Online lettings with upad, howsy and openrent
In this article, I look at a recent experience I had with a an online lettings agency.
If you are a landlord who likes to control the tenant selection part of being a landlord, you will probably already be using an online letting agent to find tenants for you.
For me, the careful selection of good tenants is a job that I have always wanted to keep in house, wherever and whenever possible. The risks and costs of a bad tenant are just too high to take a risk with a high street letting agent, unless you are completely sure he or she is up to the job.
For those not in the know, an online letting agent is one that does not have a high street presence at all.
Hands on landlords like me like to use them because they offer the facility to place our own advert for a property, which then gets uploaded from the online letting agent to Rightmove, Zoopla and the other big portals.
So I write the copy text, take the photos, set the move in date, field and sift the enquiries, handle the viewings and select the tenant who best meets our stringent affordability and reference criteria.
I have been doing this part of the job this way for years – and it has been 20 years since I had a tenant who defaulted on even a month of rent, so I figure I must be doing something right!
It is a nice feeling to save on the fees high street letting agents charge too, (normally anything from 3 weeks’ to 5 weeks’ rent for “tenant find and move in”) though, of course, one has to do some or all the work oneself, if one chooses an online agent. (Note: Most online letting agents will try to up-sell you a range of products from EPCs to insurance, but I like to keep control of everything).
The detail of how to do this is explained in my book, “Buy to Let Landlords Guide to Finding Great Tenants” – see links below and also in my first first book, “Successful Property Letting”.
UPAD and OpenRent
Now, for years, I have used a company called UPAD to do this for me.
I got to know former founder and CEO, James Davis very well. He also came to speak at two of my seminar events. A very nice guy.
But following a spell of poor health for James two years ago, the company was folded. Eventually the system was taken over by Howsy – and I continued to use it for another year, still under the UPAD brand, but operated by Howsy.
My initial experience under the new management was good, but recently I had a bad experience.
I had an advert placed as usual, but there was such a dearth of responses that I wondered if something was amiss. So I got a friend to put in a dummy enquiry.
But 24 hours later, the dummy enquiry had not been fed through. (Normally they come through in about 20 minutes of a respondent filling in the form at the portal).
It seemed UPAD had somehow “lost” this enquiry. Cue apologies from them and them sending me, on a PDF, a raft of other enquiries they had “mislaid”.
Next week – again, another dearth of enquiries.
So, this time, I get my wife to fire in another dummy enquiry.
Again, it was not fed through. UPAD had again “lost” it. Then they “found” it, but only when I contacted them.
By this time, I had lost faith with UPAD. If they cannot do the basic job of fielding enquirers to a landlord, what good is the service?
So, after the second incident, I decided it was time to leave.
I moved to switch this property to OpenRent instead – another online letting agency.
OpenRent v UPAD
My experience was that OpenRent was cheaper than UPAD – about a third of the cost in fact at £29 for the basic, no frills experience I wanted.
But it worked well and I soon found a suitable tenant.
There are some other differences too.
OpenRent’s system does not allow the applicants to just contact you, until you have contacted them first, which some folks may prefer (though I find this a bit more clunky). And adverts and amends to adverts seem to take about 6 hours longer with OpenRent before they appear at Rightmove and Zoopla.
Also, the customer service seems more email/chat based than phone based. (I’m old school, so prefer a phone based system as long as it does not have too many menu options, doesn’t contain the long, awful and dreaded “CoronaPanic” spiel or any mentions about “high call volumes, your call is important to us”. And as long as it is answered fast).
That said, the one query I had with OpenRent was dealt with quickly on email, so for now, I am pretty happy.
Both UPAD and parent, HOWSY still cannot offer an explanation for what happened. Two weeks later, they were still “looking into it with IT”. I even got an acknowledgement from their CEO, but after that nothing, though I was sent a refund for the whole block of 5 adverts I had bought from UPAD, which I suppose was a decent compensation.
However, the delay in getting the let away meant I had to slash the rent by 15% in order to avoid a void.
Unless and until UPAD/ HOWSY can tell me what the problem was and assure me that it is now fixed, I am afraid I won’t be going back. Plus I now rather like the cheaper prices at OpenRent.
I’d be interested to hear your experiences of these and other online letting agents. Please do reply to let me and others know.
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