Archive | December, 2012

What Do You Look For When Buying A Home?

28 Dec

I have been fighting the need to move for some time now.  It’s not so much that I don’t want to move…but I don’t want to move.

So the search started from an urge, which became an overwhelming compulsion.  And before I knew it I had several viewings lined up.

My search criteria was simple: 3 bedrooms and close to the train station.

That was too simple, as I was soon to find out.

And so I entered into the psychological maze of home buying as I have never known before.

My motivation to move is purely practical: I cannot stand anymore looking at a row of filing cabinets where my 52″ TV used to be.  It’s not that the TV has been pinched, it’s just you can no longer see it behind the row of black filing cabinets which now dominate my lounge, and it would appear my life.

And so I decided I needed an office – which would require me buying a bigger house.

Simples.

No.

No, it would appear that buying a home is MUCH, MUCH more involved than even I had ever realised.

The checklist of practical priorities which you think you care so much about, actually don’t mean jack when you realise that buying a home is actually about buying a new life.  Which kind of took me by surprise.  Maybe it shouldn’t have, but it really knocked me for six.

When I set out to find a new home for my filing cabinets (and me!) I hadn’t realised I was embarking upon a quest for a new life.  But actually, what comes to the fore when you start looking around potential new homes is that all your hopes, fears and dreams become mixed up and muddled into the search.

It no longer becomes a search on Rightmove for a 3 bedroom house close to the train station, but a search for a better life.

And boy does that get *complicated*

I thought I was buying a bigger house not analysing my life!

So now I’m pondering.  I’m not too sure what to do.  But I did like this advertisement I saw in a magazine this morning, which had the following question next to a smiling realtor:

Would a home in Florida make your life better?

Now that is a good question!

Today I Swapped The Property Auction Catalogue For An Argos Catalogue

19 Dec

With less than a week to go before Christmas, most people are worrying about what presents they still have to buy and what not to say at their annual Christmas works do.

Property investors on the other hand – they LOVE the festive period as it signals a time when most of the house buying public are looking the other way – which means we may get a chance to bag a Festive property bargain…

So I like to enter into the Christmas spirit and write my (property) wish list to Santa…and given (hopefully) most bidders will be too busy gorging themselves on mince pies and mulled wine to be bothered about buying property at auction, I set out on a grand auction viewing mission to try and bag some treats for my proverbial stocking.

And the month of December has been the equivalent of a property auction advent calendar with every day me opening the door (and the day) to another potential property from a short lease penthouse apartment in Marble Arch, to tenanted flats in Fulham and Maida Vale, slumlord former crack dens in Camberwell to a derelict house, a newly built house, a tiny studio in Chelsea and a house in Stevenage.

It has been a veritable festive feast of auction properties!

London property auctionLondon property auctionLondon property auctionLondon property auctionLondon property auctionLondon property auctionLondon property auctionLondon property auctionLondon property auctionLondon property auctionLondon property auctionLondon property auction

 

After all was seen and done – I decided I would opt for the low hassle option: I would bid for the new build property.  A 3 bedroom semi-detached house in London which just needed some cleaning and clearing and then would be ready to rent in 24 hours.

London property auctionLondon property auctionLondon property auctionLondon property auctionLondon property auctionLondon property auction

The guide was temptingly low: £180k

The monthly rental was enticingly high: £1800 pcm

Low hassle?

Who am I kidding – this is a property being sold at auction.  When will I learn?!

What appears to be too good to be true – ALWAYS is!

So the guide was low…and I knew I was willing to pay a lot more – so I felt I was in with a chance and downloaded the legal papers to start checking the background.

It appeared to have NHBC paperwork and so I called NHBC to double check this.  No – it didn’t, the NHBC paperwork was actually created by someone “inventive with a typewriter and tippex” I was informed.

That should have been enough to set the alarm bells ringing and for me to move onto a different option.

But I was determined not to be put off so quickly.

