Next week it will be two years since I started writing the Secret Landlord column in The Telegraph. That time has just zipped away, and I’m afraid so has my number of posts on this blog.
If you’ve missed my columns, you can see them all here https://www.telegraph.co.uk/authors/s/sa-se/the-secret-landlord/.
You’ll notice in the last few months I’ve become increasingly vocal. This is because the pressure now facing landlords is ramping up as this housing crisis reaches levels not seen before.
There are so many changes on the horizon – with the removal of Section 21, EPC regulations, bank stress tests, to name but a few; this environment is becoming a health and safety hazard all of its own.
I’m delighted as a landlord I have a voice in a national newspaper. I know I cannot speak for all of us when I write, but I always try to put the other side across: the truth the other side of the door.
Being a landlord can be a difficult and lonely job. I know many people (mainly non-landlords) don’t see it as a job, but if you want to run a decent buy-to-let business you treat it like a job.
As the Bank of England have ramped up their pressure on interest rates, far quicker and far higher than many of us (including the ‘experts’) expected, it has thrown Section 24 into a whole new ball park. We all knew the low rates wouldn’t last forever, but the speed and the intensity of the increases have left many with not enough time to plan for the pain.
I can understand why so many landlords are getting out.
Last year I had a year of pain.
It was the execution of my restructuring of the property portfolio I had built over the last two decades. Trying to dismantle a business is stressful. I had many sleepless nights and there were times when I felt like throwing in the towel completely and declaring: I’ll sell the lot.
But I didn’t.
I believe there is still a future in buy to let. The future may be different to what I thought and planned, but I know the demand for rented properties will always be with us, so I’m not prepared to sell out. But I am prepared to change.
Change is what you need to do if you want to survive.
I’m not saying I have all the answers – or if indeed any of them are the right ones – but I can only share that being a landlord is still one of the best jobs around.
This period will pass. There will be rule changes, there will be rate changes, there will be so many changes I haven’t even contemplated, but the facts remain: people need somewhere to live and they are prepared to pay for that.
I still enjoy providing homes for people to live in. I still enjoy providing a service – and it is a service – whereby I maintain and manage properties for people to enjoy.
I can only remain in this business because I still enjoy what I do.
I’m passionate about what I do.
And that’s what gets me through.
The market for buy to let may not be as financially attractive as what it once was, but there’s still ways of making money. Demand has never been higher.
No matter what the doomsayers claim, there will always be landlords and tenants. And I’m happy to be a landlord.
These are tough, scary, anxiety-inducing times. And I can understand why movements such as ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’ and ‘Enough is Enough’ have found such support.
But not paying has consequences.
When I look to this oncoming winter, I fear not only for myself and the onslaught of eye-watering bills, but also for my tenants. I know some of them will face difficult choices, and if I’m honest with myself, I know some will be tempted to not pay their rent.
I would love to say I have a solution, but the fact is: if you don’t pay, you don’t stay.
As a landlord I do not have access to a magic money tree and I, like my tenants, am also being stiffed with soaring bills. If the boiler breaks down, it will be my responsibility to fix it. If the roof leaks, it will be my bill to bear. The cost of materials and labour has spiralled to a frightening level.
These are terrifying times.
But it is because I am scared that I am prepared. This year I have focussed on selling properties I thought may become an issue. I have served notice on those tenants who are in arrears and taken back possession of their properties. I have identified tenants who I think may struggle and taken out extra insurance on new tenancies and ensured guarantors are in place.
This winter is set to be a shitstorm. There is no point pretending there will be a happy ending, you have to be ready.
Martin Lewis has done a sterling job keeping us informed about the impending utility bills disaster and the Money Saving Expert website is a valuable resource. Since the start of the year, he has warned of this looming catastrophe. But despite his best efforts, the doomsday is fast approaching. The tips about how to cut energy usage are very useful, as is the advice to cut what you can now and, if you can, start saving towards these impending bills.
