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How to find tenants yourself without letting agents

Renters were found found this Victorian house in Maidstone using OpenRent, and not traditional letting agents
I let this 3 bed house myself without a traditional letting agent using OpenRent

Are you wondering how easy it is to find tenants yourself online, without using traditional letting agents? Are you unsure to go about it? After all, with rental demand so high, surely it can’t be too difficult?

I was wondering the same question myself when I decided to let the house you can see above online in 2022. I’d been unhappy with my local letting agents, and thought that surely I could do a better job using an online letting service.

The good news is that not only did I successfully let my buy to let myself using OpenRent, an online letting agent. This meant I could advertise my property myself on Rightmove and Zoopla without the high costs of using a traditional high street agent. It also was a lot less hassle than going through an agent.

In this blog post, I’m going to share with you a comprehensive step by step guide to help you find great renters by advertising on Rightmove and Zoopla yourself, without the hefty price tag of traditional letting agents. Then you’ll be able to decide whether self-letting is for you.

In writing this post, I draw on my experience as a lawyer and also as a landlord with recent personal experience of using online letting agents to find tenants myself.

>> Related Post: Landlord Guide to finding renters using OpenRent

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My experience with traditional letting agents

For sale and to let boards outside Victorian terrace in Battersear

Like many accidental landlords, when I decided to let the flat I owned, it didn’t occur to me I could find renters without a letting agent. I also wouldn’t have known where to start. Agents made the process sound difficult, and I didn’t have the confidence to strike out and do it alone.

So, I chose a good local agent, we agreed a rent of £1,490 and they found wonderful tenants for £2,040. This was on a “let only” basis as I had decided to self-manage. It went like clock-work. Happy customer.

Fast forward two years, I’d bought two buy to lets in another town, and used the letting department of the estate agents I bought through. However, the service I received from them was pretty poor. No floor plan, amateur photos, slow receipt of tenancy agreements, slow referencing, and poor communication. To top it all, the lettings manager didn’t brief the junior who did the viewings properly. This was despite the fact I’d prepared a note in a word document for them. Unhappy customer.

Having totted up the sums, I realised I’d spent £7,650 in letting agent fees for four tenancies over two years. Yet, the service had not been good. It’s no surprise I began to wonder if I could not only save myself the money, but also do a better job! And of course the cost of using letting agents has gone up even more since then!

Deciding to let my rental properties myself

Openrent to let sign outside of Victorian house - self-letting landlord

When I bought another buy to let in May 2022, renter demand was (and still is) very strong. I therefore decided that it must be a good time to test if I could do better than the high street agents. Not mentioning that I’d be saving myself more than £2,000 in the process!

I’d read a lot about the various online letting platforms that give landlords access to the key portals for around £50. There are many on-line letting agents that offer listings on the portals, such as Quicklister, which the NRLA recommend. However, I chose OpenRent as I liked their website and their range of services. They also seemed to be a market leader, from my research on Rightmove.

OpenRent offer a basic listing service for £49, which enables landlords to advertise properties for letting on all the key portals online. However, I decided to pay an extra £20 for the £69 Rent Now full tenancy creation service. This includes a tenancy agreement, the deposit collection and registration with MyDeposits and the initial rental collection. I think this is excellent value.

With hindsight, it was the right decision for me and I’m a very satisfied customer! I’ll certainly never go back to using high street letting agents. For a step by step guide to the OpenRent process itself, take a look at the related post on OpenRent below.

>> Related Post: Landlord Guide to finding renters using OpenRent

How to set the right rent

My properties are all within a 250m radius, so I knew the rents I’d achieved for my other properties. I’d already set up an alert on Rightmove for new rental properties in the area in 2019. This meant I was familiar with what similar properties were going for, and how the market was moving.

It’s important to be objective about the pros and cons of your property relative to the local competition, so you don’t fix the rent too high or too low. I decided to price it at the top end of the range. Why? My house is on a good road, is larger than average, had just been refurbished, and has a lovely garden.

