Can’t sell? Then why not short-let through an agent?

Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say – and it certainly seems that way in the case of an innovative idea emerging from a number of estate agents, writes Graham Norwood.

The ‘necessity’ part is today’s housing market: it’s no surprise to anyone to say that in London some homes are not selling as quickly as before, thanks to a range of political and tax issues that are persuading buyers to sit on their hands temporarily.

The ‘invention’ part is that agents have come up with a new proposal to help vendors who are obliged to move out even if they have not found a purchaser yet.

That proposal is to ‘short let’ the empty property to tenants, sometimes for as little as a few nights, which has the benefit of providing income to the seller and keeping the property in use. The idea cashes in on the phenomenal popularity of Airbnb and similar services, and recognises that literally millions of people worldwide want to visit London for short periods.

One of the first estate agencies to do this is Hunters; it’s currently being trialled up in Manchester but London branches of the agency will be doing this from later this year.

Hunters is working with a specialist short-let operator, Lavanda, which will manage rentals for two nights or more. The brevity of the lettings means viewings from prospective buyers can still take place within a few days of the initial enquiry; and by using a management firm like Lavanda, the property will always be in good condition as soon as the tenant leaves.

“The recent slow sales market has led to prime property sitting empty. Our solution unlocks tens of thousands of pounds in income for vendors,” says Guy Westlake of Lavanda.

Hunters is not alone. London estate and letting agency Portico offers a service called Host, which will create a property listing for Airbnb or other short-let websites, organise professional cleaning and linen, arrange 24 hour check-in facilities, handle guest bookings and communication, and deal with all property maintenance.

Portico says the service is ideal for those with vacant properties, “enabling vendors to earn money until their property sells and landlords to cash in until they find the perfect tenant.”

There are issues to bear in mind, however.

If you short-let for a sustained period there may be wear and tear; you must pay tax on rental income although the costs of an agent managing bookings may be tax-deductible; and some properties may be unsuitable because of nearby neighbours or shared areas.

But this new concept created by estate agents undoubtedly softens the blow of a slow sales market – and, of course, is a boost to the seller’s bank account, too.

“The recent slow sales market has led to prime property sitting empty. Our solution unlocks tens of thousands of pounds in income for vendors”