But, the most critical thing Martin Lewis has demonstrated is the importance of not putting your head in the sand.
Communication is king.
Early intervention is key.
If you’re struggling, the best thing you can do is ask for help before it gets too late. There are resources available: energy suppliers have grants and targeted help, councils have discretionary payments that may be applied for and those on certain benefits may be eligible for more.
Landlords (on the whole) are not ogres. They can be talked with, reasoned with. No landlord enjoys evicting a tenant, but not paying rent will mean they only have one choice; they are not made of money. Not paying will not make anything go away, it will likely make things worse.
Talking about any issues early on is the best course of action.
I wish I could say this winter won’t be horrible and it won’t be difficult, but it’s not true. It’s going to be dreadful and many of us will have to make decisions we never believed possible. And while despair may feel like the only emotion going, being pragmatic and planning for the worst is the way forward.
This is a spike and it will pass.
We don’t know how long it will take, but you need to hang in there.
Sources of support:
If you are struggling to pay for your energy bills, contact your energy supplier as soon as possible. The rules from energy regulator Ofgem state that your energy supplier has a duty to help you and can help to set an energy payment plan that you can afford. Options to help include a full payment plan review, affordable debt repayment plans, payment breaks, payment reductions, more time to pay, or access to hardship funds.
Citizens Advice has dedicated cost of living resources available on their website. Trained Citizens Advice advisers can be contacted over the phone through the Citizens Advice national phoneline, or you can visit a Citizens Advice centre in-person.
The Money Saving Expert website, founded by Martin Lewis, includes a range of resources, guides, money saving checklists, budget calculators and tips focused on the cost of living crisis.
StepChange is an organisation that offers free, flexible debt advice based on a comprehensive assessment of your financial situation. Any advice provided is confidential and will not affect your credit score. StepChange have put together resources focused on the rising cost of living, which you can access here.
Your MPs constituency casework team may be able to signpost you toward local sources of support and provide support in instances of benefit delays or when accessing the benefit system. You can also make an appointment to speak to your MP through one of their advice surgeries. You can find your MP, and their contact details, here.
The Trussell Trust supports a nationwide network of food banks and provides emergency food and support to people in poverty. They also campaign for change to end the need for food banks in the UK. If you need to use a foodbank, or are able to donate to a foodbank, you can find your nearest Trussell Trust foodbank here.
Yes, dial back and clock that: pay down mortgages. Not a sexy fast car. Not a first-class ticket to a Covid-free bliss. Not a fancy anything that shows I just made a mint from selling properties?
Am I mental?
I wondered the same.
Rates are low and I’ve got some amazing tracker rates linked at just above BBR from the early noughties. I know, I’m lucky.
But that’s the thing: luck doesn’t last. I know that.
I’ve been wondering a lot when they’ll start to increase bank rates. And I know some of my landlord friends have become a bit, shall we say, complacent. Me, I’m not that way inclined. Trust me, my life would be way easier if I could just go with the flow, but I’ve accepted: I. Am. Not. One. Of. Those. People.
I am a planner.
I like to look ahead, rub my crystal ball, and try and decipher a future which looks fun. Now, given the ongoing shitshow which is this country and lurching from crisis to crisis, I’ve been trying to figure out what I think will happen.
Let me tell you this: Raising the interest rates quite so aggressively didn’t figure as one of the options. I knew they’d raise them at some point, but inflation, I thought, was more fleeting, more transitory, pushed up by global shortages and as such, I thought (wrongly) the Bank of England wouldn’t be so knee jerky.
Apart from, I think, I’m wrong.
Interest rates look set to raise faster than my crystal ball had anticipated and so that’s made me think again about my situation and that fun future I was hoping for.
So, I favour the snowball method of debt repayment. This means I pay down the highest rate first and then move onto the next. In theory this is fine. More tricky when you’re a portfolio landlord owing a rather hefty amount.
