By Vicky Shaw

Considering renting out a property? Make sure you do some

groundwork first, says Vicky Shaw.

From getting a property ship-shape, to understanding your new legal

responsibilities, becoming a landlord for the first time can feel like a

daunting prospect.

Whether you're an 'accidental' landlord after deciding to rent your

house in a sluggish selling market, or you're planning to start a

property empire, getting to grips with the basics of letting out a home

could save you some grief further down the line.

If you are looking to invest, you'll want to choose your property

wisely. Rising mortgage rates, as well as recent tax changes for

landlords, may be leaving some seeing their profit margins squeezed,

making choosing a property in the right location even more vital for

maximising returns. Research from TotallyMoney suggests university

cities could be worth considering, with parts of Liverpool, Plymouth,

Preston, Nottingham, Bradford, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Cardiff,

Glasgow and Aberdeen identified as buy-to-let property hotspots.

Consumer group Which? also says, generally, it's a good idea to choose a

property that will be easy and cost-effective to maintain.

With the property taken care of, as David Cox, chief executive of

letting agents' body Arla Propertymark, points out: "Whether you're a

first-time landlord or have let properties before, there are some things

every landlord should know."

Here are Arla Propertymark's top tips for budding landlords...

1. Prepare your property

As a first step, you should undertake any maintenance which needs to be

done. Your property will be more attractive to prospective tenants if

it's had a fresh lick of paint, all repairs are done and, if necessary,

new flooring has been installed. Next, you should decide whether to let

the property furnished or unfurnished. If possible, consider offering

both options, so that it can be marketed to a wider audience.

2. Do your homework

Get to know your market. Research similar properties in the local area

and find out how much they are being let for per month. If your rent is

set too high, or too low, prospective tenants will steer clear. It's

also worth considering what type of renter the property will appeal to,

such as young professionals, families or students. Once you've done your

homework, set a competitive price and aim to keep it filled at all times

to minimise rental voids.

3. Know your responsibilities

With your new status comes great responsibility. In the first instance,

check that your mortgage allows you to let out your property, as some

agreements include caveats to prevent homes from being rented. If you

are unsure, speak to your mortgage lender and they will be able to

advise you accordingly.

Being a landlord is a 24/7 job, so you may also need to be prepared to

receive calls from your tenant at night as well as during the day, as

some issues will need immediate attention, such as if there is a gas

leak or broken boiler. Be prepared to be accountable when required,

unless you agree for your letting agent to manage the property - in

which case they will deal with the minor issues.

4. Ensure you're properly insured

Your existing buildings and contents insurer must be made aware of your

intention to let your property, as it's likely your policy will need to

be amended. Specific landlord insurance policies can protect the

building, your tenants and your investment as a whole - some policies

will also pay out if your tenant misses their rent payments.

5. Vet prospective tenants

You may wish to meet potential tenants before agreeing to let them your

property, or you may prefer to leave it to your letting agent, if you

use one. An agent can perform reference and credit checks on potentials

tenants to ensure everything is reliable.

6. Know your legal requirements

When it comes to being a landlord, there are more regulations to comply

with than you can shake a stick at. A written tenancy agreement will

help both you and your tenant understand rights and responsibilities and

make sure you understand your responsibilities to make sure the property

is safe.

7. Choose the right agent

If you do decide to use a letting agent, a good one can take away the

stress of finding suitable tenants and also ensure your property

complies with any regulatory changes. You will need to factor this into

your budget though.