Call Me a Cynic, But…….

A fehomeless-man2w weeks ago I visited a wealthy market town and came across a man sitting forlornly in a passageway wearing dirty clothes.  On the floor in front of him was a sign on which he’d scratched the words “Homeless” and an old tobacco tin with a few coppers in it.

I watched with interest as the police chatted to him, well-to-do ladies threw in a pound or two whilst smiling sympathetically having relinquished their guilt and a bohemian dressed girl from the organic, wholefood restaurant across the road gave him some food and a reassuring hug.

All this took place within about half an hour and he hadn’t hurled abuse at anyone so I decided it was my turn to pitch in: he said that a rehoming charity were trying to help him and he’d come to be near his son and wanted to visit him.  I asked if he wanted me to help him find accommodation “Oh yes, please” he whispered looking pathetically grateful.  So I suggested he took the bus to Eastbourne, gave him my business card and wrote on the back a contact name and address of the Salvation Army where he could get a shower, shave, new clothes and proper food (none of that vegetarian, organic stuff!), told him to call me and I’d help him sort out some safe accommodation.  At that point something shifted and I can’t put my finger on it – so I asked what his barriers were to finding accommodation.  “Well, all landlords want a month’s deposit up front and a month’s rent in advance and I can’t afford that”.  This is usual and you can apply for these through some council and housing trust schemes, especially if you’ve been registered homeless or in rehab.  “I understand,” I said “If you call or text me once you’ve got yourself cleaned up and fed, I’ll stand you the first month’s rent and your deposit so you can secure a room”.  Shaking hands I then left him to sit with his tin and went to browse in the shop opposite. I’ll tell you what happened next, in just a minute.

Helping a Family Move On

Currently, I’m in the process of selling a house in the Midlands.  It’s been tricky as I don’t live there so I offered the current LHA tenant an incentive of £1000 which includes his deposit of £595 to compensate for the disruption of viewings as well as to help him with moving costs and issued a Section 21 set to expire at the earliest date of 28th July.  I did express that this date really would be the earliest as the sales process can take months and I would liaise with him to find a convenient date once the buyer had exchanged contracts.

Over the last week we’ve been communicating and he said he would like to leave yesterday (16th), take his children and stay with a friend for a few weeks to save for a new house.  I offered him half rent until completion of sale so they didn’t have to suffer the disruption of sofa surfing and was sure we could tie up his move out date straight into a new rental property.

His response was No Thank You and could he have the rent refunded from the 16th to the 28th (next rent would have been due on 29th).  I’m still currently trying to work out how to diplomatically say No whilst finding £1000 to deposit into his account.

A Nice Little Earner

What happened with the homeless man?  He still hasn’t made contact and I’ve decided why would he?  Sitting in that passageway, he gained far more than I could ever give him – I estimated he collected about £15 to £20 in that hour I saw (hiding the pound coins in his clothes before they’d even hit the bottom of the tin), excellent food, lots of well meaning smiles and hugs from pretty girls in revealing dresses who had to squat down in front of him to reach him.  If he’d managed to get himself a mangy looking dog he could have increased his tax free takings by 100%.

Please Note: I’m not being flippant about homelessness but each case is different and yet the title is generic.  Having housed dozens of homeless, single men over the years this story simply sums up my previous experiences of how I suspect it is easier to stay in the cycle of taking handouts than do something about it.  Families with children, vulnerable and older adults should never be homeless but if you can sit on a cold pavement in a wind tunnel and still get up without suffering the effects of piles or seized joints, you can take on the trials and tribulations of life just like the rest of us.

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Implementing the Immigration Bill by HMO Landlords/ladies

I’ve been reading with great interest details of the Immigration Act which was announced on 14th May 2014 as, once implemented, this will affect all landlords but primarily HMO Landlords.  One of the highlights of the Act is:

“Requiring private landlords to check immigration status of tenants, preventing those with no right to live in the UK from accessing private housing”

Immigration minister, Mark Harper, diplomatically goes on to say “There is no doubt that immigrants have helped make Britain a richer and stronger society, but we must take firm action to address illegal immigration.

