Margins are tight for landlords. An obvious way to save money is for landlords to let their own Buy to Lets themselves using online services such as OpenRent, for a fraction of the cost of bricks and mortar letting agents.
However, many landlords are often unsure how to go about finding tenants themselves, and don’t realise how easy it is. In fact, I found it considerably easier than using high street letting agents.
This blog post is a practical step by step guide and review of OpenRent, based on my personal experiences as a landlord using OpenRent’s RentNow service in June 2022 and August 2023.
Step by step guide to using OpenRent: At a glance
- 1. Choose between the RentNow and Portal Advertising Packages
- 2. Create the listing on OpenRent
- 3. Upload Proof of Ownership for Rightmove
- 4. Screen applicants using OpenRent tools
- 5. How to communicate with applicants using the OpenRent dashboard
- 6. Arrange viewings using the OpenRent dashboard
- 7. Request a holding deposit from chosen candidate
- 8. OpenRent referencing – £20 per applicant
- 9. Activate RentNow when ready to accept the applicants
- 10. Customise tenancy agreement
- 11. Rent payments and OpenRent’s Rent Collection service.
- 12. Order inventory report
- 13. Upload landlord documents to OpenRent dashboard
- 14. What OpenRent does to create a legally compliant tenancy
- 15. Move in date and handover
- Conclusion of review: Is OpenRent any good?
I am a genuine customer of OpenRent. Since I first used OpenRent successfully in 2022, I’ve become an affiliate. This means that if you use OpenRent after clicking through from a link in this blog post, I may receive a small commission. It’s these affiliate payments that contribute towards the costs of running this free blog.
1. Choose between the RentNow and Portal Advertising Packages
OpenRent offer two different packages to landlords who wish to find tenants:
RentNow for £49
I have used OpenRent’s RentNow service twice to find tenants. I chose it as it not only puts the listing on Rightmove and Zoopla, as well as the OpenRent website, but it creates the tenancy.
What does tenancy creation mean? It creates a tenancy agreement for customisation by the landlord, handles electronic signing of the agreement and allows you to add custom clauses. It also handles the holding deposit, the full deposit registration with MyDeposits, and serves the prescribed information and certificate on the tenants. Finally, it collects the first rent payment and serves the various documents (eg How to Rent) on the tenants.
There’ s also an excellent viewing and enquiry organiser so you can communicate with applicants without giving them your mobile phone or email address.
I think this is excellent value for £49, which is why I’ve used it a second time.
Portal Advertising for £29 (or free trial)
If you’re confident with creating your own tenancy, and registering the deposit etc, OpenRent offer their “Ultimate Advertising” package which advertises the property on Zoopla, Rightmove and OpenRent. It also includes the viewing and enquiry organiser.
It’s a very cost effective way to find tenants, if you’ve got the systems in place and expertise to create the tenancy etc yourself. For me, I thought it was worthwhile paying a little extra for the RentNow service.
OpenRent are offering a free trial of their Ultimate Advertising package here.
2. Create the listing on OpenRent
The next step is to create the listing on OpenRent. This means description of the property, photos, a floor plan, a copy of the EPC and (preferably) a video.
It’s worth taking care to take good quality photos and a floor plan, so that interested people can get a good idea of the flow of the property. It’s easy to upload a video to YouTube and add the link. Note that videos must be horizontal, and not Instagram-style vertical videos.
You can order photography and floorplans from OpenRent. I did my own.
For more tips, take a look at my detailed blog post on making your listing stand out.
>> Related Post: Tips to make your listing stand out on the portals
3. Upload Proof of Ownership for Rightmove
You will need to upload proof of ownership if you wish to advertise on Rightmove to ensure the landlord is the owner or has the owner’s permission to list a property.
I used a copy of my Landlord Insurance. Other options are can also use the Register of Title, a mortgage letter or a letter confirming ownership or completion from a solicitor.
4. Screen applicants using OpenRent tools
My aim using OpenRent is to find a shortlist of good tenants who will pay the rent on full and on time, stay a long time, be good neighbours and look after the property. I don’t want to waste a lot of time with tenants who aren’t suitable.
Unfortunately there are a lot of applicants who either don’t earn enough to be able to pay the rent, or who might otherwise not be suitable.
>> Related Post: How to choose good tenants
There are three things that you do to reduce the number of unsuitable applicants that come through on the viewing and enquiry organiser dashboard:
Set up OpenRent automatic screening
Once you set up the listing, you’ll be given the option to set up the automatic screening, which requires the applicants to say whether they meet each of the tenant preferences when they request a viewing.