>> Related Post: Average Rents and Yields in UK regions and nations

What material information must be in listings for residential rental property?

National Trading Standards published Material Information in Property Listings (Lettings) in November 2023 which provides guidance to letting agents on ensuring that their residential property listings include “material information”. This guidances helps letting agents and self-letting landlords comply with Regulation 6(3) of The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 prohibits commercial practices which omit or hide material information from consumers. This means information that the average consumer needs to “take an informed transactional decision”.

In the context of letting, it’s information which a prospective tenant needs to make an informed decision about whether or not to arrange a viewing, put in an offer to rent or go ahead with renting it. Landlords should follow these rules when they create property descriptions for listings on property portals such as OpenRent.

Here is a list of the information that needs to be included in a listing for a rental property:

  • Rent and the time period (eg per calendar month). 
  • If bills are included, the listing should specify which bills these are. 
  • Council tax band.
  • EPC rating, if there is one, and it must be supplied within the relevant timescales if not.
  • Details of the deposit and any holding deposit that the landlord requires.
  • Property type (flat, terraced house, semi-detached house, detached house etc).
  • For flats in a larger building, the floor of the flat should be specified eg ground floor.
  • The number of bedrooms.
  • Details of non-standard utilities (eg septic tank, metered water).
  • Broadband speed. Rightmove include this, but landlords can check it here on this OFCOM page.
  • Any known problems with mobile phone signal. Landlords can look this up on this OFCOM page.
  • Details of any parking available eg residents parking, off-street parking, on-street parking.
  • Building safety risks (unsafe cladding, presence of asbestos, unsafe flooring, etc).
  • Flood and coastal erosion risks. Has the property been flooded within the last 5 years? What are the sources of risk (river, sea, ground water, surface water), whether it has sea defenses, etc).
  • Whether the property is in a coalfield or mining area.

4 tips to make your rental property stand out on Rightmove and Zoopla

The aim of listing a rental property on the portals is to let it to high quality renters. So many rental listings by letting agents are poor, without decent photos, a floor plan or a video. Letting agents justify this by saying there’s no point taking the time to create a stand out listing, as it will rent quickly anyway. I disagree.

When I advertise one of my rental properties, I want the listing to attract as many people as possible. This increases the odds of a great applicant clicking on “arrange a viewing”, and a good selection of suitable applicants to choose from.

Let potential renters see how your property flows. Will it work for them? Giving them the information they need will help weed out time-wasters. It will also encourage out-of-towners to make the journey to view the property.

Tip 1: Create a great property description

Property description for the listing of the property for letting on Openrent
An extract from the Property Description I inputted into OpenRent

The OpenRent website guides you through creating the property description and the terms of the tenancy on offer. For instance, the pet policy, number of renters, deposit amount (I went for 5 weeks) etc. If you don’t feel comfortable with writing your own property description, the website can generate one for you.

I was never particularly pleased with the descriptions for my rental properties written by the letting agents. Therefore, I invested a lot of time to get it right. In order to find examples of best practice, I researched turns of phrase which top London agents use. I started with a few bullet points as an overview to highlight the property’s key attractions. Then I described the property in more detail in sentences, using the top agents’ turns of phrase.

Please be aware that if you use CAPITAL LETTERS, your description will be rejected by Rightmove and Zoopla, and you’ll be left with an automatic description, which isn’t very compelling.

Finally, do make sure your listing includes all the material information that I list above.

Tip 2: Take lovely photos

Canon EOS M50 Mark II with Joby compact action camera tripod photographing interior for letting

Although photographs are so important in helping you find great renters, letting agents often don’t bother with professional photos. They claim it’s not worth the time and effort, as it’ll let anyway. I think this is wrong. In order to attract the best tenants, it is worth investing in quality photography.

I also can’t understand why letting agents don’t upload many photos onto the portals, as it gives the impression there is something to hide when there aren’t many photos. Ten seemed about right to me. I wasn’t able include photos of the bathrooms as they hadn’t then been refurbished. However, I put a note in the description to explain why.