“We are also determined to tackle the problem of rogue landlords and the exploitation of illegal migrants within the housing sector. We have already taken action on beds and sheds and we can and will do much more to tackle poor quality housing.

“Alongside existing enforcement activity and other measures in the Bill, we will be requiring all landlords to ensure that prospective tenants are here legally.

“This is in line with existing best practice across the rental sector. We do not want to disadvantage legitimate landlords and tenants and have devised a system which will be effective and light-touch while making it tougher for illegal immigrants to rent property, but giving us the powers to take robust action against rogue landlords.”

Would I Carry Out Immigration Checks?

There are many landlords out there who don’t even know what to do with a deposit so how on earth will they be able to carry out immigration checks? My rooms have a 50% occupancy of casual, foreign workers from all over the globe whom we passport and identity check on application.

As I read and nodded in a somewhat apolitical manner (as I have no idea where my allegiances currently lie), I was reminded of Sacha and if things would have turned out differently if I’d be forced to carry out immigration checks. He arrived on the doorstep two years ago after being made redundant from his career with the Romanian border police.  He decided to come to the UK with his life savings (method of travel has always been a closely guarded secret) and was deposited in a hostel for a few days.  I warmed to him immediately and relieved him of a small deposit and one week’s rent upfront; he then wasted no time looking for work with his limited English.  That amazing man has worked his way up from kitchen porter to General Manager of a four star hotel – albeit still on minimum wage despite working 60 hours a week.  He left his room last month to take up the offer of hotel accommodation and, when I cautioned that he’d likely be on duty 24 hours a day, his reply was “I’m grateful for all the hours they give me”.

Over the last year he and I have had a few political discussions, not least about UKIP’s policies and its frightening popularity within the South East.  He recounted incidents of serving hotel customers their afternoon tea and scones only to be turned away or spat at by little old ladies when they discovered his Romanian citizenship.  Ironically, he was recently threatened with legal action on the grounds of racial discrimination when he reprimanded a British worker at the same hotel for being consistently late or absent from her shift.

During our enlightening political debates, he helped me practice the words “Blaaaady Foreigners” in a Romanian accent should I ever need to use it!

Going Forward:

There is an outside chance it may make beds in sheds or 15 people sleeping in shifts in a single property a thing of the past as rogue landlords will deem the whole process to be too admin heavy.  Realistically, I suspect that once the Immigration Bill is implemented and whoever is tasked with checking on landlords, the Priests’ Holes of old will suddenly come back into use.

shed

 

To read more about the Immigration Bill on residential tenancies click here

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Who Says Being A Landlord Isn’t Sexy?

Being an HMO Landlord/Landlady can hardly be ranked as one of the sexiest professions in the world.  Between managing tenant conflict, dealing with cleaning issues and mending unidentifiable leaks, not to mention fielding desperate phone calls, daft questions and all the admin goes with it, there are some lighter sides.  Take just some of these texts sent to me over the last year.

No response required!

Text 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Randy Plumber?!

Text 1a

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Text 1b

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Text 1c

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Stalker?!

Text 2a

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Text 2b

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Text 2c

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And someone looking for a massage……

Text 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six month’s later, he’s still looking!!

Text 5

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Keeping Your HMO Looking Lovely Part 2

As someone interested in HMOs and property, are you being bombarded with emails about property dreams and success?  Amongst all the talk of yields and hot spot analysis, creative deals and finance, notice that day to day running costs are often evaded.  Oh, they’ll tell you to factor in agents’ fees, insurance and refurbishment expenses, but HMOs’  maintenance costs go one step further eating into your bottom line.

Once tenants have moved into a flat or house as a single let, your job is pretty much done save for collecting the rent and dealing with any repairs.  Once tenants have moved into an HMO, the babysitting duties begin.  Take, for example, yesterday: on the usual rent collecting round I found teetering piles of dirty dishes on the worktop which is a big no no (House Rule#3 Always Wash Your Dishes).  As the tenants are often too scared of petty conflict to confront the perpetrator, I sent the normal text round asking the owner to wash up within 24 hours.  Kenza texted back to admit it was hers but she couldn’t wash up “because the kitchen light, it has fallen off”.