You can see a copy of a real response above.
I do recommend switching on this screening option. It saves a lot of time to have all viewing requests with the proposed move in date, minimum tenancy, combined monthly income, whether they have a pet etc etc.
Send follow up questions to applicants through the viewing and enquiry organiser
Another layer of time-saving screening is to set up a your own screening Tenant Auto-Reply email which will be sent automatically when anyone requests a viewing.
These are the tenant screening questions I set up in Tenant Auto-Reply in my last tenant search with OpenRent in July/August 2023:
- How many adults would be living in the property, and please let me have the ages of the children.
- What is the breed and age of your pet (if applicable)?
- What is your occupation and the occupation of any adults who would be living there?
- Please confirm the salary of each adult who would be living there.
- What is your connection to [town]?
- How long would you plan to live in this property?
- Where abouts are you living now and why are you looking to move?
- Have you ever had any CCJs and if so, please provide details.
- Is the property for yourself? If not, explain why you are asking to view for someone else. Please do not apply if you are a rent to renter or another intermediary.
I added the last question after having people pretending to be interested in the property, but turned out to be a rent to renter.
>> Related Post: Landlord Guide on how to choose good tenants
>> Related Post: What is Rent to Rent?
5. How to communicate with applicants using the OpenRent dashboard
I recommend keeping all communications with applicants on the OpenRent viewing and enquiry organiser platform. It’s really easy and intuitive to use, and is good from a security point of view.
This is because there’s no need to give our your mobile phone or email. It also ensures there’s an independent record of all communications, as well as making it easy to turn off communications once the property is let.
All the messages from each applicant are kept together, in an expandable block you can star applicants or decline them
6. Arrange viewings using the OpenRent dashboard
I also recommend arranging viewings using the OpenRent dashboard. Typically I’ll give some options, they’ll choose one, and then I’ll send a calendar invitation via the platform, which automatically includes the address of the property.
OpenRent automatically sends a reminder 2 hours before their slot.
You can reject applicants after the viewings (or at any time), and keep some pending, as you wish.
7. Request a holding deposit from chosen candidate
Once you have found an applicant you’d like to proceed with, you can ask them for a holding deposit to reserve the property. This is one week’s rent and is put towards the first month’s rent if they’re successful.
Once I received the holding deposit, I did not accept it by clicking on RentNow, as that uses up the £49 credit for RentNow. Instead, I went forward with referencing. This kept my listing live on the portals, but I do any more viewings while referencing was progressing.
Once you have chosen your preferred tenants, it’s really important to carry out referencing.
OpenRent offer two types of referencing for £20 per applicant. Here’s a summary of the two different referencing checks that OpenRent do for new tenants:
- Comprehensive Referencing – 3-5 day turnaround.
- OpenRent’s comprehensive referencing includes a previous landlord reference, income and employment check, affordability rating, together with credit check, CCJ check, linked address and fraud information.
- This is the best option for landlords as it includes references from the previous landlord and the employer.
- When I’ve used this option, it’s taken two working days. If the applicants pass, the landlord will be eligible to take out OpenRent’s Rent Guarantee Insurance.
- Speedy Referencing – 1 working day.
- As the name implies, this if very quick. For me, OpenRent’s Speedy Referencing took a matter of hours.
- This option doesn’t include the landlord and employment check, but is useful if someone wants to move in quickly.
- For one of my applicants, it flagged up a CCJ and also that the pay slips didn’t reflect the salary he had entered on the application form.
Don’t be tempted to skip referencing, as sometimes people do unfortunately lie, and hope the self-letting landlord won’t take out references. I’ve had two separate applicants give me blatantly false information, and I was able to weed out them when I got the referencing reports. It was money well spent.
9. Activate RentNow when ready to accept the applicants
When I finally had applicants who passed the credit checks and referencing, I activated RentNow, and accepted the holding deposit.
This withdrew the listing from the portals and other pending applicants were automatically sent messages by OpenRent telling them the property had been let.
If you activate RentNow before the credit checks, you will be able to keep the holding deposit if the applicants provide false or misleading information, fail a right to rent check, or decide not to proceed. (See Section 3 Tenant Fees Act 2019). With OpenRent, you can’t keep the holding deposit if you haven’t “accepted” it by activating RentNow.
Applicants can recover the holding deposit if the landlord doesn’t have legitimate grounds to retain it.
I personally decided not to accept the holding deposit until after they’d passed the checks, as this meant the listing was still live while the referencing was going on.
