Archive | February, 2011

The HMRC ‘accident’ – seizing MY goods to sell at public auction!

28 Feb

Today was always going to be a busy day – Monday always sees lots of tenants waiting to call in from the weekend!

However today was much more stressful than usual – I’d received a letter from HMRC.

Now as any business owner will tell you – you can piss off many people – but never ever piss off HMRC – they really are the key people never to mess with.

It would now appear I had done this…so let me take you back to the start of the story

In June 2010 having done my own payroll for a number of years, I decided that I was just getting too busy and so decided to outsource the payroll to my accountants. Great! Well – it was until my accountant realised that I had paid the PAYE/NIC by BACS to a different payroll department/ bank account of HMRC (they have several) and somehow my money had got lost in the system temporarily…

Anyway the money was eventually found and allocated and all was fine and dandy – or so I thought

4 months later in October 2010 I opened a £500 fine from HMRC for the PAYE/NIC payment being late. I was very confused as they had, had the money and so I duly passed it to the accountants to deal with. They set up an appeal with HMRC and informed me it would take some time, but it would get sorted…

In due course I received a letter from HMRC that they acknowledged the appeal…but then I continually received letters claiming I am ignoring this fine and that I must pay it. I send all documents to the accountant, who again assures me everything is fine, she has spoken with them and I do not have to pay it as the fine is in “appeal”

Then today I open a letter from HMRC debt management department – it reads:

“You have chosen to ignore our efforts to resolve the matter of your outstanding liability.

Your debt has therefore been transferred to our distraint department to schedule a visit to your premises with a view to seizing your goods so that they may be sold at public auction.

If you wish to stop this visit you must telephone the above number within 48 hours of receiving this letter”

OMG I am shaking! I’ve got bailiffs coming to my office take my computers to be sold at public auction!!!!!!

I look at the date on the letter – it says 21 February – it is now 28 February.

I am so anxious that any minute a bailiff is going to arrive in the office.  Yes, I confess I was having kittens!

I call the number immediately…and am kept on hold for over ONE hour!

I finally get through and talk to a member of HMRC who looks through my account and says all blase:

“Oh, this has been sent by accident I can see this fine is in appeal”.

“You have sent me this letter by ACCIDENT!!!!” I roar – “What the hell do you think you’re doing sending me a letter like this telling me someone is going to visit my premises and seize my goods to sell at public auction?” I don’t even owe you this money” I am so furious!!

The HMRC lady tries to calm me down – she understands how upsetting it must be to receive a letter like this….I tell her she has NO understanding what it is like to receive a letter like this. I demand to speak to a supervisor.

The supervisor is hugely apologetic – she tells me that these letters are written to cater for a wide range of non-compliant businesses and she understands that as a compliant business to have received this must have been most distressing. She assures me that no-one will visit and that it was an “accident” me getting this letter. I reason that if an account is in appeal surely they should have a pending status which delays all these letters I have still been receiving.

She replies “Our system doesn’t work like that, and unfortunately due to the cut backs we have so few people trying to do the same amount of work that mistakes happen”.

I am gobsmacked. HMRC are one of the most powerful government agency that exists – how scary to know that mistakes like this are expected to happen!

The Poole Estate Agent Who Spoilt My Investment Opportunity

22 Feb

Today I spotted a great building for sale in a popular area in Poole, Dorset.  It was a commercial building which had A1/A2 (retail/office) use on the ground floor and was used as offices on the upper 2 floors.  It was let on a long lease for £14,000 per annum.  It was an executor sale from the freeholder.

It overlooked a small green (being refurbished) and was in a sought after area with thriving businesses nearby.

I was chomping at the bit to get in – so I quickly called the agents who told me they had yet to organise any appointments as they were liaising with the current occupiers.

“OK, the problem is I’m going on holiday soon and the auction is next week, so I could really do with getting in there asap” I said to the auctioneer.