Pondering this over a cup of coffee I reckoned I would have seen a fallen light that morning, after all, I had cleverly observed the broken shower door lying on the bathroom floor which no one had reported so a light dangling above the exact space I saw the dirty dishes couldn’t have escaped my notice.  After ten minutes, I had to accept responsibility – of course the kitchen was dirty! There were no cleaning products and it was my job to sort it out.  (By the way, I am being completely tongue-in-cheek.  House Rule #9 is to contact me if any item needs replacing).

Rather than marveling at the tenants new level of “it’s not my problem” I headed off to the discount store and loaded up with enough products to prompt a fellow shopper to ask me where the camping equipment was kept.  “Oh, sorry” he said “I thought you worked here and were restocking the shelves with the amount of stuff you have in that trolley”.  To be fair, I hadn’t changed out of my wellies and probably sported the same dispirited look as the shop staff.  Even the checkout girl stopped chewing her gum long enough to ask if I had OCD (Obsessive Cleaning Disorder).  I smiled weakly, as telling her I was buying two month’s worth of products for five houses would probably be difficult to comprehend – for both of us.

cleaning productsThe products were delivered and stored and the lightbulb was changed which is about the extent of my maintenance skills, but clearly not my tenants’.  Standing in the kitchen, I realised this is grass roots stuff which makes the HMOs successful.  The tenants may not possess the skills to diagnose a broken lightbulb, wash up, understand the difference of urgency between no internet service and a burst pipe, but it’s taking care of the detail which promotes a grudging loyalty towards you and keeps your properties full and happy.

Want to know more about keeping your HMO tenants? Also worth reading:

 

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How The Market Is Changing

From where I’m sitting, this is purely subjective of course. Having run HMOs for 7 years and I’d only planned to do it for 5 years, reckon I’m now a couple of years past retirement. The plan had been to squeeze as much yield out of them as possible, sell at a profit and do something else. As a plan it had strategy, goals and optimism but, in reality, it was nothing better than a property wealth creation course pie-in-the-sky unsubstantiated greedy wish.

Instead, thanks to the recession and divorce, I have a niche business, constant room demand, an appreciation of real life on minimum or no wage and a set of tenants whom I couldn’t bequeath to another landlord with a clear conscience (on both sides).

What do you mean The Market is changing?

From 2007-2011 every tenant which arrived on the doorstep came armed with a good sob story, housing benefit papers to sign, could be found on any benefit database under several addresses and, if I was really unlucky, on a few police databases as well. Apart from Paul and Andrew in recent times, everyone else has pretty much kept their nose clean (to my knowledge). I suspect a couple are up to some dodgy deals and workings but we need a few in society just to keep the police on their toes and prove we still have freedom of movement (Yes, I do believe Big Brother will be a reality in my lifetime).

Perhaps I’m getting better at filtering advertisement responses? Immediate “no”s are:

  1. “You got’a room for me and me girlfriend? A single bed will do”
  2. “My landlord wants me out by Monday”
  3. “My mum’s told me to leave and stand on my own two feet”
  4. Text messages enquiring about the room at 11pm on a Saturday night when the sender can’t even be bothered to give their name
  5. Anyone who doesn’t have the commonsense to hide or gloss over their misdemeanours after basic questioning. E.g. “So what’s your job?” response “Community service” (bet THAT won’t be on his CV)

Instead, I have been receiving a succession of lovely, hard working, paying tenants through the door of both sexes, but I hasten to add that they are all from abroad and grateful for the work that our little town can provide. Sadly, they are also grateful that we have working showers, heating, zero drug policy and they feel safe – somehow I suspect a lot of their previous accommodation stuck two fingers up at the HHSRS (Housing Health and Safety Rating System for those of you who have never been within earshot of a council employee).

Even Tom has been taken aback. His house has not just been infiltrated by one female but three! I broke the news gently as he’d always relied on the overwhelming smell of testosterone as a natural deterrent to any heterosexual female. We had a long “when you’re pissed and punching the wall, the ladies may find it a trifle intimidating and are under instructions to call me if you’re out of order” talk. This went surprisingly well and he retorted with “Whilst we’re being honest, make sure they don’t put their lady products down the toilet. I’m a man of the world but there are just some things I can’t handle.”

