As with Part I
, I stress that this is just an account of what I did (as a complete novice) and that there are most likely other/better/cheaper ways of doing what I did!
So having bought my property, I needed to get it ready for tenants and start being a landlord.
I got my Keys!
The first thing I noticed was that the post box for my apartment (to which I had no key as it wasn’t part of the set I was given on handover) was damaged. The likely explanation was that the previous owner, having lost their key, had tried to crowbar it open, thus damaging the front panel. I had a locksmith come open it up properly, fix the panel and fit a new lock. £125 bill after less than 24 hours – hmm, not a great start!
The box itself was jammed full of 2 years’ worth of fast food flyers, spam post and lots of red unpaid bills!
So I arranged for the water and electricity meters to be read, and contacted the local authority about the unpaid council tax bill.
As with most apartments in this country, my property is leasehold, not freehold
. The ultimate owner of the property charges me annual ground rent and also employs a residential management company who is responsible for the maintenance and repairs of the entire block of apartments, eg cleaning, care-taking duties, lift maintenance etc. They in turn charge each leaseholder (including myself) a proportion of such maintenance and repairs in the form of an annual invoice, accompanied by their estimated annual budget. Sadly, said residential management company certainly lives up to the reputation that such companies are largely incompetent and charge high fees.
As well as unpaid utility bills, when I took over the property, there were also unpaid residential management fees. Dealing with the company (I don’t even want to link to their website here to give them any sort of promotion) was like pulling teeth! They are one of those companies that have a premium telephone number and it is guaranteed that you will be put on hold every time you call them no matter how simple the request – that is a fact. For two years, they tried to charge me for a car parking space that I didn’t have – this has finally been resolved after numerous emails (not calls!).
Anyway, my solicitor sorted out the unpaid bill so I was finally registered with them as the new landlord.
Landlord Safety Obligations
Gas – If supplied (not in my apartment), landlords must have a gas safety certificate.
Electricity – An electrical safety certificate isn’t currently a legal requirement but ensuring the electricity is safe in your property is, so I had an electrician in to test all the appliances, sockets etc. He charged £72, but the highest quote I got was over £240 – definitely worth ringing round for quotes!
Fire/Smoke alarms – one must be fitted as standard and it’s recommended that a mains operated smoke detector be fitted (as it’s been known for tenants to remove batteries when detectors start bleeping, eg if they want to smoke in a no-smoking building or if the batteries start running low…very stupid I know but some people…). There was one fitted already in my apartment and I had the above electrician check that it was working.
Energy Performance Certificate – not really a safety issue but you’re required to produce one of these as a landlord. You should get it from the person you bought your property from.
Furnished or Unfurnished?
Somewhere in my research
, I read that it’s often easier to find a tenant for furnished properties and you can generally charge higher rent for such properties (although there is a third option, ‘part-furnished’). Also, tax wise, you get to deduct a percentage
of the cost of the furniture that you provided in the property from your tax liability.
I spent just under £2k in total kitting out the entire apartment, including installing hard wearing laminate flooring throughout (a friend’s other half fitted it), a double bed, wardrobe, side cabinet, dresser, sofa, coffee table, dining table and 4 chairs, mirrors, a couple of lamps, vacuum cleaner, curtains and a couple of pictures/canvasses.
Most of the furniture I got from this place
that specialises in furnishing rental properties, others I picked up from Argos, B&Q and John Lewis on special offer. Note, for rental properties, all upholstered furnishings must be fire resistant, so you can’t just pick up any old cheap furniture, unless it carries the fire resistant symbol. I had to return the cushions I originally bought as they didn’t have the fire resistant label, I bought them before I read about the requirement.
So what about a Letting Agent?
Despite reading about landlords (and tenants) being ripped off by unscrupulous letting agents, I decided that I was going to employ one for full property management services. This was because I could not see myself being a good landlord whilst working in my full-time job, in a busy open office, where I can barely take, much less make personal calls (except during my lunch break). When would I have time to look for and vet potential tenants? What would happen if something needed fixing asap or the tenant had a problem? I would sooner pay someone to handle such events on my behalf. Plus, letting agents can’t all be that bad, can they?
I contacted six letting agents, choosing ones who were members of either ARLA
(Association of Residential Letting Agents) or NAEA
(National Association of Estate Agents).
Two didn’t bother to return my call and one didn’t have anyone available to talk to me. The other three, I made appointments for face to face meetings. I basically asked them all the same questions – I had a list on a spreadsheet where I could fill in their answers so they could be compared easily. Two of them I could see were quite impressed that I was so organised with my questions; the third one seemed a little uneasy and passed the comment “Gosh, you’ve done a lot of research!” Indeed, I had!
