Letting a Property During COVID 19 Lockdown - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

By Mary Latham

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Letting a property during lockdown

Letting a Property During COVID 19 Lockdown – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I would like to share my experience of renting a single let property which came back to me because of COVID 19.

The property was initially let on an 18-month contract via LettingaProperty.com. The agreement was due to expire later this year, but the tenant had suggested that they would likely renew.  

It was a company let, quarterly payments in advance and occupied by a Senior Manager; a lovely person and great housekeeper. 

Happy landlord.

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THE BAD

Unfortunately, the occupier had gone home to visit her family in Germany the week before lockdown. She couldn't get back to the UK for several weeks. I was kept informed and eventually told that the contract would not be renewed because she had been moved back to Germany until next January.

She'd return only to remove her belongings and clean the property before returning the keys on 24th April. The property was handed back immaculately clean before the end of the contract. This would typically be a good scenario allowing some time to carry out any repairs or replacements and market the property again.

Not this time. We were in lockdown and strict guidelines around letting had to be followed.

THE GOOD

  • The house was left empty for a week to allow for the air to clear.  
  • I visited to carry out an inspection and was very happy to return 100% of the deposit and accept the lovely bottle of wine and Thank You card. I will really miss this tenant.
  • My contractor visited to cut the grass and replace the silicone sealant around the shower.
  • The house was left empty for a further 2 days. I then went back to remove the post and dust the surfaces.
  • New photographs were taken and uploaded to my advert on lettingaproperty.com.
  • The property was advertised on Rightmove, Zoopla and Primelocation via lettingaproperty.com
  • I received a good level of enquiries almost every day from day one. That certainly was a pleasant surprise.

I had to learn new skills because viewings were not allowed to take place at this point.   I didn't want to keep people holding on who might miss out on other properties, and at the same time, I was keen to hang on to the best prospective tenants.

And so, I drew up my new "covid-proof" tenant profile.  

I often tweak my tenant profile, and this was a time when I needed to consider which prospective tenants would be likely to meet my top criteria to keep them long term – 3 years or more is my target.  

Employment

This is a tricky one. Who would be in work for the next three years following this awful time? Many businesses face financial uncertainty and may close forever, and others may be planning to reduce their workforce.

  • Retail Management - off my list.
  • Other Management - I'll assess on a case by case basis.
  • Hotel, Beauty and Health  - now on the bottom of my list.
  • Food, Drink and Entertainment - I believe that these will thrive once they open their doors. How much I miss eating and drinking with my family and friends and just relaxing.
  • Engineering, Construction and Consultants - I'll assess on a case by case basis as I will with all other occupations.
  • Education - I have now narrowed the list down to schools. There is some uncertainty around universities and colleges, several of which are going online and focusing on virtual classes until 2021.

Their Future Plans

In order of preference

  • Those who are planning to rent long term
  • Those who are renting until they buy
  • Those who are planning to rent for less than a year or aren't sure – I always offer a 6 months tenancy to begin with but hope for more later

Previous History

  • Those with a good credit score
  • Those with previous landlord references
  • Those who have rented in the past or at the moment

There is no golden formula, but I was trying to avoid issues with people who may lose their jobs shortly or who may already be in debt and will struggle to pay their rent if they're not back on full pay quickly.

I devised a questionnaire (which you can download here) to use during a telephone call to preselect those to whom I would offer a viewing as soon as the government allowed. 

I apologised for asking personal questions and said that I didn't want to waste their time if they weren't a good fit for me. They were encouraged to ask me questions so that they could decide if the property (and landlord) were a good fit for them. 

All the enquirers understood and a couple agreed that the property wasn't right for them by the end of the call. The remaining were told that they would be contacted as soon as the government lifted restrictions on viewings.

They were put in order of preference, and on Monday 18th May I showed the house.  

This too was a learning experience:

  • The house was aired by opening all windows and doors for a couple of hours.
  • All handles, keys and surfaces were cleaned with antibacterial cleaner.
  • The toilet, basin, shower and kitchen sink (including taps) were bleached
  • I sprayed perfume – as you do.
  • I parked outside in my car
  • The young couple came to view and were provided rubber gloves and asked to wear a mask or scarf.
  • They viewed the house and came out with big smiles. They came 2 metres from my car and told me immediately that they wanted the house and were prepared to take it a month before they had planned because they wanted to secure it.  

Very happy landlord.

Everything from that point was back to normal until sign up.

  • A holding fee was secured, and the marketing of the property was paused – I had more than enough potential tenants anyway.
  • The applicants progressed through the referencing process and passed with flying colours – I had a feeling that they would.
  • All the relevant documents were sent to look at before committing.
  • We agreed that they will take the property from 1st June.
  • I signed two copies of the contract, they collected them from my front step (haha) read and signed them. They had already seen a blank copy and were happy with the content of the standard AST.
  • The holding fee will be added to the deposit and the balance and the first month's rent will be paid into my account by Friday 29th May so that they can move in on Monday 1st June having had all the relevant paperwork for deposit protection.

My new tenants are a couple saving for their own home, which they plan to buy in 2023 – He is a Secondary School Maths Teacher and very precise. She is Junior School Teacher – The joys of having property close to four Infant and Junior Schools, three Senior Schools and a Sixth Form College – that wasn't an accident:-

LocationLocationLocation

The grass will be cut for the last time and the house cleaned and disinfected again.  

I am working on how to do the check-in but will probably WhatsApp them while they are outside while I show them heating controls, check smoke alarms etc. and then go back to my car while they go in and WhatsApp me if they have any questions – that's the plan. They are two intelligent, calm young people who have been very understanding of the restrictions and my need to keep us all safe.

I always get a good result in terms of number and quality of applications when I advertise a property with LettingAProperty.com but this time I was very nervous about the state of the market. 

I wanted to share my experience to reassure other landlords. 

Done and dusted in 6 weeks with no loss of rent.

Oh yes THE UGLY

Having not seen my wonderful hairdresser since 2nd March let's just say that headscarves are back in vogue.  

Good luck. Stay Alert. Stay Safe

Do you have a story of letting during the lockdown, leave your comment below.

About Mary Latham

Mary LathamMary has been a landlord since 1972, letting all types of property to most client groups and carrying out much of her own refurbishment.

She was founder and Chair of the Association of Midlands Landlords where she ran a helpline for landlords for 9 years until AML joined The National Landlords Association in 2007 and she became the West Midlands Regional Representative for NLA.

Mary retired from NLA in summer 2018 but continues to deliver seminars for Midlands Landlords Accreditation Scheme and to manage most of her property portfolio

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