I have a small buy-to-let property up north just round the corner from where I grew up. I invested the money my Nanna left me and in place of a pension brought a damp, tired house back to life. With the help of an old friend from my teenage years (known as Builder Chris by my children as we have so many friends called Chris) and his contacts plus my ever patient parents the house had a new damp course, kitchen and bathroom, repaired roof, new flooring and was decorated from top to bottom. After all that effort all we had to do was find a lovely tenant to make the house a home.
We found a tenant and last week they moved out leaving pretty much everything except the rent. As I looked at the dirt and mess I admit that I just wanted it all to go away. I invited three estate agents round to value it and see if it was worth putting up for sale.
I apologised for the mess (as you do) and each one of them said that they had seen worse and that it was to be expected. Each had their own horror story. I heard about a tenant who took the whole fitted kitchen with them when they left and another who ripped the boiler off the wall! I rented for 15 years and many of my friends still do and I know that for every tail of a tenant wrecking the place there is one of an unscrupulous landlord refusing to fix the fridge for 6 months or failing to deal with a rodent problem. I had been determined not to be one of those landlords. I never expected that I would be paying a mortgage while someone else lived in it and then I would have to tidy up after them (I have children for that purpose)
So, what to do?
After a depressing day of pretending nothing was happening it was time for me to face the mess and do what I usually do – make things lovely…again!
Luckily the problems were cosmetic and nothing had been damaged beyond repair so it was time to get on with it. Without a system it would be completely overwhelming so I got my de-cluttering freak on and decided to start at the top and work down putting everything for the tip in the kitchen and things that could go to charity in the living room.
I did get a quote from a company to clear the whole house but they put everything in the non recyclables part of the tip and that didn’t sit well with my quest for zero waste so I decided to handle it myself with, you guessed it, the help of my parents. My mum was in charge of getting the gas and electricity back on and my dad became a removals man with his trusty Ford Cortina Estate.
Eight trips to the tip later we were beginning to see some progress. We recycled as much as possible and Oldham tip is refreshingly well organised and friendly (although my dad said there were more people eager to help to carry things when he took me with him)
The rest was taken by The Big White Charity Van who came and picked it all up. They split their profits with local charity Dr Kershaw’s Hospice which made me feel a bit better. I started see that under the grime, dust and cobwebs there was still a lovely house that could make someone a happy home.
So, time to admit and learn from my mistakes – I’d got the tenant through a friend of my parents so didn’t do references or credit checks and as I no longer live in the area I’d left my parents with the stress of managing the property. I’d gone into it with rose coloured glasses – I figured if you were a decent person, approachable and got things fixed straight away the tenant would be happy and everything would just rock along.
While unblocking the drains of rubbish and fat (now there’s a lovely job) I kept thinking of a play I studied back at college ‘The Good Person of Szechwan’ by Bertolt Brecht. In the play the main character is given a business but she’s a big softy and is taken advantage of. To survive she dresses in disguise and develops a tough alter ego who gradually takes over.
In the UK successive governments have brought in legislation to protect landlords and tenants. From the stories I hear from both sides they don’t really work, often the regulation can be exploited by unscrupulous people to serve their own interests.
There is more regulation coming (controversially without the ‘fit for human habitation’ clause) plus changes to the stamp duty on people buying a second property (an extra 3%) and an end to mortgage interest relief. Notably people or companies who own over 15 properties appear to be exempt from all the changes (I can only assume some larger landlords occupy seats in the cabinet)
So what difference will this make in the UK? Depressingly, I expect some landlords will continue to rent substandard shoeboxes with the bed next to the fridge and some tenants will still run off without paying and take the radiators with them. Everyone else will have more paperwork and less money.
So to let or not to let? As much as the drama queen in me would love to go all ‘Good Person of Szechwan’ and dress up as a landlord and take on a character (I’m thinking long camel coat, moustache and a cockney accent) it is possible any prospective tenants might be put off and question my mental health. As a more mainstream alternative I have decided to appoint an agent to take on the full management of the property. I’ve had to return home so they’re also helping with contacts to get it cleaned, painted and repaired to return it to its former glory (don’t worry I will be whacking some things with a hammer myself and sharing pictures soon.)
I’d love to hear your stories and suggestions on this subject. If you are a UK landlord I would be really interested in your take on the changes and how they will effect you.
Wish me luck!