The harsh reality of being a landlord

by The Scottish Landlord on September 1, 2012

Isn’t it great, being a landlord? I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy spending a quiet Sunday morning sitting counting all my rent money, and trying to decide whether I’ll go to Monaco or Zurich for my next holiday.

If only. The truth is, being a landlord is a tough business. And in today’s climate, that’s even truer. There’s no rising property market to bail you out if you’ve got cashflow problems, and a lot of people have become landlords out of necessity, not choice.

This was really brought home to me recently. I met a landlord at her property, which the tenant had just left. And which they’d trashed. The rooms were full of discarded possessions, the carpets were filthy, there was rubbish all over the back garden, and the kitchen was a complete mess.

It was heartbreaking. And sadly, the former tenant was a single mother on benefits who had just been moved to a council house. So pursuing her for the costs of reinstating the property is a waste of time, and the landlord is once again left holding the can.

What struck me most however was that the landlord wasn’t an investor with a buy to let mortgage. She didn’t get into this game with her eyes wide open, knowing the risks but having decided to roll the dice in the hope of building an investment portfolio.

The property had been her family home. Two years ago, she lost her husband, and remortgaged the property so she could move on with her life. Due to the state of the property market, she reluctantly decided to let the property out in the hope that eventually she’d be able to sell and get what she felt the property was worth. She was the typical reluctant/accidental landlord, and today she found out just how hard this business can be.

The most important fact that people considering renting out their property need to understand is this – being a landlord is tough. While it might be a sensible option to rent out your property, it’s critical that you prepare yourself for the stresses and strains that this will bring. There will be months when rent doesn’t get paid, or there’s a constant stream of maintenance problems, or heaven forbid your darling tenant trashes your property and runs off into the sunset. You need to prepare yourself for these eventualities.

So, what can you do to prepare yourself? Educate yourself. Read this blog. Speak to other landlords. Read forums and find out about the disasters that befall landlords, and how they deal with them. And most importantly, make sure you’ve got a financial contingency fund of at least £3,000. Very few problems will cost any more than this to solve them. If you’re not panicking over how you’re going to get the money together, it’s a lot easier to rationally deal with a problem and focus on getting your property back to the point where it’s bringing in a monthly income again.

Finally, remember that property will not get you rich quick. It will get you very rich, slowly.

The Scottish Landlord.

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The urban jungle – what’s growing in your gutter?

by The Scottish Landlord on September 1, 2012

Let’s be honest. You’re a landlord, I’m a landlord. We’re amongst friends here. So it’s okay to admit that we try to avoid spending money on our rental properties. Now, I don’t mean that we avoid the essentials, like gas safety certificates, electrical safety and keeping the walls and carpets in good condition. No, I mean those hidden areas that have no impact whatsoever on safety, on how much rent we can get or how quickly the property will let out. Those areas where spending money gets us nothing in return except a well maintained asset that we can keep sweating for a couple more years while we wait for house prices to explode again so we can sell up and move to Marbella.

Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean. When did you last check what’s been left up in the attic? Re-felted a leaky garden shed recently?

But I’m sorry to say, some of these things do need attention. And in my mind, the most important is your gutters.

Now, I didn’t say this topic would be sexy. Cleaning your gutters regularly won’t have people beating a path to your door so they can rent your property. And chances are, your tenants won’t give two hoots if you clean them or not. But you should.

If you don’t clean your gutters regularly (we’ll get on to how regularly in a minute) there’s only one thing that’s going to happen. They’re going to turn into miniature rooftop gardens. Before you know it, you’ll have plant life popping its head over the top all along your guttering. And this is bad, because if your gutters are full of plants, they’re not going to do what they’re supposed to – get rid of all that rain water we get so much of.

Choked gutters are a major cause of dampness. If water can’t drain freely, your gutters will back up and overflow, causing water to find its way through your walls. And there’s nothing worse than water getting into your property. At the least, you might need to carry out redecoration, but you could end up with more serious damp problems.

However, all this can be easily avoided. If you carry out routine cleaning of your gutters, you’ll significantly reduce the risk of water damage. Have your gutters cleared each year at the end of Autumn, when you’re most likely to have fallen leaves clogging them up, and you should be fine.

If you’re fairly handy and have a head for heights, you can clear your gutters out yourself. Otherwise, search online for local companies that offer gutter cleaning; getting your gutters cleaned on a standard two storey property should cost no more than £100. If you’re based in Edinburgh or the Lothians, I recommend Eco Pressure Clean. I’ve used them for a few of my properties and have been really impressed with the service I’ve had from them. They use a nifty waterless system for cleaning which involves a long pole with a high pressure vacuum and wireless camera, enabling them to survey the gutters and clean them from ground level.

If you’ve got a lot of trees near your property, or you’re finding your gutters fill with junk quickly, you might want to consider fitting some form of gutter guard. There are lots of different companies offering these online, but basically they’re covers that fit onto your gutters and prevent debris from falling in. They’re relatively inexpensive to buy and look straightforward to fit, so the main cost comes if you don’t want to fit them yourself. However, fitting these should significantly reduce the frequency that you need to get your gutters cleaned out, so over the long term it’s probably well worth going to the bother of fitting them.

To summarise; if you’re not routinely cleaning your gutters, you’re opening yourself up to problems. Get your gutters cleaned regularly, and give some thought to fitting guards. It might not get you more rent, but it should save you money in the long run, and that’s what it’s all about.

The Scottish Landlord.

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The Tenancy Deposit Scheme in Scotland – what you need to do as a landlord

June 5, 2012

So, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that the Scottish Tenancy Deposit Scheme is coming. And it’s coming soon. If you’ve got no idea what I’m talking about, see my last post – Tenancy Deposit Scheme comes to Scotland. If you’re a landlord in Scotland, you’re going to have to do a few things […]

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Tenancy Deposit Scheme comes to Scotland

June 4, 2012

Unless you’ve been living on Mars for the last year, it’s probably not escaped your attention that in July 2012 Scotland’s very own Tenancy Deposit Scheme will leap into action. The Tenancy Deposit Schemes (Scotland) legislation was passed in March 2011 and since then everyone’s been on tenterhooks, waiting to find out when the scheme […]

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