The letting agents
* I chose in the end had competitive fees and I was most satisfied with their answers. I was able to negotiate on the initial letting fee (fixing it) but they wouldn’t budge on the removal of the fee for extending an existing tenancy – seems like this is an ‘industry’ standard fee in a (currently) unregulated industry.
My questions included: (actual fees from my letting agents in red)
– What they charged for:
- initial letting fee (£400 – highest fee was £650, lowest was £300)
- monthly fee (10% of rent – this seems to be average in the Northwest)
- completing an inventory (free – highest was £125)
- keeping a deposit (£25 – highest was £45)
- extension of an existing tenancy (£95 – highest was £120, lowest was £75 )
– Which deposit scheme they used (Tenancy Deposit Scheme) – more on this later under ‘Deposits’.
– What rent did they think my property could secure (£450-£495 pcm)
Property management services included advertising the property (online and also on the agents’ office boards), vetting and checking in tenants, reading meters and contacting the various authorities, being the first point of contact for tenants, liaising with workmen for repairs, collecting the deposit and rent and chasing late rent as applicable.
Anyway, within a few days of my property being on their books, a tenant was found on a 12 month tenancy. What was even better was that the rent secured was £525 pcm. Happy days!
Gone are the days when a landlord could just put a tenant’s deposit in their back pocket and refuse to pay the full amount back at the end of the agreement on some poor excuse (this happened to me as a student – apparently we didn’t clean the carpets, even though it was obvious that the carpets were already filthy when we moved in and had clearly not been cleaned in years).
All rental deposits must
be registered by a landlord (in my case, my letting agent) with a government-backed deposit scheme
, within 30 days of receipt of said deposit. If not, a landlord can be fined up to three times the deposit.
Any disputes are sorted via the scheme, so it’s generally fair and above board.
Normal home insurance is not valid for rental properties – you have to buy landlord insurance. In the case of my apartment, I don’t own the building (the freeholder does and has his own buildings policy), so all I need is contents insurance. I always obtain lots of quotes – average I’ve paid is £60 per year but the prices range dramatically – as with your own home/car insurance, check the details and only pay for what you need. You can purchase rent guarantee insurance too (to cover non-payment of rent and void periods) but I decided not to bother with that.
Tax and stuff
You’ll no doubt come across companies offering professional services to sort out “the maze of accounting and tax issues encountered in the property business”.
This is a myth as there is no ‘maze’, certainly not if you only have one property to let – perhaps it’s a little different if you have a portfolio of properties. These companies try to make out that tax for landlords is complicated so that you feel compelled into employing them to do something you can do yourself.
Keep all your receipts, invoices and bank statements – log all stuff relating to your property onto a simple spreadsheet.
Register for Self-Assessment
(if you’re not already set up for this). Make sure you read the government’s website
so you know what can be deducted against your tax liability, such as mortgage interest payments, letting agent fees, repairs etc. You’ll also need to have a copy of your P60/wage slip and know your tax code for the year.
Complete your self-assessment when you get the reminder – make sure you do it on time so you don’t get fined £100.
Pay any tax that is due.
See? No maze!
Fast forward nearly 3 years
Thus far, I’ve had a relatively stress-free time as a landlord – the hardest bit was all the legwork required to get it all going. I’ve only had one void period of just under 2 weeks so far. The boiler has broken down once (I now get it annually serviced) and recently, there was an electrical problem, which my letting agent sorted out while I was on holiday.
My mortgage is now out of its 2 year fixed period and is on a variable rate of 4.5% – yes, I know, lower than the fixed rate of 5.2% I was on but who knew the interest rates would continue to drop?
The press is full of stories about ‘greedy’ landlords charging sky-high rents for poorly-maintained properties and ignoring their tenants’ needs. I like to think that I’m not that kind of landlord, that I am providing someone with a good, affordable home because they are not yet (or don’t wish to be) on the housing ladder.
My current tenant (who is a teacher) has just renewed for another 12 months, at £550 pcm. I’ve advised my letting agent not to increase rent for tenants wanting to renew – why do that if they’ve been good tenants? (although if my other costs go up by a lot, eg management fees, interest rates, I may have no alternative). I’ve also dropped the rent before to encourage a tenant to sign a 12 month tenancy as opposed to a 6 month tenancy.
Although obviously not always the case, I’m of the view that if you maintain your property to good standards and treat your tenant right, your tenant is more likely to look after your property, their home but ultimately, your investment.
There – I think I’ve covered most of the points!
Like any kind of investment, BTL is not for everyone – MoneySavingExpert
recently produced a handy guide here
as to whether BTL is right for everyone.
I could have done with this guide in the early days, instead of going all over the internet looking for my info but I got there in the end!
(*No, I’m not getting any commission for linking my letting agent, but they’ve done a good job so far for me, so worth a mention)