by Angus Ryan
16:00 PM, 28th November 2011, About 10 years ago 1
Void periods are an occupational hazard of letting property and something that the vast majority of landlords will experience at some point. The key to a successful void is to keep it as short as possible. Currently there is an environment of strong rental demand but this does not mean that landlords should be complacent. There are various ways for you to minimise the dreaded void period and I will illustrate this by going through a typical lifecycle of a tenancy.
As simple as it sounds, try and keep your tenant as long as possible! It could take 2 months to get a new tenant so looking after your existing tenant is a wise move.
Keep in touch with them and build trust by doing regular property inspections (at least twice a year) and by responding promptly to any repair issues. Heating and hot water repairs need to be done as soon as possible, but others can be planned but keep them informed. Tenants will let you know about potential issues earlier if you look after them, thus avoiding serious problems later. With this in mind I put back 10% of the rent I receive as a maintenance fund so I have enough to fix emergency repairs.
If a tenant is struggling to pay the rent temporarily then offer a payment holiday as it is better to have some rent than none at all. Always monitor rent payments and act fast by phoning the tenant immediately if a rent payment is missed or late. Stay organised by keeping your property finances/paperwork in order. Point them in the direction of the Local Authority as they may be entitled to Local Housing Allowance if they lose their job.
Be aware of the 13 week benefit rule if the tenant loses their job; if your tenant could afford the rent when they moved in and have been doing so for the past 52 weeks then the tenant is protected for 13 weeks. If the amount of rent charged is higher than LHA rates then the local authority should pay whichever is better.
Another point to remember is if a family is renting and one of them dies, 12 months full benefit will be paid on the death of a relevant person. It is also worth checking to see if there are any Crisis Loans from the local authority to help a tenant in financial difficulties.
Keeping a good tenant is important, it is better to reduce the rent than have no rent at all! So negotiate.
You could consider offering to improve the property for a happy paying tenant, perhaps offering them a new carpet or new shower. Showing you care by providing incentives to stay because if you don’t it may cost you a void if they leave.
Market your property before the current tenant leaves. Under an AST a tenant must give a month’s notice if they intend to move out. There should be a clause in your AST that says you can market that property to potential tenants in the notice period provided you get the permission of the incumbent tenant. Use this to your advantage, although I have to admit it is not always easy to show prospective tenants a property where it maybe untidy which in turn may put them off.
Redecorate. What condition is the property in? If it requires an update then freshen up the walls with some magnolia paint, costing you about £120 per room.
Repair/Improve. Use vacant times to improve the kitchen, bathrooms, re-carpet. Dress your property to impress, possibly even get rid of unwanted old furniture.
Check the competition and monitor your local rental market before advertising so you don’t price yourself out of the market. Don’t hold out for a more expensive rent; it is better to get £400 now than wait two months to get £450. Always look at the local market rents and try and charge a little bit less so that you give yourself the maximum chance of no voids. Make sure you arrange for an Energy Performance Certificate or EPC to be done since by law you are not allowed to market your property unless it has an EPC. This lasts for 10 years. Getting them completed at the earliest opportunity enables landlords to act quickly if a property becomes vacant.
Remember to think what type of tenant you are looking for as different tenants are looking for different things. Students in HMOs will require furnishings whereas letting a house to a family may not require furniture.
Modern, time-pressured tenants look to social media sites and property rental portal online sites to look for property. Quality photography can help create a good first impression so take some shots with your digital camera. They don’t need to be professional, but photographs of the property exterior, kitchen, bathroom, living room, main bedroom and outside space are very useful. Try to be original with your property description.
An increasing number of landlords use online social media to market their property or to operate other aspects of their business. Facebook is the most popular online resource with online forums also being popular but micro-blogging site Twitter can also be used to attract tenants. Incidentally, Facebook can also be useful in tracking down ex-tenants who have left your property owing rent or damages. They usually have some presence e.g. a fan page.
Always consider when granting a new tenancy when it will end. Are there any dates you wish to avoid like Christmas? Easter? August? For example, avoid a six month tenancy to start in June which will run out in December. Try 7 months and end in January.
Be professional by setting up the tenancy correctly and ensure your tenants understand their responsibilities. Visit the property early in the tenancy and maintain good communication. Keep a maintenance fund and carry out repairs promptly as this will go a long way to keeping your tenant happy.
As a result, they will hopefully stay longer. Monitor rent payments and act quickly if the tenant gets into difficulties. Give tenants advice and support and keep good relations with your council and remember, LHA and Crisis Loans.
Angus Ryan is an expert property landlord will over 18 years experience. He is also a Chartered Management Accountant and former National Landlord Association representative. He has just launched his new acclaimed book ‘Top 21 Worst Mistakes Made By Property Landlords and How To Avoid Them’ which offers to help fellow landlords avoid the blunders than can ruin them. It includes advice on how to save tax, avoiding rent arrears and how to evict a tenant the legal way. For more information please go to: LandlordPropertyMistakes
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