He murmured noises that he would try his best and all the rest and so I just said “Well, I’ll knock on and see what the tenants say about showing me round” to which he suddenly bursts into life “If you do such a thing you’ll be doing it without my permission”

“OK” I reply “Well, if you just let me know when you’ll be doing viewings that would be great”

And so off I went back to the building to see if the current tenants would show me round…

Unfortunately there was no door bell on the outside door and nobody seemed to be answering my knocking. Well, I reasoned to myself – if the offices are upstairs then they probably can’t hear me down on the ground floor. So I tried the handle…and it turned and opened. And in I was!!

Tentatively I started walking along the corridor and making my way to the stairs leading upstairs when suddenly someone came out of the side door to the ground floor retail and we made each other jump “OHHHHHH”

Oh I am SO sorry” I stammer and then rush into my excuse in a speed not known to human ears “I-saw-the-sign-outside-that-this-building-is-going-to-auction-and-I-was-in-the-area-and-I-wanted-to-ask-if-I-could-have-a-look-as-I-am-going-away-on-holiday-and-nobody-heard-me-knocking-and-then-I-tried-the-door-handle….and, and….” and I sound like a run away typewriter…and the bloke looks at me trying to decide if I am mad or for real

“I’ll go and get the manager” he turns on his heels up the stairs and I am left standing in the hall

A few minutes later and the manager appears and so I launch into my story again “I am so sorry to bother you…but..auction…holiday…in the area…would you be so kind…???”

Luckily he would be so kind and takes me on a grand tour – and lets me take pictures as though I am some sort of tourist 🙂

There are a lot of different rooms  – you have the ground floor retail:

And then you have the offices (as you can see they are occupied!)

So I am totally in love with the location and with the building…but can I make figures stack…

So off I go to planning…and to cut it short – the God of planning says ‘Yes’ I can make the upper floors residential, ‘Yes’ they can see no policies which would impact upon my plans, ‘Yes’ they would encourage such a development – and ‘Yes’ I have never felt so confident having met with planners about a potential development!

And so then I call my surveyor to see if he can check the building….and I call the tenants of the building (having obtained their details at my earlier visit). They are lovely and helpful and allow me to organise a visit the very next day.  And I am so excited…

And despite the surveyor pointing out a few large cracks my excitement will NOT be diminished…

And then when my solicitor points out there is no break clause for another 5 years and I will have to wait 5 years until I can start implementing my grand plan my bubble starts to gradually fizzle…and it’s pretty complicated as the building has a long lease and then has been sub-let again.

So I speak to the second God of property development (the first – being planning!) my bank manager

I send him the property details and talk about my grand ideas…but the bank will only lend on income. The additional premium I want to pay for the future residential angle cannot be seen as part of the deal. In their terms this “premium” – or what is known as “hope value” – value you hope you will achieve in the future because of a planning gain you hope to make – cannot be calculated as part of the deal.  It is a major blow – yes the building produces a good income stream, but the real money…and we’re talking 6 figure profit sums here – will be in the residential conversion on the upper floors.

I sit down and do my sums and try and calculate the opportunity cost of having money invested in this development for the next 5 years.  It’s a hard call trying to predict the future – and it gets even harder when I find out that the company renting the building (not the one’s in the office – the people who have sub-let) are also trying to buy the building…

And so the day of the auction arrives…and the lot comes up…and I never even get a chance to put my hand up as the building sells for £57.5k more than what I had budgeted. And I later find out – it was the landlord who bought the building…and guess what – the landlord is a flipping estate agent!!! No wonder it had been so difficult to get a viewing!!!!

The Surreal Saturday At The Ex Service Men’s Social Club!

16 Feb

Today I saw a great lot in auction – it was an Ex Service Men’s Social Club in the heart of the New Forest. It was a lovely looking building which sat on a third of an acre.

It was advertised as Mortgagees NOT in Possession – which meant while the bank are repossessing the building, they have not taken possession.

Now I have seen that statement in auction lots before and sometimes it can mean that the property is empty – but they have not changed the locks, other times it can mean that somebody may be living there and then you have to take your chances when you take ownership!

So off I trekked to the New Forest to go and have a look at this Social Club.  As it was  Saturday, I had dragged Dimitris (the OH) along with me.