OpenRent charge an additional £79 for professional photos, which is good value. Quicklister charge £199. I did not use a photography service as I felt confident in taking my own photos.

You can see a photo of my Canon EOS M50 Mark II in action when I took the photos for the listing (the exact model is available here on Amazon). The photos are best taken in landscape mode for the property portals. As I don’t have a wide angle lens, I used the standard kit lens that came with the Canon (EF-M 15-45mm). It was fine.

As I don’t have special lighting equipment, I shot the interior photos around midday, when the light was best.

I used a Joby Compact Action camera tripod to give height consistency to the photos (you can buy the same tripod with this link on Amazon). I used the timer on the camera so I could put the camera in the far corner and run out of the room, so I wasn’t in the shot. That way, I achieved the widest possible shot with a standard lens.

I touched up the photos in Lightroom to even out the lighting, and was happy with the results.

Be sure to move the bins and general clutter out of the way for the exterior shots. I had to keep moving things in the house (eg packs of tiles, decorating clutter) so that the photos and video were clear of “stuff”. It’s worth making the effort – something letting agents often forget to do.

Tip 3: Prepare a floor plan

Letting agents rarely prepare floor plans, unless they were available from the purchase of the property. Again, their rationale is that it isn’t worth the effort as the property will let anyway. I disagree.

Successful businesses have the needs of their customers at the heart of everything they do. It is no different for landlords. Prospective renters like to see the floor plan so they can understand how the property flows.

Even a standard Victorian house has so many variations, and it’s useful for potential renters to see how it is laid out. Where is the bathroom, is there a separate hallway, is the kitchen in the middle reception room or at the back, how big are the rooms, is there a cellar?

I take the measurements for each of the rooms using a laser measure with me to check the room dimensions. It makes it really easy to do a professional job. Click here for the link to Amazon to buy the laser measure I use.

I paid under £10 to make my own floor plan from Metropix. I had no previous experience of doing floor plans. It was a bit fiddly, but it will be quicker for my next property. I can also use the floor plan when I market the house again in the future. Money well spent.

And most importantly, all of the prospective renters who viewed the property said that they appreciated seeing the floor plan.

Tip 4: Film a simple video

Very few letting agents do video tours for rental properties, even at the top end of the market in London.

In order to make my property stand out on the portals, and to help potential renters to decide whether to view the property, I decided to do my own video.

Before creating the video, I did my research by looking at some of the videos made by the London estate agents to sell properties in London. I made a short 60 second video, copying some of their techniques. For instance, I speed up the tour, and edited it so I didn’t spend too much time walking up the stairs. I lingered in the main rooms, and showed the view out of the windows to the garden. I also walked the length of the garden to show its size and aspect.

If you’re used to doing videos and reels on Instagram, you’ll find it easy to shoot a video. You can even use your phone to do it. I used my camera to film it horizontally 16:9 (unlike Instagram reels which are vertical 9:16).

Next, I uploaded it onto YouTube and embedded a link to the video into the listing. It was very easy.

All of the people who came to view the property said they appreciated the video tour, and that they had watched it multiple times. They knew it was worth going to view the property as they were happy with the layout.

How to prepare the online listing yourself for Rightmove and Zoopla

It’s really easy to create a listing to advertise your property on Rightmove and Zoopla. Here are the 4 steps you need to follow to create your listing:

  1. Create description of the property, direct into OpenRent as you can see in the image under Tip 1. Make sure the description contains all material information.
  2. Upload the photos, floor plan and link to the video tour onto the OpenRent website, before previewing the listing.
  3. OpenRent will prompt you to upload the EPC, Gas Safety Certificate and EICR onto their website.
    • They also offer really good rates for Gas Safety Certificates with £45 as standard, and £15 for additional appliances (prices as of 22 March 2023). You can also add a boiler service for £55 (highly recommended). Click here for more details on their Gas Safety services. OpenRent also offer competitive rates for EICRs and PAT testing. Click here for details on their electrical safety services.
    • Once the landlord uploads these certificates onto the website, OpenRent automatically provide copies of these certificates to the tenants, along with the current How to Rent checklist. This makes compliance easy. Also, landlords must be able to show they have provided all of these, bar the EICR, to the tenants if they wish to serve a Section 21 notice to terminate the tenancy in the future.
  4. Upload proof of ownership for the listing to go live on Rightmove. I uploaded the Building Insurance for this as the Register of Title had not yet come from the Land Registry. It went live first on Zoopla, and then took a few hours for Rightmove to list the property.

