An Open Letter to Commercial Letting Agents (and the landlords who use them)

For the past three months I have been on a hunt for commercial premises, having outgrown my current treatment room. I knew it would be a bit of work – I had quite particular requirements, after all. What I wasn’t ready for was how difficult it would be to work with commercial letting agents. I think I expected that I would see listings, enquire about those I liked, be able to ask questions and have them answered, view the property in a timely manner … that sort of thing.  Well, just how wrong can a girl be?

The first place I saw immediately seemed perfect. Local, in a good site, at a very reasonable rent. I asked to see it. The letting agent couldn’t fit me in for 2 weeks, so I grudgingly waited, all the while planning what I was going to do with this new venue for my business. The day before I was due to see it, the agent called to tell me it had already been let, and in fact the lease had already been agreed upon when I initially enquired about. Oh. Six weeks later, it was still being advertised as available.

The next place I went to see just didn’t fit the bill, though I really wanted it too. It seemed promising from the listing, but the reality was that it just wouldn’t work. No problems with the agent though, except that he didn’t have keys for two of the rooms in the building I would be letting! I later enquired about this property again, having seen the listing changed to add that the property would be refurbished. I never got a reply.

Next I went to see a lovely listed building. It was far bigger than I needed but the landlord was happy for me to sublet rooms. He was also happy to consider lowering the rent for the first year. It would have been a big task, but it could have worked. After a couple of weeks, I put in application to take on the lease. That was November. We’re still waiting to hear from the Landlord, and the agent told me on several occasions that she would call him to find out what was going on. On each occasion, she failed to get back to me. I gave up on it after several weeks.


And then came the real issue. So many failings, catastrophic failings, that I began to wonder how any commercial property ever gets let, and how commercial letting agents are still in business.

There was the agency who listed the annual rent as the monthly rent (£9000 pcm for a 16ft square room anyone?), not just on one property but on at least half a dozen. One looked like it might be what I was looking for, so I tentatively enquired whether they had made a mistake on the rent. Yes, they said, they had. Last time I check, weeks later, they hadn’t amended it. This is the same agency who arranged a viewing for me, but neglected to tell me that the person I would be meeting actually worked in one of the other units and I should call there to meet them. When I finally got this information, 20 minutes late, that person was fairly miffed to have been kept waiting.

Another agency listed several rooms in a building, with prices from £xxx and I arranged to view them. The agent would be telling me how much each of the rooms was as we viewed them, but it turned out he had no idea and would need to contact the landlord to find out. It took him a week to get back to me.

Another I went to see was a marvellous 17th century building. Much further away than I had in mind but it had so much going for it that it seemed silly not to see it. When we got there, it turned out the figures quoted on the agent’s website were incorrect, wildly so. The real rents were five times higher than they had advertised, and the room I had booked to see turned out not to be available anyway, the 2nd floor tenants having already agreed terms to move to the ground floor. They are still advertising the lower rents on their site too.

Something else came up, a great possibility, very local to me. I arranged to view it. Half an hour before our appointment, I got a call asking if I could go to meet the agent immediately, as he’d got his times mixed up and had arrived early. I said I’d get there as soon as I could, but it would take me 15 minutes to get there and I was just in the middle of something. “Oh. I’ll ask him to wait for you then”. Well, yes, it would be nice if he could bring himself to wait until the time we’d arranged.  When I got there, he showed me three rooms and told me their prices. I asked if VAT or utilities were extra. Was there a service charge to pay? “Ummm, probably not.” I suggested it might be nice to be certain. He promised to call me later that afternoon. He didn’t, and promptly went on holiday. When I called the agency to ask about the two rooms I liked, it turned out he’d quoted the wrong rents on both.

Actual* picture of one of the agents who showed me a property.
*Not entirely true. At all.

The only two enquiries that went without a hitch were the two where the agent was simply advertising the property. Once you made an enquiry, the landlord took over and arranged viewings etc. On both of those viewings, the landlords were able to answer all my questions, knew their stuff and couldn’t have been more helpful. In the end, I agreed a lease with one of them. I would have loved to have taken a lease on the other one but the room I fell in love with was over budget. For now.

So commercial landlords, if you’re struggling to let a property, it might pay to check up on your agent. I’ve dealt with over a dozen agents in the last 3 months. This post only describes what happened to those who bothered to answer my enquiries. Several agents didn’t even bother responding to messages requesting a viewing. You might do better, and save money, by doing all the work yourself. 

Agents, pull your finger out. Seriously. Is this any way to run a business? There were other properties I would have liked to enquire about,  but didn’t bother, having seen that the agencies had already let me down. If this is the best you can do, perhaps it’s time to find another career?

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