I was just responding to an interview that will ultimately be available online at Lotus Events (authored by a lovely Canadian couple researching their relocation—who also maintain awesome blogs at Got Craft? and Granville Online). As I kind over-worked myself on that for one day, I thought I’d share a sneak preview.
In response to their question, “What are the signs of a reputable relocation agent or estate agent?” I have the following to say:
Well, it certainly helps if they have their own car 🙂 They would also never require you to make a deposit and pay your first month’s rent upfront in cash—I’ve heard of this happening, and no reputable agency/respectable landlord would ask such a thing; bank transfers, checks, or credit cards should be accepted. Similarly, being asked to transfer funds to secure a flat without your (or someone delegated on your behalf) having seen the property first in person is the sort of thing Craigslist scams are made of, so beware. Okay, so, yes, there are reputable agencies out there that will allow this per the tenant’s request (upon which the tenant must sign an agreement confirming that they did not see the space and based their decision solely on the photos provided on the agency website), but you won’t want to try this with an agency that has a sketchy website that may be suspect (see below).
If many of the listings you enquire about through an agency are no longer on the market, yet still being advertised, this could be a red flag as well—they may be boasting more properties than they actually have or at least aren’t on-the-ball enough to respect the accuracy and timeliness of their own listings (cut them some slack, though, if a flat has only just gone off the market in the last day or so, as property does move very quickly here, especially in summer!). It can be discouraging if an agent insists you’ll find nothing in your budget, but you may need to also take this with a grain of salt, as more often than not, flats are more expensive than people anticipate, so the agent may earnestly be trying to help you develop more realistic expectations. That being said, do your research in advance to get a good idea of average rent prices to make sure you aren’t ripped off.
Agencies with various branches (an agency with at least 3 different offices is likely a safe one to try) are obviously quite successful and may observe stricter codes of professionalism to maintain their reputations—e.g., Foxtons, Marsh & Parsons, etc. This is not to say that the smaller boutique agencies offer any less in service—indeed, because larger agencies may take for granted that they’ll have a steady stream of business, this runs the risk of breeding apathy toward individual clients. So give the little guys a chance, too, if their office looks presentable and organized, their listings comprehensive, and their staff personable and professional. My husband and I found our flat, for example, through FiveSevenTen (a single-office boutique agency that only services postal codes SW5, SW7, and SW10), and their approach was kind-hearted and truly looking out for our best interests. I appreciate when agents can be honest about the flats they represent, especially if it’s pointing out their shortcomings—then I don’t feel like I’m being schmoozed and promised perfection when they can only under-deliver.
Agency websites can be a good indication as well. You know a good website from a bad one when you first look at it. Does it look like a respectful amount of thought has gone into its design? Is it user-friendly? Are there any client testimonials? A blog or something that provides value-added information and shows some personality? Is their contact info clear and thorough (address and phone number should be there at the very least—raises a lot of questions if they’re not! A web form is nice, too)?
So, for what that’s worth, I hope it’s of use for your own move to London. I’ll give the heads-up when my entire interview is available online. In the meantime, much of the content I shared there can be found within this London Relocation blog as well, so if you’re searching for a specific topic and cannot find it through our categories or ‘search’ field, please drop me a comment and I’ll happily direct you if not elaborate further. Cheers!