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Choosing Letting Agents / How the UK’s dopey banks made a mess of buy to let mortgage lending by David Lawrenson

Following on from last weeks’ blog, where I said landlords are not suffering too much, it seems that some landlords are suffering after all – even in the face of record low interest rates.
Latest figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders now show investors’ arrears rates are significantly higher than for standard residential.
So, what’s the truth?
Well, the truth is there are landlords and there are landlords.
Unfortunately, lots of would-be landlords did not do their research and believed all the hype spun by the many Get Rich Quick gurus and have gone on to make a complete muck up of it – bankrupting themselves in the process.
Many of these will have been to a guru’s seminar and went out and either bought existing housing with No Money Down from distressed sellers using bridging finance with a back to back next day remortgage or they bought new build ghetto flats with gifted or hidden deposits.
Both techniques have finally been stopped as the UK’s rather dozy mortgage lenders finally woke up to the fact that they had in fact just lent on 100% of the property’s value (or at least what the buyer paid.)
(Many borrowers would also use credit cards and loans for non existent kitchens to finance deals.)
With little understanding about how to be a landlord quite a few of these would-be investors got into trouble - and therefore so did the banks and building societies that lent them the mortgage cash.
On the other hand, landlords and property investors who ignored the hype, hopefully the type who read my property investing book – and listened to informed experts of the likes of Richard Bowser, Tom Entwistle and myself at property shows will have done rather well.

BUT WHY WERE BRITAINS MORTGAGE LENDERS CAUGHT OUT ON BUY TO LET?
That’s a very good question.
At a recent seminar I heard from John Corey, an American property expert about how in the USA, the types of techniques that borrowers were pulling here to raise big buy to let mortgage loans in which the borrower had no equity, had long been known to mortgage lenders and had either been stopped by law or through the use of intelligent underwriting techniques.
For example, by requesting up to a years worth of bank statements the American lenders could really assess a borrower’s true financial position. In the USA, it would have been impssible to raise say, £25K on a loan for something else one month and then use it as a deposit on a house the next month.
But in the UK, these kinds of things and many other sneaky tricks went on for years.
I suspct that many mortgage lenders in the UK did not have a clue about back to back re-mortgaging as a technique for someone to acquire a property with “No Money Down.”
OK, by sometime in 2006 and 2007 they had all finally woke from their slumber and have now stopped this kind of thing.
But if you get a buy let mortgage loan today, you will still walk out of the bank with virtually no help, no guidance or anything else to help you be a good landlord.
Unless you have read the right stuff you will have a good chance of becoming another arrears statistic on their buy to let loan book a few years hence.
A few years ago I contacted some senior figures in some of the banks (not easy – even getting their names is hard enough) and suggested that as a leading property author I could help them correct this failing. I’m still waiting for the call back.

MIND IF WE KICK YOU AGAIN SIR?
Don’t tell my partner but I have subscribed for most of the rights issues in the shares I have.
Many of these shares are well down on what I paid for them, so it’s a bit like asking a mugger if he would like to hit you and rob you again.
But the shares are all very heavily discounted and I figure that after the RBS’s famous 200 pence a pop rights issue surely, no one would be allowed to put out a rights issue prospectus which was so clearly full of nonsense.

TIPS FOR USING LETTING AGENTS
Don’t go with the letting agent that charges the lowest fees or one who claims he can get the highest rent. It is important yes, but not the only thing that counts. If the agent says they can get a premium rent. Fine. Ask them to prove what rent they have achieved for properties like yours by showing you comparables.
Ask other landlords which agents they use and trust. Then check if the agent is a member of a recognised trade association such as The Association of Residential Letting Agents which has a code of practice for members and client money protection schemes in place. Others bodies offering similar protection include The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the National Approved Lettings Scheme.
Landlords should check what protection the agent’s membership of a trade body gives them and if the agent is really still a member.
True, there are some very good and long established agents who are not members of any trade body for good reasons - like the very high cost of membership.
If you are set on using one of these, that’s fine, but make extra sure to check references and find out how long they have been in business.
ABOUT LETTINGFOCUS.COM and DAVID LAWRENSON
I’m David Lawrenson of LettingFocus.com - the landlord experts. Read Property Articles.
I’m the author of “Successful Property Letting” which for the last 3 years has been the UK’s top selling property book - buy Property Investment Book. The new edition is for both accidental landlords and more experienced residental property investors and is fully up to date with all the recent changes to tenancy deposit schemes, landlord registration and capital gains taxes.
I’m a property expert and property speaker - and I run the well known property blog that you are reading now.
I contribute to newspapers and a host of property websites, write a number of columns in the press and I provide general advice on property letting to anyone looking to buy property for themselves or to let.
What’s unique about lettingfocus.com is that we offer independent unbiased advice on renting out property because unlike most people in the buy to let and property “advice” business we are not linked to a property company, developer, agent or bridging loan financier other than through the links we have on our affilate scheme page. Find out about some great deals we have arranged at our Property Affiliate page.
For landlords' insurance products such as rent guarantee cover and property insurance click on Ukinsurancenet. Don't forget to quote our reference code, LFOC, to get the best rates from them too.
Copyright: David Lawrenson 2009. This blog is updated roughly once a week.
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