We found the building (no auction sign in site) and pulled into the car park – whereupon we realised there were another 5 cars in the car park and the lights were on in the building.

“Shit” There’s people still here I said to Dimitris “Quick, let’s get out of the car park before they see us!”

So we quickly made a sharp exit and pulled up behind some trees trying to work out what to do.

On the entry gate it clearly stated “MEMBERS ONLY”

Hmm – what to do?

So we decided to park opposite on the grass verge and then go and take a look at the building from the outside.

Well I don’t know where I found the nerve – but I suddenly found myself deciding that we should go in and order a drink!

So we pushed opened the door of the club – it was so cold and eerily quiet…

We entered into the bar area, and a huge Alsation dog came bounding up to greet us. Five middle-aged men and women who were huddled in their jackets at the bar, turned round to look at us.  SILENCE

We approached the bar (in silence – and followed by all eyeballs in the room) and ordered 2 half pints of lager.

The barman took our order and commenced pulling the beer. I then started to read the laminated A4 handout which was on the bar – it was all about a licence meeting which had been called with the local police the next week. There were a series of bullet point questions – such as:

Have you seen anyone in here who is not a member?

– Have you signed someone in who is not a member?

And so on….

EEEK I thought to myself – we’re not members what will happen to us when they find out?!

The barman gives us our drinks and takes our money. Phew, I was relieved he didn’t ask…then he turns and says

“Oh, do you mind if I just see your membership cards please?”

“Oh, oh” I stammer “Sorry we are not members, we thought you were a pub and were just passing by in the area and thought we would stop by for a drink”

“Right” He says

There is an uncomfortable silence and everyone who is huddled at the other end of the bar look at us. I want the ground to open up.

“I’ll sign them in” pipes up the woman who has the Alsation dog at her feet

“Oh thank you” I reply

We sign in the book, completing our names and addresses

Then we sit down at the table closest to the fire and a silence descends. I daren’t talk – not even breathe. And then the man who is sat at the corner of the bar strikes up a conversation with the man next to him

“They could be spies you know”He says nodding over at us, while simultaneously nodding to the man on his left.

I am sat there mortified – it was like I was invisible and they were talking about me – but I AM THERE!!!

“They shouldn’t be allowed to buy their own drinks as they’re not members. Here, how much was their drinks and I’ll give you the money and you give it back to them”.

I want to make small talk with Dimitris, but the atmosphere is so uncomfortable I daren’t speak!

Then I spy a pool table on the other side of the room – “Want to play pool?” I say to Dimitris – “Sure” he replies – you can tell he’s desperate to extricate himself somehow from this awkward social situation we have got ourselves into.

I am just setting up the balls and I can feel all eyes on me: I turn and look “Is it OK if we play pool please?”

“Yes, of course” they reply

So Dimitris and I play pool and the locals around the bar seem to start accepting us more – they start to talk amongst themselves again in lowered tones.

We finish our game and not wanting to leave just yet, we decide to go outside for a smoke.

A local joins us outside…we start to chat a little – very slightly and very caged…but the ice seems to be starting to thaw

Dimitris finishes his drink and the local offers to buy him another – Dimitris declines and I try and push him to take another…and then we return inside to find that they have bought me another drink.

One of the guys at the bar decides we should have a doubles match against some other locals – I will be his partner…Dimitris is not included in the game. I turn to look at him to check he is not offended by this – I am keen to be included and talk with the members.

So just as we are about to start playing pool, we are all introducing ourselves and saying our names and when they hear Dimitris say “I’m Dimitris”- they suddenly exclaim “Oh we have another Dimitris!”

And at that point a Greek guy enters the bar who is also called Dimitris! There is much excitement as Dimitris and Dimitris started to converse in Greek and everybody is very excited by this turn of events. The ice is broken!

We have a great afternoon – we are bought drinks and hustled for pool (each game we had to put down a £1 which the winner took). Dimitris spends time chatting with Dimitris about the hard times the club is going through and I chat with the other members about the club and the area.

