Welcome to the first Fish Need Water monthly newsletter! Whether you’re thinking of selling or looking for an investment, there’ll be something in here for you.

Here’s what we’ve got in store:

  • Thinking of selling your property? How ON EARTH do you choose an estate agent?!
  • Landlords, don’t do it! (Overspend on a refurbishment, that is.)
  • Feel out of the loop when it comes to property news? Never fear: we’ve found you the best articles from the past month.
  • If you hate spreadsheets, you’ll LOVE our property tool of the month.

Let’s get started!

Sellers: estate agents are not all born equal!

You’re in London, and there’s more than one estate agent in town. While it’s hardly realistic to weigh up the pros and cons of every single one of them, it’s a good idea to interview at least three. Here’s what you need to do with your shortlist:

Step 1: Find out how good they are

Here are some ways to suss ’em out:

  • Use AllAgents to see how other clients have rated them. (AllAgents is the UK’s largest customer review site for the property industry.) You can use our AllAgents profile as a benchmark if you like: http://bit.ly/FNWAllAgents.
  • After an agent values your property, ask them to explain their reasoning for the price they give you. This is especially the case if the price seems particularly high: they might just want to win the instruction before informing you that the price needs to be lowered to attract anyone. Can they justify their logic?
  • Are they prepared to negotiate on the fee if they can’t sell your property within a certain timeframe? If they say yes, you know they’re motivated and optimistic about their chances of selling for the price they’ve given you.

Step 2: Learn where and how they’ll market your property

Important stat alert: 97% of people start their property search online, on one of the big portals. Your agent needs to meet them there, rather than restrict themselves to the 20 or so people who’ve “registered” with them in the past few weeks. (And remember: those same people are getting Rightmove alerts and calling up as soon as the listing goes online anyway.)

Also be sure to check that they produce high-quality and professional photos for the properties they’re advertising. And do they include floor plans? Are the descriptions enticing and original? Bonus points for high-definition videos!

So there you have it: your simple two-step process to finding a great estate agent. Good luck!

Landlords: you might be about to waste your money!

We’ve come across many house-proud landlords in our time – house-proud of their buy-to-let properties, that is. And while it’s wonderful to see them caring about the state and quality of the accommodation they provide for tenants, going OTT doesn’t stack up financially.

Hear us out on this! We’re not suggesting you try to let your place with peeling paint and broken beds – just that it’s important to know when to stop.

When it comes to refurbishing a rental property, you need to make it clean, safe and durable. Unless you’re aiming for the extreme high end of the market, tenants won’t even notice – let alone pay a premium for – £100 bath taps or natural stone flooring. Shelling out for more than is strictly necessary will give you a poorer return on your investment and cause you sleepless nights over the state of your granite work surfaces or Farrow & Ball walls.

If you’re unsure what counts as “strictly necessary” for your type of property in your specific area, ask for advice from your letting agent: they see hundreds of similar properties every year, and they know what makes a place rent quickly (and, conversely, what’s considered overkill).

Best property articles of the month

Everything you need to know (and a few things that are just downright fun)…

TfL turns property developer to help fund capital’s transport. TfL used to be a big fan of selling off land, but now it seems to have realised what we knew all along: investing in property is a far better way to make money in the long run! The plan is to build a range of developments that will generate more than £1 billion of funding for the city’s public transport.

Latest house price figures reveal cost of buying a home in every London borough. The Land Registry House Price Index (released January 2015) shows that the average cost of buying a London home has risen a whopping 16.3% in the past year – to £464,936. That’s just the average though – so check out this article to see how individual boroughs have fared. You might find a few surprises in there…

Will income from a £750k buy-to-let empire pay for our three babies?. You should probably be aware that baby #1 hasn’t even made an appearance yet: the London-based couple in question is just doing a lot of forward planning. After they explain their predicament, their plans are assessed by some top financial and property specialists – and the advice they give is realistic, informative and helpful even for people who aren’t reaching quite as far as these two.

UK landlords report lowest void periods in 2014. Whoop!

Filthy bargains! Litter wipes 12% off house prices. As the article points out, “…most owners make the interiors and gardens of properties look as good as possible before putting them on the market, [but] few will think about removing litter in surrounding roads in advance of viewings.” Definitely something to think about if you’re about to put your property on the market.

The most popular properties of 2014. And just for fun… Rightmove takes a look back at the properties that got the nation talking and sharing in 2014. They include a Birmingham house that comes with a pub in the back garden, a stunning beach house, and a super-narrow Mayfair house with surprisingly large rooms (for £40 million)…

Our useful tool of the month

Getting the maths right on an investment is super important, but not everyone has a thing for colour-coded spreadsheets.

If you’re not a fan of formulae, you should check out the Landlords Calculator from Property 118. All you need to do is enter the details of your current portfolio or a deal you’re interested in, and the calculator will spit out all the important numbers and tell you what they mean.

Check it out here: the Landlords Calculator.

The end! (Until next month)

We’ll be back with more tips, links and tools next month – and in the meantime, please do get in touch if you need any property-related advice. (We can try to advise you on health, fitness and matters of the heart, but to be honest we’re best when it comes to property.)

Until next month!