I therefore opted for a different approach. I worked out those tracker rate mortgages which I could switch onto a fixed rate (five years) for a low fee, and which (in my plan) made sense for me to keep. I then looked at the remaining trackers and said: which do I plan to keep for the next five years, and which will be sold?
This exercise was rather involved and considered the condition of the property (e.g. when was last refurbed), what may be required in the future, what was the impact of potential new EPC rules, how was the local area holding up and what other specific factors may impact on the future value of the property.
You could call it a ‘property health check’. It spanned both now and future scenarios and looked at both rental and sales values. It was my way of checking which properties will stay the course. For those that will stay the course, I then made capital overpayments to the key priority ones.
And then in a twist even I didn’t see coming, I paid off a low-rate fixed rate mortgage AND paid a £9k redemption fee (Surprisingly I would still save on the interest even after paying that fat fee!)
It was my own home.
And it may be boring and it may not make financial sense, but let me tell you, it certainly helps me sleep at night.
You see the thing to this property investing lark is that stuff goes wrong. Shit happens all the time. Who knows where interest rates are going to be in four years’ time? (when my fix comes to an end).
And before I did this, I will let you into a little secret: I went to see two new potential projects. One was a behemoth of a place I thought I could turn into a boutique hotel (when I got inside, I decided that was a rash idea and exited the thought process early on), the other was a bungalow I thought might work a treat as a do-up-and-dash (aka flip to sell).
But the thing that got me, and maybe it’s a stage of life thing, I don’t want the extra risk right now. Being a property investor already has inherent risks and so I’ve decided, for now, I’ll play it safe.
I paid off my mortgage.
And at this juncture I’m reminded of a saying: Make your investments boring so the rest of your life can be fun.
After twenty years doing the same job, the yearning for change sometimes gets overwhelming. Especially after a bad day, that’s when you want to say: I quit.
So, I’ve been down this path before, and I soon learned a key fact many seasoned buy-to-let investors know: property is addictive. Once you’re in, it’s hard to get out.
The returns from property investment, despite continued government interference, are hard to match in many other asset classes. Of course, many people will wax about crypto, NFTs and a host of other stuff I don’t understand, and so I don’t buy. I get the gumpf about index trackers so I’ll invest in those, but, property, well… it’s still my favourite child I love to hate.
So, let’s get to why I hate it:
It’s not passive
It goes wrong
There’s ever growing regulation
For context, my Vanguard index tracker has NEVER called me to complain about anything. It just sits there quietly like a cat next to a fireplace.
Cats next to fireplaces are all very well. They are relaxing and sedate and you want to curl up next to them.
But then there comes a point in the day when you want to get up and go for a walk. You want to get some fresh air, get some blood bouncing, and the cat, well, it wants to stay by the fireplace.
And that’s the thing (if you’re following my analogy), property gets your juices going. It fires you up for solutions to the multitude of problems it throws at you.
I’ve sold two properties in the last couple of weeks and I was talking with a fellow landlord friend about what I was going to do with the money. As I outlined my ambitious renovation of a property I’ve owned for the last fourteen years, he turned to me and said:
‘What a funny love/hate relationship you have with your portfolio. On the one hand you’re selling because you don’t want the hassle, and on the other, you’re creating even more hassle with these big projects.’
I didn’t know how to reply so I just said:
‘Your eyes are shining, and I can see how passionate you are. And it’s funny because you’ve told me how you can’t wait to sell a different property next month and yet you’ve just signed off for this major refurb and are planning more!’
Well, dear reader, I felt a bit stumped. I’d gone out for a drink, not a therapy session. But my friend was right: I have a funny love/hate relationship with property.
I’ve thought about it more over the last few days and I’ve come to realise how much I really enjoy doing what I do. I’ve loved creating plans, seeing the new fire doors that are available on the market(!), learning more about insulation (one of my favourite topics), moaning about the price of everything and the lack of supply, and all those things you do when you plan a major refurbishment.
Because in my little world, this is fun.
