example, allow about one week’s money and spend two weeks doing it up. Then the property usually lets one to two weeks faster.

Q: What should landlords look for when searching for rental properties?
A: Location is key. Garden squares and properties overlooking the park are usually popular.

Think about light. You want plenty of light in the daytime, but not at night. Blackout blinds in bedrooms are a good idea.

Portered blocks are usually in demand for the extra security that they offer.

Do your homework and be competitive with your pricing.

• Contact Kay & Co estate agents for details of properties for sale or to rent in Marylebone, Bayswater, Paddington, Notting Hill, Mayfair, Hyde Park, Fitzrovia, Regents Park and The West End (020 7262 2030; Kay & Co).

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