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Best buy-to-let: should you choose a high street or online letting agent?

When letting your property out, most people choose to use a letting agent for some or part of the process. But how do you find the best agent, and should you opt for a high street firm or an online platform?

In recent years, more and more services have been moving online, particularly in the housing market. The likes of Purplebricks – which offers letting services as well as estate agency – is one of the most well-known names, but there are plenty more options out there.

Often, online agents are touted as being the cheaper option. One online letting agent, Portico, has just announced a new £1 service for landlords. Its entirely digital process includes advertising the property on portals like Rightmove and Zoopla, with property owners carrying out viewings themselves. After the initial seven-day period, the cost rises to £19 for 14 days.

However, there is more to choosing a letting agent than the cost, and online isn’t always cheaper. Below are some of the pros and cons of both online and high street agents.

1. Managing the process remotely

Increasingly, people are more comfortable with dealing with their affairs online. Being able to do almost everything using technology rather than face-to-face is appealing to a lot of people. This is particularly relevant in today’s climate with social distancing measures in place.

Online agents boast being able to carry out the full letting process – including listing, arranging viewings, tenant reference checks and ongoing property management – with minimal contact. Thanks to advances in technology, old-fashioned paperwork has largely been replaced with online forms, making everything much more straightforward for both the landlord and the tenant.

However, in recent months, many high street agents have become more adept at managing processes remotely, too. Furthermore, many high street agents, particularly those who regularly deal with clients from overseas, are capable of carrying out the full letting process without face-to-face contact with the property owner. High street agents may also offer a more personal feel, too, and landlords can often build a rapport with a particular agent, which may not be an option with online agents.

2. What about viewings?

Not everything can be done via a computer, and physical property viewings by tenants falls into this bracket. Of course, since the coronavirus pandemic, virtual viewings have soared. Even most high street agents now offer this option, which is extremely useful for tenants. However, many will still want to see the place in person before agreeing to anything.

High street agents obviously have the man power to conduct all tenant viewings for the landlord. This makes for a more hands-off experience for the user, as you can simply hand over the keys.

Online agents, on the other hand, normally leave the physical viewings up to the property owner. This can be beneficial as the owner then gets to meet prospective tenants themselves. However, for busy or remote landlords, this will simply not be an option. While some online agents can appoint someone to carry out the viewing, many don’t, so the owner will need to come up with a solution.

3. Knowledge and expertise

It goes without saying that established high street agents will come with a host of local knowledge. They will have seen the peaks and troughs of the local market, and be able to offer advice on all aspects of lettings in that area.

This can be particularly handy if you are investing in property in an unfamiliar area. However, landlords or investors who are already experienced in the market might consider online agents the better option. They will use digital tools and resources to work out things like rental costs and learn about the local market.

The reach of each agent is another thing to consider. Both high street agents and online agents tend to list properties on popular portals like Zoopla and Rightmove so tenants can find properties online. High street agents have the added advantage of offering physical advertisements in their shop windows. They also use their own website, and many tenants will learn about the property this way.

However, online agents are likely to have more expertise in digital marketing and advertising. They use advanced technology to get adverts seen by a wider audience. For property investors and landlords hoping to attract young professional tenants, they may find they are more likely to find an advert online than in a local branch.

4. Cost differences

Average letting costs vary depending on factors like your location and the level of management you choose. Some landlords only want to appoint an agent on a ‘let-only’ basis, while others want full property management. Most companies take a percentage of the monthly rent as payment.

Because of the nature of a high street business, costs can often be higher. They have more overheads due to office costs than online agents. However, with high street agents, you may be able to barter and achieve a price you are happier with, whereas online agent fees tend to be fixed. Some high street agents may also have more ability to adjust packages depending on what each individual landlord wants.

Making a choice

Whether you’re an accidental landlord, are new to investing or have a large portfolio of buy-to-lets, how you let and manage your property is equally important.

Attracting and keeping good tenants is one of the most vital sides of any buy-to-let. Therefore, weighing up the pros and cons of different letting agent types is about more than just the initial cost. It is vital to look at each aspect and offering of the various agents in order to decide which option is right for you.

At BuyAssociation, we can put you in touch with one of our independent letting and management agent partners to find out more information. Get in touch to find out more or sign up for free to learn more about what we offer.

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