OK, so it now turned out the property which was approx 2-3 years old didn’t have a structural warranty (which means you cannot get lending as all properties less than 10 years old must have a structural warranty for a mortgage lender to lend) but I thought maybe we could get another warranty in place for a completed house.  Admittedly, as I was soon to learn, this would take several weeks, would be subject to survey and would cost several thousand pounds – plus it could only be applied for by the owner of the property.

This “low hassle” option was becoming increasingly “high hassle” and high risk!

And I was really starting to wonder – maybe I should just get on with some Christmas shopping.

But I’d come this far – and I could see the *twinkle* of a Christmas bauble…

Which soon turned out to be the glaring flood light of a hugely risky property purchase: the new build house had been built on land which was yet to registered with a new title – and which breached Southwark council’s restrictive covenants – which specified the land could NOT be built on.  So while the property may have had planning permission and building regulation from Southwark council – the title for the land stipulated it was NOT  to be built on.

Now I’m all for quantifying risk – but this starts to get decidedly like gambling

The best case: Southwark council don’t blink an eye and allow you to register the land and the property.

The worst case: Southwark council don’t allow you to register the land and property and sue you for breach of covenant meaning you don’t get to own any land or property BUT you do get the added luxury of being sued for the pleasure of potentially trying to own the property and parting with a lot of money.

Maybe it was the incessant Christmas tunes blaring from the radio – or the aroma of the mulled wine.  24 hours before auction I decided – I’ll stick to the “no hassle” option, threw out the property auction catalogue and picked up the Argos catalogue instead!

How To Rent Your Property : Get The Right Look Quickly

5 Dec

OK so I should know by now what tenants want…

But to be honest, I have been so busy lately with the sale of my letting agency, when one of my flats came available I didn’t really have the time or headspace to properly think it through before re-marketing the property for let.

So the flat has been lived in for over 4 years. It was left in a clean and tidy condition.

We did some viewings on Friday and on Monday I contacted the viewers for feedback…they were not impressed.

“Dingy” was the word used to describe the flat.

I was quite horror struck.

DINGY?!

This flat has magnolia walls, white ceilings and woodwork, a modern white kitchen and a modern white bathroom suite.  How on earth can it be described as “dingy”.  It’s not some dark, dank, subterranean basement.

dingy flat for rent

I mulled on this and got more and more wound up.

I tried calling some decorators to go and redecorate to the place to make it less “dingy” but nobody could fit me in for weeks – which when a property is empty is going to cost – my ethos is “empty properties are expensive properties”.

And so, at 4pm on Monday, I finally cracked.

“Sod them” I thought to myself “I’ll go to Wilkinson’s (my closest local paint supplier) buy a bunch load of “non-dingy” paint and then I’ll drive there and paint it myself”.  OK, granted, I needed to be back in London 33 hours later – but seriously how hard could this be!

I would prove to any viewer my flat was NOT dingy – and to any decorator it would not take DAYS to paint the flat.

In fact, I was so determined to prove the non-dingy facets of my flat I scoured my attic for any NON-dingy pictures and mirrors I could hang to show off the “non-dingy” appeal!

And with a car full of paint and pictures I set off for Newcastle Under Lyme at 5.30am on Tuesday

At 9am I had arrived with several large bags stuffed full of all manner of “un-dingy-fying” supplies.

By 9.05am I had decided I had lost the plot:   The flat was dingy…and it would take days to paint…

BUT

I didn’t have days…I had hours…28 hours to be precise (not counting sleep!)

And I was in that precious moment between when you decide “I’ve lost the plot” to “If I just get on I am sure it can be sorted” when I decided to start playing the radio (from my phone as it had turned out the radio I had brought with me had a broken aeriel – which was enough of a “sign” for me to decide to go home again with my tail between my legs) when Lady Gaga started playing…

And I thought to myself – why don’t I just crack open this tin of magnolia and start painting while I listen to this song…and then I thought I’ll stay and listen to the next song – and before I knew it I had finished one room and it was onto the next

At 11am I decided I hated the furniture in the flat – so I phoned my rubbish guy, who came to collect it and ordered some more off ebay (for delivery that night).