Equally, I had to return the full holding deposit as I hadn’t “accepted” it. I didn’t mind as the references only cost £20 each and I’d not lost any real time, and new excellent candidates were still coming in. In the end, the successful applicants moved in on the same day as the unsuccessful applicants had proposed.
10. Customise tenancy agreement
OpenRent sends the landlord a draft tenancy agreement for checking. It has as standard a break clause after 6 months, which I changed to 12 months as I wanted it to be a 12-month fixed term contract.
Landlords can also add custom clauses to the tenancy agreemtn. I added a link to my Pet Policy.
11. Rent payments and OpenRent’s Rent Collection service.
A useful feature that OpenRent offer is setting which day the rent will be paid. If this isn’t the monthly anniversary of the start date, OpenRent will pro-rate the first month’s rent.
I find this useful as I like to offer tenants the option of having their rent date the day after they get paid (which benefits me as much as them).
OpenRent send the first repayment to the landlord about 10 days after the tenants move in.
They also offer an ongoing “rent collection” service for £10 pcm. They collect the rent and send it on the same day. I don’t use this service as I don’t see the added value to me. On the other hand, it does mean that the tenants wouldn’t receive the landlord’s bank details. They also automatically chase for late payment
12. Order inventory report
Landlords should always have a detailed inventory report of the condition of the property before tenants move in. This means there is evidence to show what the condition of the property was like when the tenants moved in, if they leave it in a bad state at the end of the tenancy.
It’s best practice to have an independent inventory clerk (preferably accredited) to carry out inventories for landlords. This helps to avoid any bias and improves their evidential value in the event of a dispute about the amount to be retained from a deposit.
I use OpenRent’s inventory service as it’s easy to order and good value.
13. Upload landlord documents to OpenRent dashboard
OpenRent will prompt you to upload the documents to the OpenRent dashboard that need to be served on tenants for the tenancy to be legally compliant. These include:
- A Gas Safety Certificate from the last 12 months
- An Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) from within the last 5 years, plus PAT testing certificate (if relevant)
- An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) under 10 years old, that currently must be an E or better.
- A copy of your Landlord Insurance
OpenRent also provide links to order any of the above if they’ve expired.
Once the documents are uploaded, they’ll be served on the tenants and a record made. This record will be useful if ever need to serve a Section 21 Notice.
14. What OpenRent does to create a legally compliant tenancy
As well as making it easy for the landlord to upload the safety documents above, OpenRent automatically serves the up to date How to Rent Checklist that landlords must serve on tenants. Again, a record is kept, and it means there’s one less thing for the landlord to remember.
Finally, OpenRent registers the deposit with MyDeposits, and sends the prescribed deposit information to the tenant.
15. Move in date and handover
Before the tenants move in, it’s important to do the Right to Rent checks to make sure the prospective tenants have the right to rent a property in the UK. Take a look at my detailed post below.
>> Related Post: How to carry out Right to Rent checks
Landlords are required to have a working smoke alarm on each floor and a carbon monoxide detector in any room with a fuel burning appliance (e.g. boiler or wood burning stove).
>> Related Post: Fire safety rules for landlords
>> Related Post: What should landlords provide in unfurnished properties?
Soon the move-in date comes around. Landlords should be clear who checks the meters (the inventory report should have the readings). I take the tenants on another tour. ofthe property and point out where the meters are and how to lock the UPVC doors (always a bit tricky!)
I give tenants a manual for the house so they have the key information to hand. You can do either a hard copy version or host it on a password protected page on your website. I print off a coversheet with a nice photo of the property, and a QR code with the password underneath, and leave it in a folder with the hard copy manuals (eg boiler).
I also do a maintenance check a couple of weeks after the tenants move in. This makes it easy for me to find out if any repairs need doing, and also gives me an opportunity to answer questions or give advice on garden maintenance.
Conclusion of review: Is OpenRent any good?
Having used OpenRent twice myself, I thoroughly recommend OpenRent as an excellent alternative to using traditional high street letting agents. This blog post sets out exactly how user-friendly the system is, and what incredible value I believe the £49 RentNow option offers landlords.
The only regret I’ve had with OpenRent is that I didn’t start using it earlier. I found it less hassle than using letting agents, even though it was a bit more work. And there’s the satisfaction of saving real money by not paying the tenant find fee.
I’ve found some excellent tenants for a fraction of the cost of using high street letting agents. Also, as I self-manage, I’ve been able to build a relationship with the renters from day one, rather than the letting agent handing their choice over to me.
I will never go back to using high stree letting agents and will definitely use OpenRent again in the future.