This is a question that every landlord and property investor will need to ask themselves at the start of their buy-to-let journey: Should you self-manage your own buy-to-let property or pay a letting agent to do the work on your behalf?
In this post, we will be looking over some of the pros and cons of both options and weighing in on what we feel is most beneficial when investing in one or more rental properties.
What Does it Mean to Self-Manage a Rental Property?
Self-management in property terms means taking on the full responsibility of looking after your tenants and the rental maintenance of your buy-to-let property. Your tenant will come to you as their first point of contact for any issues and you are solely responsible for the upkeep of the property, the tenancy and all the administration work involved.
What is Involved in Property Self-Management?
Most people think of property management as the looking after of the property and tenant throughout the duration of the tenant’s stay. However, there is a lot of work to be done before a tenant even signs the rental agreement, let alone moves in, which can be easily overlooked by a beginner landlord. These responsibilities include reference checks, taking viewings, completing inventory reports, the check-in and registering a deposit legally.
All these obligations are just in lead-up to the tenancy itself. Once the tenant has moved in, a self-managing landlord will be the first point of contact for any issues a tenant raises, big or small.
Why Would a Landlord Choose to Manage Their Own Property?
Self-Management is a difficult and time-consuming job; one that requires immense determination and a meticulous approach. So why would anyone choose to self-manage? Here are some of the reasons a landlord might adopt this approach.
A lot of the time, the decision to self-manage is motivated by money. A landlord may be put off hiring a letting agent on account of the fees charged, which generally range from anywhere between 6 to 12% of your rental income, depending on the location and specific services covered. A landlord looking to save money may choose to go the self-management route, being unwilling to part with this amount of their profit.
A Free Schedule
If a landlord has plenty of time on their hands, such as those who are retired or those who, having built up a fair number of properties on their portfolio, decide to take on the direct management as their full-time job.
Energy and Motivation
Self-managing a property requires a lot of energy and landlords eager to find a project to engage in will find ample things to do to occupy their mind, keeping them busy and entertained. Some landlords are happiest when engaging with tenants and have a sense of fulfilment when on call, taking pride in their ability to build good relationships and deliver excellent customer service.
This is one of the biggest reasons to self-manage a property. It means you are able to keep a good eye on your property and have a significant amount of control over the entire business. A landlord who is engaging with the tenant consistently, doing frequent inspections and micro-managing maintenance issues may sleep easier at night knowing that everything is being taken care of to their own unique standard.
Many self-managing landlords exhibit a lack of trust in others to get the job done properly, either as a general personality trait or from having negative past experiences with letting agents. For these landlords, the extra time and energy they need to spend managing their own portfolio is a small price to pay for knowing exactly what is going on and being confident in themselves to be able to handle any issues effectively.
If a landlord is either working in the property industry or is looking to grow their portfolio in the future, they might benefit from having the hands-on experience of actually going through the whole process from beginning to end – and for property management, the learning curve is an exceptionally steep one.
By going through the entire process alone from start to finish, you will amass a great deal of property knowledge and expertise, from performing background checks and registering deposits to chasing rent and hiring tradesmen. On the admin side, you will learn what documents you need to rent legally and how to file tax returns correctly. You will also learn how to communicate effectively with tenants and how to deal with a multitude of unexpected issues along the way.
Challenges of Self-Managing Property
Understandably, there are several disadvantages to taking on this level of responsibility all by yourself. Here are some of the most prominent issues faced by self-managing landlords.
Sourcing Quality Tenants
Some people new to property may operate under the misconception that sourcing tenants is a quick and easy process – A couple of posts on Facebook or Gumtree will guarantee success, right?
The reality is quite a different story. Regardless of how easy it may be to generate interest in your property, it will almost certainly not be so easy to find the right tenant. A letting agent will have hundreds of pre-vetted applicants already on their books who are ready and waiting to move in. These applicants will have already spoken to the letting agency and answered some important questions regarding their financial and residential history.
The Advertising and Vetting Process
It takes a great deal of time and effort to advertise your property and then vet every single applicant yourself – you may find you have literally hundreds of them, depending on the popularity and location of your property. While it is true that some landlords are happier paying a cheaper, online agency to list their property and provide a portal for applicants, the responsibility is still down to you to select the right tenant among all those who applied.
Anyone investing remotely will find it nearly impossible to do the whole process from start to finish completely solo, making self-management a fairly unrealistic option. This also goes for anyone who has a sizeable portfolio. Can you really keep on top of every aspect of property management when you have ten or twenty houses to look after?
An Expert’s Knowledge
How much do you know about the people who are applying? It can be incredibly taxing, interviewing and selecting the right tenant. An applicant who appears very personable and presentable may convince you to forego the referencing or credit check, especially if they are offering a bulk of money upfront.
A letting agency will not be susceptible to manipulation. They have very strict procedures and will not break them, regardless of how charming the applicant appears.
Letting agents also have a huge knowledge base and often very keen instincts from working with tenants over many years. This can be invaluable in helping to avoid messy situations and will protect the landlord from having to deal with a mountain of issues down the line. Remember: A bad tenant is a costly mistake to fix.
Not Having A Ready-Made Power Team
Do you have some fabulous industry contacts for all your DIY and maintenance needs? If so, you may find this hurdle a breeze. But for the rest of us who have slogged through hours of scrolling on Trust-a-Trader and Check-a-Trade just to find ourselves stuck with a rogue tradesman who suddenly won’t answer our calls, this one is well left up to the professionals.
Letting agents have a tried-and-tested power team, with connections in every property-related industry under the sun, from electricians to carpenters and plumbers. By giving management to a letting agent, you aren’t just benefiting from this vast industry access, you are also relieving yourself of all the hassle of finding and arranging all of the work you will need to have done over the years.
The Downside of the Personal Touch
It can be very stressful increasing the rent on a property if you have built a really close relationship with your tenant. Most landlords value a good, steady tenant and will be reluctant to rock the boat, even when rental increases are necessary to maintain a profit. This can be especially true if you are aware of your tenant’s life situation and genuinely like them as a person.
Using a letting agent removes the personal element of dealing with tenants. They are not emotionally invested and as such, their judgement on financial matters will be clear and unobstructed. As important as it is to keep the human aspect of property management intact, it is a business first and foremost, and needs to be treated like one if it is to succeed.
Understanding the Law
One of the biggest factors to consider when deciding whether or not to self-manage is whether you have sufficient knowledge of rules and current legislation to stay on the right side of the law at all times. This can be a minefield for a landlord who isn’t legally minded or up to scratch on the latest policies. These change on a regular basis and staying up-to-date can feel like a never-ending task.
The consequences can be severe if you do break the law the rules or regulations. An unwitting landlord can be faced with hefty fines and even custodial sentences for the worst cases. Are you aware of when your gas safety certificate expires? Did you remember to give your tenant the Right to Rent booklet at the start of tenancy? Have all the fire alarms been recently tested? A self-managing landlord bears all the responsibility if things go wrong. Having an agent doesn’t mitigate this entirely, but they do assist with many things and their knowledge of current legislation is fully in place.
The Final Word from Track Capital
Track Capital Directors Nick and Tobi would both suggest that investors do not to opt for self-management unless they are absolutely certain that they are fully capable and believe wholeheartedly that this is the right option for them.
If you are unsure about either of these points, it is safer to simply pay the money, accept it as an unavoidable cost and relax knowing that your property is being taken care of by professionals.
The time and effort it will cost you to self-manage a property is generally worth more than the money you will potentially save doing it yourself while leaving you legally exposed and constantly working to stay ahead of the game.