So far, so good and to Tom’s credit, he’s even become a bit protective; one of the ladies came to the house via a previous tenant. Last month she kissed her Polish boyfriend goodbye as she left for work, returned home a few hours later to find him dead in bed and, if that wasn’t bad enough, was mugged a week later. She hasn’t gone screaming home to Poland but she and a few friends laid him to rest locally as they couldn’t afford for his family to come here or to return his body home. She and Tom spend long hours in conversation during which he’s vowed to find the mugger……

Fancy your own HMO?

I am currently marketing the following property. This is a good, solid house next door to the promised £85m shopping centre refurbishment which would be ideal for individual or student rooms.

Front View

http://www.andrewsonline.co.uk/sale/details/92086/Longstone-Road-EASTBOURNE-East-Sussex-BN21-3SN

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British Gas Engineer Escapes Unhurt

Before Christmas I received a friendly letter from British Gas asking me to contact them to arrange an electricity meter change at James Street as it had come to the “end of its life”.  It lingered at the bottom of my in-tray until I was ready to spend a quiet afternoon on the phone listening to elevator music.  However, the call went surprisingly quickly and we made an appointment for a few weeks later.

At the next rent collection/coffee/gossip stop at the house I asked if anyone was going to be around for the four hour window to wait in for the engineer.  Sarah  said she’d only let him in if it was a straight swap i.e. standard dumb meter for dumb meter as opposed to the installation of a smart meter.  The word “smart” hadn’t been mentioned during the call or in the letter so I assumed it would be the dumb one.  A few days before the meter change, an email was sent to me saying that BG were looking forward to making my life a million times better with the forthcoming Smart Meter installation.

I went back to Sarah who, quite frankly, went berserk.  To be fair, she was active at the anti-fracking protests and I have a feeling I saw a mild version of her pro-environmental passion.  I called BG again to ask why this was the first I’d heard of it when the call handler said it was for gas AND electricity AND at a completely different address!  Well, by now, I had the distinct feeling that something fishy was going on so said I hadn’t received any communication about the other house.  “Oh well” she said “whilst you’re on the phone, I’ll book smart meter installations there too”.

“Er, no you won’t” I replied.  “If I’m being offered something so brilliant that it’ll change my life and it’s free, I want to know more”.  During all this, Sarah risked her life accessing the wi-fi to print off information about smart meters and, whether it’s true or not, here is a summary of why many people don’t want them in their homes:

  • Smart meters monitor, measure and communicate private electricity, gas and water usage data to utility providers
  • They transmit intense bursts of microwave radiation (known as RF EMF) 24 hours a day – the same kind as emitted by mobile phone masts
  • More than 5000 studies show RF EMF radiation is harmful to humans, plants and animals
  • Utilities will become available to energy companies and any potential hackers at a moment’s notice even allowing the providers to disconnect their services without entry to the property
  • UK Government has said Smart meters will cost tax payers £11bn for estimated savings of just £25 per home/year – and that saving only possible if customers change their behaviour and have TWO Smart Meters

(Information provided by www.stopsmartmeters.org.uk)

By the time the engineer turned up, Sarah had cancelled her dentist appointment to be there, put up three “Do Not Install Smart Meter” signs on the front door, meter box and hallway and was ready and waiting to not only inspect the equipment he was installing but checking he hadn’t sneakily attached any smart devices.  To my knowledge, he was eventually allowed to leave peacefully…… and in one piece.

On The Other Hand

As you know, I like to give a balanced article so in contradiction to our belief that the meter company (acting under the British Gas banner) is trying its damnedest to dish out cancer and other nasties, the lovely call handlers this morning saved me from a long, drawn out heart attack.

I’m involved in a new project which involves moving the gas and electricity meters a few feet to an external wall.  So imagine our surprise when we opened the shiny new gas meter box only to find no bl**dy meter! In past experience, the engineers simply moved the meter and hooked the supply back up again.  Apparently, that simple, clever system stopped ages ago and you now have to contact your supplier to disconnect the meter, book another company to relocate it, another to dig up the road if need be and your supplier to come back to reconnect the supply.  Experienced pros will know to book all these on the same day and preferably in the right order.  For some reason, I didn’t receive or read that bit of advice so this morning had a plumber with no gas supply and a builder about to lose his electricity supply as the “digging gang” had turned up to look for electrical wires in the middle of a busy street.