At 3pm I decided I needed new blinds and curtains. So I razzed up to the shops and like a shopaholic on speed bought an abundant variety of styles and sizes.  Unfortunately, I had failed to equip myself with a measuring tape so I decided to work on the laws of probabilities – *buy lots* and, by the very laws of nature, some will fit.  The rest can be returned!

At 7.30pm my new furniture arrived (in which I had a mild heart attack as they had dismantled the furniture for transportation and I have never so much as put ANYTHING together before – let alone anything to do with an *alan key*!!!!!)

At 7.45pm I got to grips with the alan key and twisted and turned various bits until my fingers were sore

At 8.30pm my handy man arrived to help me put up the blinds and pictures (in my careful planning I had forgotten the necessity for any tools which would later prove useful..such as a screwdriver, hammer, drill and so on…but I did have a lot of PAINT!)

At 11pm I could no longer move my hands.  I tried to search the internet on my phone to find a delivery company for take out – but could not even type into the screen! So I gave up and walked to the Chinese for a take out.

5.30am saw me wake and enter a frenzy of glossing and cleaning.

I had no mop – so hands and knees and a cloth were the order of the day. My floors were so bloody clean you could eat your proverbial dinner off them!

I got my favoured Vax from storage and washed the carpets to within an inch of their fibre being.

At 12.30pm I was done.

At 5.30pm viewings were conducted and both viewers LOVED the flat.  In fact, both separate people want to make applications on the flat.

Their feedback: the flat is so lovely and “bright”.  Not “dingy” – BRIGHT!

The moral of the story:

Anything is possible…you just have to believe you can…and get on and do it!

 

 

Why I Decided To Sell My Letting Agency Business

1 Dec

Today I have done what would have been unthinkable only a few months ago.

I have sold my letting agency, Gorgeous Homes.

Why?

The simple answer is to focus on my core business interests.

And unbelievably it is that simple.  Everything else, I have learned, is emotion – and emotion clouds your vision.

Gorgeous Homes started life in August 2007.  I set up the agency first and foremost because I wanted to offer a high level of customer service to my tenants.  At that time, I was running a number of conversion projects in the area.  As a large landlord with properties dotted all over the country, but with quite a few in the Stoke on Trent and Newcastle Under Lyme area, it seemed to make sense.  Plus, I had found ideal premises just down the road from the building sites I was working on.

It’s important to note at this point. I do not live in Stoke and never have – I have always lived in Hertfordshire.  Stoke is a 300 mile round trip from my home…

Anyway, I had found ideal business premises and I was full of the joys of being a “business woman”.  The landlord of the premises wasn’t very convinced – I was a first time business person who had no track record.  But he came round – he made me give personal guarantees, pay a hefty deposit and pay rent in advance.

I didn’t care – I was going to jump through the hoops to do whatever it took.

I took the lease and started preparing the office for our occupation.  Here’s what it looked like before and after:

Gorgeous Homes hartshillGorgeous Homes hartshill

Gorgeous Homes hartshillGorgeous Homes hartshill

 

One week before we were due to open my father died.

My life was thrown into chaos.

At that time I was running building sites, managing teams of builders, trying to get the office ready to open and recruit staff.

I wanted to back out of the office.  I didn’t care that I would lose the 3 years rent I would then be liable for.  I didn’t think I could carry on.

I don’t know how I did it.  Maybe it was because the business gave me something to focus on.  We delayed the opening by one week and Gorgeous Homes opened for business on 13 August 2007.

I don’t have a clear memory of that first year.  I was almost destroyed by grief.

I could hardly face the building sites anymore, for some reason, I blamed them for taking up precious time which I could have spent with my father.

