One of the most infuriating things about renting, particularly in London, is the huge fees charged by letting agents. In Scotland these fees are now illegal, but south of the border they are free to charge whatever they can get away with. I have recently had experience of OpenRent – an online letting agent that promises zero fees to tenants. So why does OpenRent exist, and what’s it like?
Agents Often Charge Huge Fees
I’m lucky that the agent where I currently live is relatively cheap (I was charged £200 when I moved in), but it’s not uncommon to see fees of £400 or more as an initial fees. These “admin fees” are often then topped up by additional charges for things including “moving in on a Saturday”, or “deposit protection service fee”. I’m no expert, but how is it OK that the agent to charge for this, given that they are obliged to responsibly look after our deposits to stop them running off with it in the first place. To me the fact that there is so much variation in agent fees suggests that they are charging what they can get away with, rather than it being any reflection on how much it actually costs to let a property.
It’s not that I have a problem with letting agents charging fees per se – they do after all provide a service – it’s the feeling of being held over a barrel to pay rediculous fees that I object to.
It’s Not Just Tenants Who Are Fed Up
Like many people, I have more experience as a tenant (lots) than being a landlord (none). And, also like many people, I don’t have a huge amount of sympathy for the landlords whose houses we help buy, and whose nest-eggs we help fund. So it came as something as a surprise to discover that landlords have about as much love for letting agents as tenants. A quick skim of landlord forums shows that there is a lot of disgruntlement from landlords about having to pay thousands of pounds upfront, and a good chunk of the monthly rent to letting agents.
Again, it’s not the charging of fees that seems to rankle – it’s the seemingly arbitrary reasoning behind the fees, and the realisation of some agents that they can charge the earth.
So the lettings market seems to have a bit of space for a middle-man who doesn’t take the piss with fees. OpenRent – an online lettings agency – seems to be filling that space. I assume that because it is entirely online it is able to charge lower fees to both landlords and tenants.
I found my “OpenRent” flat on Zoopla, although you can also search for properties directly on the OpenRent website. In keeping with their tagline of “You do the viewings, we do the rest”, viewing of the property was arranged directly with the landlord.
A Painless Process
After viewing, and having decided to take the property the rest of the process was dealt with through the OpenRent site, which starts with payment of a holding deposit (to commit to taking the property having it taken off the market). My landlord required references, which were also arranged by OpenRent – this is the one deviation from the “zero fees for tenants” as the referencing did incur a £20 fee. Given that this sometimes incurs a fee of closer to £100, I wasn’t too troubled. The referencing itself was quick and painless, and was all dealt with in less than a week.
Tenancy Signed Online
Once the referencing was sorted and approved by the landlord I could access (and even sign!) the tenancy agreement online. Being able to sign the tenancy agreement online was a definite help for me, as in the past I’ve had to traipse accross the city to spend 20 minutes in a lettings office to do the signing.
With the tenancy agreement signed I finally paid the deposit and first months rent through OpenRent. Again this was basically painless.
By the looks of the website landlords can sign up for differing levels of service from OpenRent, and your experience may depend on what exactly they have gone for. In summary though, my experience of OpenRent has been very positive and I can only hope that the rise of online agents like OpenRent and others will help curtail the fees charged to both tenants and landlords.