Two hours and eight phone calls later, Yarin from British Gas took me under his wing, played “Greensleeves” to calm me down whilst he put me on hold and assured me in his silky tones that all was in hand and an engineer would turn up in the morning to disconnect the meter, actually engage in some kind of meaningful conversation with the “installation gang” from the other company then set a time to come back and ensure a wonderful fast, capacious and efficient phase 3 electrical supply.

This house is round the corner from Sarah’s so let’s hope the engineer doesn’t find a spare smart meter in his van just to get me back.

However, This IS Smart!

If you haven’t discovered it yet, I recommend the British Gas mobile app which allows you to enter meter readings on site.  I used to write all the meter reads down on the back of an envelope and try to decipher which house the numbers belonged to.

British Gas app

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No Longer a Novice HMO Landlady

I’ve been reviewing the blog recently and decided that, after seven years, I am no longer a Novice Landlady.  Having said that, I’m not an expert in HMO legislation either – I’ll leave the ever changing rules to solicitors such as David Smith of Anthony Gold solicitors and local authorities who are paid far more than I to translate all the finer points.  Thank you to everyone on Twitter who consider me to be more well versed in this area and I’m just grateful we have a great HMO council department who trust me to do the right thing within the boundaries of the aforesaid legislation.

So, do I carry on with the blog as a journal, bringing you my tenant stories interspersed hopefully with a few nuggets of useful tips and information or do I make it more of an educational “How to run an HMO”?  Readers are very kind with their comments and often ask questions such as where they should invest, what yields I achieve and the finer details of how to make their venture into HMOs a profitable one.  I’m only one of many thousands of landlords (many of whom are making far more profit than me) and enjoy bringing the realities of the coalface to any new investor who thinks it’s all about yield.  Having said that, for a hefty fee, I’ll happily come out and show you how to set one up and  interview tenants!!

If you’re looking to chew the fat and debate the pros and cons of property investment, I heartily recommend Property Tribes, The Property Hub and Property 118 where you can connect with property people nationwide.  They are all online to give you their opinion and benefit of their experience but it’s no substitute for getting down and dirty and throwing yourself into the practicalities of BTL.  These sites weren’t around when I started and desktop research had little to offer.  As with Channel 4’s Undercover Boss, there’s no better way to understand your business’ strengths and weaknesses than experiencing all aspects of the work for yourself.  Once you know what makes your property profitable, then you can hand it over to a letting agent if you like.

With the acquisition of a new computer, I’ve decided to better systemise my business by creating tenant records and scanning in all their documentation then storing it somewhere between earth and Heaven.  At present, I often begin conversations with tenants “Remind me, when we last spoke….” or scrolling through texts to find out exactly the terminology one tenant used to slag off another.  In the same way that Miranda Hart promised herself to become a “new me” by power walking wherever she goes, drink fresh juice and eat homemade muffins, I aim to stop carrying around my tenant’s emotional baggage and rifling through Tenant Information Forms for email addresses that the cat’s been sleeping on.

However, it won’t be complete detachment.  Saturday morning rent collections (so few want them now) allow me to

  • Be shouted at by a Morroccan Rastafarian who couldn’t wash his dreadlocks properly because the shower was underperforming and he thought I was limiting the water output to save money,
  • Witness Tom’s attempt to drink himself to death after borrowing money for “rent” from a family member
  • Be given 70% proof orange liquid by some the Portuguese sisters/lesbians at 10am and
  • Try to assist a pedantic long term tenant who says he’s living with damp, when all I can find is a small brown stain on the ceiling 20 feet away and he won’t give me permission to send in a decorator.  He wants fifty quid “for materials” to do the work himself.

If you’re new to investing and have already bought and read my book, I can now recommend Property Geeks new book Beyond The Bricks  which is available to preorder.  It’s hot on the heels of  his immensely successful first book “Property Investment For Beginners”.  With all the above knowledge available at your fingertips, now is the time for you to jump feet first into Buy To Let.  (Just don’t ask me to point you in the direction of the next hot investment location!)

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