And I came to realise, as a landlord you can get bogged down in the paperwork paraphernalia, the tick boxing of smoke alarms, the lodging of deposits, the this and the that of every bloody piece of regulation, that you forget the funpart. The part where you get to decide what a property looks like. The bit where you can take control and say: what can I do next? How can I exceed the market? How can I stand out?
And that to me is the joy of property.
I’m really excited with where I’m taking my business. I’m delighted to be selling and I’m delighted to be renovating. And I know there will continue to be bad days when you wonder why you do what you do, but now I’m putting more of the bits of the job I love back, I can achieve more of a balance.
And I plan to have more fun, good days – and I can’t wait!
I saw a reader’s comment that a landlord’s role should be ethereal.
The idea made me question:
a) what is ethereal?
b) what is the role of a landlord?
The first part is pretty easy to answer (thank you online dictionary!), ethereal means ‘extremely delicate and light in a way that seems not to be of this world.’
The second is, perhaps, harder: what is the role of a landlord?
The idea made me reflect on my two decades of being a landlord.
In that time, I’ve changed a lot.
Twenty years passing makes you a different person – not just personally, but also professionally.
Also, notwithstanding, the world has changed. Tenant desires have broadened, but perhaps my idea of what it means to be a landlord have sharpened.
In the beginning, I was a very active hands-on landlord. I didn’t fix your tap (I’ve always employed people who knew what they’re doing!), but I was very much more of a presence.
Back then, you would’ve spoken to me on the phone where I would’ve got to know you, explained about the property and sought to see if there was a match.
As a tenant, you would’ve then met me on a viewing (I always took great pleasure in meeting potential tenants), and we would’ve discussed your plans for the property, for life and future hopes.
In all, we would’ve both got a good measure of each other.
At that time, I used to think finding a tenant was akin to finding a partner – you’re looking for someone who you can settle with, trust and grow old together.
Writing that now, it sounds very silly, but then I remind myself, I have several tenants, selected via this method, all these years on, who are still my tenants.
In a way, it’s as though we’ve grown together. Our bond is the property, but after all these years and the extra wrinkles and crinkles life has dealt us, there’s something more.
When things went wrong (life invariably happens so you must expect this), I was there to stand in, not just as a landlord, but as an ear to listen, sometimes a confidante, other times maybe to take the brunt of rage.
It was a role more like that of a support worker, where oftentimes, I was the first person to hear of a relationship breakdown, family death or a redundancy.
It was a role I took very seriously.
Fast forward several years and my hand-picking (due to time-constraints) was no longer viable. This meant more and more tasks were outsourced. Tenants were chosen via an agent, although I still preferred to manage everybody myself.
Closeness to the core was what I thought would prove the best business model.
In time, that model also changed.
Property management, as satisfying as it was, is hellishly time-consuming and with a large portfolio and ever onerous legislation, was proving increasingly cumbersome to living any sort of life. And as much as I loved being a landlord, I did want a life outside.
Over the last few years, I’ve passed over many management responsibilities.
I’ll be honest, I’ve found it challenging to take a step back.
When you were once so close to your business, it’s hard to come to terms with the distance that now exists. I struggle to let go of my once close tenant relationships.
If I’m being completely honest, it’s been an uneasy truce.
You see, I love being a landlord and getting involved with people’s lives and helping where I can. But today, with different times, I think there’s a need for a different model.
Now, when I think about the role of a landlord, I realise you should probably be more like a utility supplier: in the background, there-but-not-there. Which is how, maybe, the original comment about ethereal came into being.
Nowadays, I am a disjointed being.
To most tenants, I am nothing more than a name on the contract, a bill payer, somebody who has authority, but no presence.
To many, I am a scourge on society, a parasite, scum of the earth. To others, a role model.
It’s a strange position to be in, and one, which until the last few years, I don’t think I was fully aware of.
The vitriolic hatred, I mean. And the job shaming.
In my mind, I do good for society: I provide homes for people to live in.