Gorgeous Homes, and the staff I employed, became my lifeblood.

Within a short period of time we had made our mark and successfully taken on a load of new business.

The following 2 years were great – we grew, we expanded, we took on more staff.  Then the growing pains started to appear.  Quantity over quality does not always equal business success.

We found ourselves overwhelmed with a never ending number of problems – non-paying tenants, non-caring landlords and a whole heap of trouble at our door.  Morale hit an all time low.

My new year’s eve was spent on the phone to a landlord discussing the upcoming court case of a non-paying tenant.

Later that night, I made a New Year’s Resolution: I resigned from all “problem properties”.

The 80/20 rule was quite clear to be seen (when you looked!): 20% of our properties made 80% of our cash.  BUT 20% of  our properties made 80% of our problems.  The good thing was: they were a different 20%!

We started to re-focus our efforts on the “better” end of the market – not an easy feat when the UK was stuck in recession and we were operating in an already deprived area of the country.

We decided to take advantage of the depressed commercial property prices and bought our own premises (at auction, of course!) in November 2009.  With over 1500sq ft of space to play with we thought the world was our oyster.  The Regeneration team helped us to transform an ugly derelict building into our gorgeous new offices:

Gorgeous Homes burslem

Unfortunately, looking back now, the timing couldn’t have been worse.  I had started developing property again in London and the South East.  Going to the office and the 300 mile round trip was becoming increasingly time-consuming and a continual juggle.

Hindsight is wonderful.  Now, I can look back and say – why didn’t you sell then?

But I didn’t.

When you start a business, it is your child.  I loved my business, I loved my Gorgeous Homes.  It was a part of me, and a part of my life.  It had my blood, sweat and tears all over the company accounts.

But I didn’t have the time to run it anymore.

I had great staff, but they needed a boss.  And their boss was always at property auctions…

In July this year, my manager left.  I started the recruitment process to find a replacement and was thrilled to find a fantastic employee with the potential to spearhead the office.  I was excited about the future and was ready to build the business again – to push for future growth.

In September/October this year, I took a month out.  With every passing week, I felt increasingly stressed about how I would juggle my commitments to the office alongside my planned property development work.

It was a very simple night out in October when the epiphany happened.  I was sat having a beer at a small bar in a neighbourhood square in Fuerteventura with my other half.  And the realisation just dawned on me:  “I cannot do this anymore.  I cannot split myself geographically to do what is required to ensure the success of the business”.

And it was that simple.

I felt incredibly sad.

I couldn’t believe the decision I had made.  And what shocked me more, was the sheer finality.  I knew then that I was closing the business.

My friend, who is also in property lettings, convinced me I had a business worth selling and that I shouldn’t just close.

I had no idea how to go about selling a business, but I knew there and then that I would have to learn.  My decision had been made – now I had to take action.

I returned from my break on the 16th October.  The next day, I called 3 of my key competitors and asked them if they wanted to buy my lettings agency.  Within 48 hours I had 2 firm interested parties.

I told them the key thing to me was timing.  I was keen to re-focus on my property development work in the South and thus a quick sale was imperative to the deal.  If they couldn’t act quick then the deal was not up for discussion.

I wanted to be able to attend any property auction my heart desired in December.  That meant the sale had to complete by the end of November.

It was a tall order and both my solicitor and accountant thought I was slightly crazy.  I think my friends also thought I’d lost the plot (but they were kind enough never to say anything, and instead showed unwavering loyalty).

On 30th November 2012 Gorgeous Homes closed it’s doors and the new owners took over the business.

How do I feel?

Bereft and excited.

Personally, I believe everybody involved in the situation is a winner.  The new owners are great letting agencies who will give fantastic service to the landlords and tenants.  My remaining member of staff has a fab new role with one of the owners and our premises will be rented to one of these letting agents.

And me.  What will I do now?

I will start a new adventure.

Older and wiser and, with more business nous, I am excited for the future and the possibilities it holds.