I choose for my listings to go live on a Monday morning as letting agents have previously said to me that this is the best date to list properties for sale. However, in this strong rental market, it probably doesn’t matter when the listing goes live. So try and plan it around your own availability to do viewings.

How to choose great renters

queue of renters

After all the hard work getting the listing right, prospective tenants soon start getting in touch to arrange a viewing. With OpenRent, contact is via a messaging service on the website to ask for a viewing or for more information. I received email and text alerts when someone messaged me.

As rental demand is so high, be prepared for a lot of enquiries for viewings. Consequently, in order to be efficient, it’s best to screen for suitability before they view. From my perspective as a landlord, the key consideration at the moment is affordability. Usually, affordability is measured by the combined salary of the renters being at least 2.5 times the rent. With the cost of living crisis, I looked for more than this. I also prefer renters with steady jobs.

In order to screen renters, I responded to their enquiries with a standard message, asking to speak to them to “check for suitability before booking them for viewings”. I then arranged to call them, withholding my telephone number out of precaution. I asked questions to check for suitability before booking them for a viewing at the property.

Apart from affordability, I asked why they were looking for a property, what attracted them to the area, did they have any links with the area, and how long they were planning to rent for.

I arranged viewings with those applicants who seemed suitable in principle. Within three days I had three families who wanted to rent the property and who passed the screening test. I chose the family who was able to move in the earliest and whose need for a property was greatest.

You can find more detail on how to choose good renters in this blog post:

>> Related Post: How to choose good tenants.

Finalising the tenancy

Once you have chosen your tenants, the rest of the process is straight forward. You approve the applicants on the portal, insert the start date of the tenancy, and they confirm they want to rent the property. They pay a holding deposit of one week to OpenRent that is set off against the first month’s rent.

OpenRent offer a comprehensive referencing service at the competitive price of £20 per applicant with a 3-5 day turnaround. If you’re in a hurry, they also offer a speedy referencing service for the same price (click here for details). Once the referencing is complete, OpenRent generate the tenancy agreement, which they send to the parties electronically for signature. I checked the tenants’ right to rent in the UK myself, which was straight forward. The tenants paid the deposit (5 weeks’ rent) and the first month’s rent to OpenRent.

OpenRent sends the tenants all of the required documentation such as the EPC, the How to Rent checklist, and the prescribed information for the deposit registration mentioned above. You will receive the first month’s rent about 10 days after they move in.

It is as simple as that.

>> Related Post: How to carry out a right to rent check

list of documents to hand renters

Last steps

I opt for OpenRent’s inventory service as it is priced competitively. I always invest in a professional inventory. This is because all parties know that the condition of the property has been recorded independently in detail. It’s fair for the landlord and the renters.

When it’s move in day, meet the tenants at the property to hand over the keys and talk them through the various quirks of the property.

As well as a welcome gift, I leave my tenants with QR code to take them to the password-protected house manual on my website, plus hard copies of the instruction manuals for the appliances.

>> Related Post: How to create an effective website for your property business

Final thoughts

Having now gone through the process twice, I’ve been surprised just how easy it was to find renters with an online letting service.

It was actually far less hassle as I never needed to phone for updates, or hear feedback second hand. I found it easy to do the viewings, meet the applicants and make the decision myself. It also meant I started to build a relationship with the renters from day one, rather than the letting agent handing it over.

Finally, it saved me a substantial amount of money. I will never use a traditional letting agent again.

You may also find helpful

OpenRent to let sign in front of Victorian house

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