I make no apologies for the fact I make a profit from what I do, because that means I can improve properties. For those who don’t own property, I can tell you they go wrong very often, and they’re expensive to maintain.
As a landlord, I also have to contend with a lot of regulation, and I have to be up-to-date on the constant changes. The government like to tinker, a lot.
In the last few years, they’ve made it a lot more challenging to be a landlord, and a lot less financially lucrative. One could argue it’s part of the ‘levelling up’, but I’m unsure who’s the winner.
You see, landlords have been leaving the sector. Fed up with the hiked taxes, increased costs and pared down ability to run their business, they’ve said ‘Enough!’.
We all learned how vital our homes were. We got locked down in them. Stared at the same four walls for months on end.
The government, in their misguided wisdom, decided tenants could have breathing space, that landlords were the bully boys and snatched away any rights we had. That meant landlords were not allowed to evict tenants even if they weren’t paying rent, even if they were anti-social and causing issues.
Within this maelstrom, the position of a landlord became pretty precarious. Media headlines claimed (still do) the tsunami of evictions about to hit our shores. They speak little of the financial catastrophe many landlords have faced. How some landlords risk losing even their own home because they own a rental property.
The landlord’s voice has been pretty silent in all of this. The media don’t want to know, it’s not good for business, doesn’t make news.
What does make news is rising house prices, increasing rents.
When landlords exit the business and the property falls into non-landlord hands, that property is taken out of circulation. It’s no longer a resource of the rental market. Who cares, you may say.
Tenants, I reply.
Post-covid, rents have risen stratospherically. There is little supply and huge demand. Even for somebody like me (cynical, keen to sell up and get out), I’ve been astonished by the rent hikes.
And maybe I’m being mercenary, but I’ve changed my plans. I’ve managed to sell some (nowhere near as many as I’d hoped), but it was enough to loosen the noose, so to speak. That money has been earmarked for exciting stuff: chimney pointing, roof repairs, new kitchens and bathrooms, heck I’ve even thought about a mansard roof balcony, that’s how *fun* I am.
But the craziest thing?
I am genuinely excited.
I’ve been in this business way too long to feel such thrills and I was looking to exit. To do such a turnabout can either mean I’ve completely lost the plot, or I’ve found the wood in the trees.
And its uncanny how life works, because it was within this turbulent time The Telegraph approached me to write about life as a landlord.
So, it’s been a while since I last wrote and that’s been due to a number of things, but mainly because I’ve been trying to sell some buy-to-let properties and that, dear reader, has not gone well.
I don’t know what to say about this hotter than hot market, apart from the fact I believe it to be a media myth.
Yes, the market may be scorchio when it comes to offers and people promising to buy your property, but let me tell you, it’s a different breed of sheep when you’re trying to complete on a property.
I honestly have no idea how anybody right now is managing to book the removal men because this has got to be the slowest, most labourious state of the market I’ve ever known.
And I know we’ve got Covid – I haven’t been living in a shed up a remote mountain for the last 18 months – but for Chrissakes, how can it be so difficult to send a frigging email?
I mean I just don’t get it – you’ve got these gazillionaires all prancing about with their multi-gazillion making bank accounts and putting rockets into places and spaces I’ve never heard of and doing all sorts of fancy pants things, and yet me here, I can’t even get a property past the finish line.
Which has made me wonder if I’m really cut out for this sales malarkey?
I mean, I know I’m not the most patient person in the world, but I’m struggling with the current piss-taking of every single property professional inhabiting the planet right now.
Just why is everything taking SO LONG?
I swear, this isn’t a difficult process.
But every single person seems to think it is and then quintuples whatever time estimate you think it would reasonably take to complete a sale.
I’ve been so close to losing it on several occasions it’s a wonder I’m still here. I think it must only be the copious amounts of Absolut and Mint Aero’s and ear chewing of my friends as to why I haven’t sacked every estate agent and told them where to stick their ‘For Sale’ boards.