We have an absolutely wonderful time and I cannot tell you the last time I have walked into a place and been made to feel so welcome (OK – after the initial coolness) and a part of the local life.  And I felt awful. I felt what I had done was unethical – I had gone to this place because I had seen it was up for auction. And I had come away realising what an important part of community life this place was. Yes, they don’t have many active members and I can understand why the club is struggling financially, however I got a small glimpse as to what such a place can mean to these communities.

I cannot buy their social club. I cannot take away a place which gives such a sense of community spirit.  But, sadly, I know someone else will.

Today I am an Award Winning Property Blogger!

10 Feb

Today I have been very busy having fun in the sun – yes you’ve guessed it – I’m not in the UK, but in my holiday home in Fuerteventura!
It’s super sunny and me and 5 friends are here sunbathing, swimming and drinking sangria. We had just been on a dune buggy safari when I got a text from my friend Nick “Are you in Fuerteventura? If so you may not know that you were runner up for Best Blog – Congratulations!”.
With sangria in hand I logged in via the super slow connection and was thrilled to see not only was I a runner up for the Best Blog for the Primelocation.com Property Blog Awards 2010 BUT I had won the award for Best Blog Post \”Today I got rid of squatters from my London flat\”.
The judges said “These reflections delve into the joy and pain of being a property developer by telling personal stories to make this blog compelling reading. This post scooped the prize because of its great pace and drama – an online page turner if ever there was one”
Well I am super chuffed – and celebrated with an extra large glass of Sangria!
Here are the rest of the great property blogs who won:  http://www.primelocation.com/property-blog-awards/

The Camberwell Crack House

1 Feb

Today I went to see a 3 bedroom house in Camberwell, London.

It had a guide of £170k and research suggested the resale was £230k for the property.

Now the appearance may be off-putting for many – but sitex shutters always make a property look worse than it actually is!

As it was such a good price for a 3 bedroom in a central London location there were quite a few of us who turned up to view. When the key holder arrived there were 10 of us eagerly awaiting an internal viewing of the property.  The key holder man had a huge bunch of keys – but not one opened the sitex! The neighbour upon seeing all the people clustered outside her house and hearing the noise of the key holder  trying all the different keys came out to see what was happening.

“I don’t know if people are now in there” she said  “I thought I heard people moving about in there a few days ago”

The key holder looked at her surprised “Oh”, he replied “I thought they had left?”

He then proceeded to call the head auction office to get an update on the property.  After a short conversation, he then turned to us all

“I am sorry, we are not going to be able to get in to this property”

10 faces dropped in disappointment and questions then followed as to when we might next be able to organise a viewing.

As it happened, another neighbour (an elderly gentleman) had now come out to see what was going on. I started talking to him and explained that we had hoped to see inside the property but that the keys the auction house had did not seem to work, and that there was confusion if anybody was in the house.

“Oh dear” he exclaimed to me, “you have come all this way to see the property and you can’t get in”

Yes” I replied, “hopefully they will work something out and I will have to come back another time”

“Well, my house is the same layout as the one you want to see – why don’t you have a look round mine then you can get an idea of the sizes and the layout” he offered

I couldn’t believe it – as all the other people trudged off disappointed they could not see anything further, I then commenced a tour with the neighbour so that I could get an idea of what the property was like inside.

As he was showing me round his property we talked about the area and the auction house for sale. I then discovered the property had been empty for 8 years, had been constantly vandalised, squatted and used as a drugs den for many years.

“The problem is” he said turning to me “is that once they know it as a drugs house then that seems to stick and people continue to come round looking for drugs”

“Yes, I understand” I replied

And in that moment, I realised that even if I bought the property – for a long time to come it would be known locally as a drugs den.  The property was hugely vulnerable as it was well known to squatters and drug users as it had been empty for so many years.  Who knows who may turn up when I’m doing the works…or after the works were completed!  I decided that the risk was not worth it – even if I did the works, there was a high risk that it would be broken into, vandalised, used as a squat and a drugs den again.

My tour with the kind neighbour was far more insightful than just seeing the layout of the house – local knowledge is key when buying property!