And if I sound angry, you’re damn right I am.
If you’ve tried to sell a house and you’ve managed to complete the sale within a period of less than five months, I would like to know your secret. Do please spill the proverbial because I’m struggling to understand why everybody is so S-L-O-W.
Don’t they know another lockdown may be just around the corner? Hasn’t the pandemic taught us anything?
Like, life is for living now and let’s get done today what we can get done today because tomorrow may not happen?
I shake my head when I recall the property I bought earlier this year and which completed in under two months AND you had Christmas and New Year in-between AND the solicitors were closed for two weeks.
I mean, how can I buy a property so quickly and yet everybody else seems to be waiting for the number 12 bus (which is likely discontinued or diverted or delayed due to some random covid-related reason).
Anyway, my life right now involves a lot of waiting and not losing my shit. That means this blog post is a pure rant, because I think if I said what I really felt to anybody involved in my sales, they’d tell me to do one.
And I don’t really want to do one, I just wish people would understand empty properties are expensive; they’re a liability and they’re a security risk. I just really wish someone somewhere would pull their finger out of their orifice and do something productive on the keyboard instead!
I don’t know if it’s lockdown fatigue (and the excitement of being out and about again), or too long in this business.
But the point I’ve reached is: I’m selling, not letting.
And the whole thing kinda took me by surprise. You see, I was getting the properties ready to rent again. I was busy okaying various quotes for various works where various tenants hadn’t (yet again) looked after a nice property. And yet again, here I was replacing carpets that were just two years old.
And it struck me, like a weird idea (although it’s really not): I do not have to put up with this shit any longer.
Out of nowhere this blinding realisation came. And I know it sounds dumb, but you see as a landlord and property investor, you don’t really tend to sell properties you rent. As a landlord, you rent properties, it’s buy-to-let, eh?
Of course, I have sold properties over the years. But something about this time feels different. It’s like I’m actively looking for my exit.
And I’ve surprised even myself, because in the last 10 days I have now listed three properties. Three properties which I was about to list to let and instead have listed to sell.
20 years is how long I’ve owned one of the houses. The other two, are 18 years and 17 years respectively. If they were children, they would’ve finished school and would now be going to university!
So, I’ve pondered to myself what’s driving this (because if any more tenants give notice, I will also sell those). And I’ve realised it’s two key things:
I’ve been in this business too long and I’m tired of the constant tenant trouble
The current climate makes landlords too weak
Just to be clear, I’m not against tenants getting protection, there are some asshole landlords about who’ve made life very hard. But, little people like me, we play by the rules and we just continually get stiffed.
I dread reading the updates about what’s happening next in the world of landlording. The ‘breathing space’ regulations are something I have yet to check in detail, purely because I cannot face the prospect of trying to understand for how long can a tenant live without paying rent, while the landlord has to juggle everything to try and make the numbers stack.
And it drives me insane how powerless I am. Currently, we have some non-payers and a particularly anti-social tenant (part 4 needs it be written but I haven’t mustered the words yet). To have to give six months’ notice to gain back a property in these circumstances is not reasonable. And if the tenant doesn’t leave, I only have a long wait for court and bailiffs to look forward to. I can’t even begin to think what damage may be caused by such a delay.
And what I’ve realised is: the constant worry is draining me.
The worry about will a tenant pay the rent, will a tenant look after the house, will the tenant let the gas man in, will the tenant not fight with the neighbours and on and on and on.
And I just don’t think I can do this anymore. There are so many things, more worthwhile things, to worry about.
That’s why I have got to give myself some breathing space. And that is why I am selling.
The doomsayers (if you read the mainstream media), said it couldn’t be done.
It took me precisely: 7 weeks and 6 days from offer acceptance to sale completion.
Oh, and that was during the Christmas and New Year break when the solicitors were closed for two weeks.
And I guess I should mention, but I think you’re already aware, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and there’s this great frenzy to complete before the Stamp Duty holiday which has caused a logjam up and down the country meaning most purchases are taking approximately 20 weeks to complete.
How did I do it?
What’s the secret to my success?
I cannot stress enough how important communication is. It is everything. And when I say that, I really mean it. I communicated everything with every person, even if maybe on the face of it, they didn’t need to know it.
And I don’t just mean emails, they are second rate when it comes to making sure shit happens. If you want to get things done, you pick up the phone and talk to people and then send an email after the conversation to recap your conversation.
There’s nothing like emphasis.
That meant from the offset the estate agent and solicitor were looped into every stage of what I was doing. They got informed when my mortgage application had been submitted. They got informed when I applied for searches, they got informed when the survey was booked, when the survey was back, when the searches were back, when I made a cup of tea. You get my drift.
All of this I did to ensure they were aware of progress and could ensure their vendors were also doing the same. Call it chivvying along, call it healthy competition but really, who wants to be the one left behind?
Regular updates means nobody ever forgets who you are and what you’re buying. And that means it keeps everybody else on their toes to make sure they’re holding up their end of the bargain.
The pressure trickles down and around the chain.
The estate agents I was buying from then applied pressure to the estate agents who my sellers were buying from. And if there’s anything I’ve learned about estate agents, is that they like a good old fashioned pissing contest.
Just add some fuel.
So the other thing I did differently, was the legal work.
Most of the time you apply for searches and do all that sort of gumpf after you’ve got the survey back. With a huge bottleneck at local councils and a likely surge of yet more requests, I decided to switch the order of things.
We applied for the searches before we’d got the surveyor’s appointment and before my mortgage application had even been approved.
The potential downside to this line of action was if the survey was unfavourable, I would lose the search fees and be liable for any legal work up to that date. The upside was if the survey was fine (which I was anticipating), then I would be ahead of the game by some six to eight weeks.
That, I knew, could be the difference between making the transaction happen before the stamp duty holiday ended or not.
The downside was losing a few hundred quid. The upside was saving several thousands.
I wanted the property and believed it would pass, so I pushed ahead.
The searches were back within days. I have to admit; I was astonished given the delays I’d read about in the news.
And the survey? Well, unbelievably that also got booked in pretty quick. From the time of my mortgage application to the date of the survey, it was just over three weeks. That is exceptional going when you consider Christmas and New Year was also in that intervening period.
It then took twelve days from the date of the survey to the mortgage offer.
But, I have to confess to being organised when I submitted my mortgage application. I didn’t fanny about and spend days oohing and arrhing about the rate and getting my paperwork together. The decision was made and all relevant paperwork submitted that same day.
If you’re going to hit a deadline, you have to prioritise to make stuff happen.
Of course, things were going too swimmingly and even I thought that.
I called the estate agents to touch base on I don’t remember what, maybe general pestering, to discover they had all come down with Covid and had closed the office. It was by sheer chance I’d managed to catch the boss.
I told him to focus on getting better and to give me the vendor’s number. We would sort it out from here.
And this is where Lady Luck comes in (although she’s been sitting on my shoulder since the start, but it was here she really made her presence known), because, what you won’t know, is that when I called the estate agents to discover the entire team was ill, was only three days after those same estate agents were meant to show me the property again for me to do some final measurements.
As it was, on that day, the estate agents were so busy, they had asked the vendors of the property to let me in instead.
And so it was, I met the vendors for the first time, struck up a rapport and avoided, as it later turned out, coming into contact with an agent who later tested positive and who’s meeting would’ve meant I would’ve had to self-isolate – in the worst case, could’ve potentially given me Covid and made me sick.
Take nothing for granted.
As I say, everything had been going swimmingly, so swimmingly in fact that we were due to exchange last week.
But then the vendor’s solicitors, having agreed a completion date, went AWOL. They didn’t answer my solicitor’s emails or calls and everybody was rather stumped.
So I asked the vendor to pop by their solicitor’s office (which was local to them) to find out what was happening.
It was in darkness.
So, doing what all good desperate people do, they banged on the door.
Nobody answered, but five minutes after their visit, they got an email which they sent to me which simply said:
>we’ll contact you when we’re ready
Which I have to confess was a curveball I hadn’t seen coming.
The last few days have been a bit stressful, not for any other reason than the fact the vendor’s solicitor was refusing any sort of communication with anyone.
Then suddenly yesterday they sent an email and said: ‘we’re ready’.
And so, that was it, I have no idea what they were doing, and I guess in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter: because I’d bought the house!
So there, dear readers, is the story of how I bought a house the week before Christmas and completed before the Stamp Duty deadline.
Honestly, it feels like I’m writing some sort of damp-based drama series for Netflix, but real life is stranger than fiction, so here goes…
If you’ve missed episode one and two, you can catch up via the hyperlinks.
* * *
I think there’s a saying that all plans are made to be screwed up?
If there’s not, there should be.
Because that kind of feels like where we right now. However, let’s skip back to The Plan.
So, having been threatened with the tenant reporting us (by ‘us’, I mean me as the landlord and the agents as the letting agents) to the council, we decided to shortcut the process and contact the council ourselves. Help is what we needed to try and get this situation under control. And we were happy to make it official, we had nothing to hide and everything to gain.
But, this is the council.
I don’t know what we were expecting, having sent proof of the flat before he moved in and now two months later and the humidity readings, but to be quite frank, the response was lacklustre and non-committal. I guess the only good thing is that they did attach an up-to-date damp and condensation leaflet to give to the tenant, silver linings and all that.
So, the next plan.
Big boss letting agency man said we should get commercial dehumidifiers in the flat. This would then remove some of the humidity to a stage where we could deep clean the property to try and get the place back on a more even keel.
An electrician was also contacted to install humidistat fans throughout which would kick in when the humidity levels got too high and extract the air to more normal levels, thus preserving the fabric of the building. We decided on the silent type so as not to be too much of a noise nuisance.
We also decided to get an expert in to see if we could boost the insulation and see if there was anything more that could be done, from our end, to prevent the damp and mould.
And I have to admit, it’s an infuriating situation to be in, because there’s a lot of cost involved here, when all the tenant has to do is open the windows. But I have to be pragmatic and future focussed.
Doing nothing is not an option.
And when you look at the potential damage to the building – and the cost of rectifying that, I guess, in comparison, this is cheaper. Not as cheap as opening a window, granted, but I try and not harbour on this. Sometimes tenants will not do the simplest things to help themselves, and thus I have no choice.
To regain control of this situation we need to force air into the property, whether the tenant likes it or not.
So this was The Plan. Stage one of contacting the council had been completed and thus it was time to move to the next stage. But then the phone rang, it was the tenancy liaison manager.
‘Sorry SL, I’m calling you with more bad news about this flat.’
‘OK,’ I reply, nervous as to what else could be happening.
‘The police attended last night.’
‘The police? Why were the police there?’
‘The tenant had an illegal lockdown party and they were all high on monkey dust.’ At this, I quickly typed ‘monkey dust’ into google, to learn it’s a synthetic drug (MDPV) which causes powerful hallucinations and paranoia, with many users climbing trees and buildings, plus it makes you violent. Highly addictive and unpredictable, the effects can last for several days. It can be bought for as little as £2.
‘Oh dear God,’ I reply.
‘So the tenant in the downstairs flat had to leave last night and stay with friends because it got so noisy.’
‘Oh my goodness, was it him who called the police?’
‘No, it wasn’t him, it was the tenant.’
‘The tenant who was having the party.’
‘Sorry, did I hear you right? The tenant who was having the illegal lockdown party where everybody was high on monkey dust was the one who called the police on himself?’
‘Yeah, you got it, he said he wanted the people to leave.’
‘Well, why didn’t he just ask the people to leave? He was the one who invited them there.’
‘That’s the other thing SL, I think we have a bigger problem here.’