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How to succeed as a landlord

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Are you wondering how to succeed as a landlord in 2023? Is it still worth being a landlord nowadays? With headwinds from the cost of living crisis, high interest rates, high inflation, high taxes and legislative uncertainty, what’s the best way to go about investing in real estate?

In this blog post, I explain the 10 key fundamental principles that will help landlords get started and succeed at build your net worth sustainably for the future. The same principles apply, regardless of your choice of investment strategy, from flipping, single lets, HMOs, property development to serviced accommodation.

Following these 10 tips will ensure you build a successful property portfolio on solid foundations, so you can thrive whatever the economic climate.

Updated: 16 October 2023

1. Build a strong team

two builders inspecting the pointing on the rear elevation of a victorian buy to let property investment
I use a trusted firm of local builders on my refurbishments – here they are assessing what needs re-pointing

Investing in property is not like investing in the stock market where you can research stock and make a purchase on an online platform without interacting with anyone. It’s not possible for even self-managing landlords to do everything themselves. This means that landlords need a good team around them.

If you’re raising finance, it’s important to use a mortgage broker who specialises in property investment to advise on the best buy to let mortgages or bridging loans, if significant refurbishment is needed.

A good solicitor is also a must. You do get what you pay for with solicitors, and you don’t want to be the one holding things up. It’s a false economy to get a cheap conveyancer. You’ll need someone who is experienced and practice, who is able to chivvy things along. Especially if you’re buying through a limited company. For more tips, here is a blog post on how to speed up buy to let conveyancing.

Money spent on an accountant will usually pay for itself, and it’s a tax deductible expense. It’s another false economy to try to do it yourself, unless of course you’re an accountant!

Finally, you’ll need good trades people, unless you’re a multi-skilled builder, and even then you’re likely to need a qualified gas engineer and an electrician. Life as a landlord will be a lot easier if you have trusted trades people you can call on during the refurbishment and also after the property is let.

2. Being a landlord is a business

A classic mistake is not treating being a landlord as running a business. Just as with any business, in order to succeed as a landlord, you need to be clear on your goals and your strategy to help you achieve them.

Focus on the needs of your target market

Whatever the strategy, you need to research your target market, pinpoint locations where there is strong demand, and explore how you will meet this demand.

Most importantly, you need to be clear how you will make a profit on your investment. If you’re not going to make a profit, you’d might as well put your money in the bank.

>> Related Post: What makes a rental property attractive to families

Decide on your investment goals

Be very clear on your goals for your investment. What does success look like?Are you looking for capital growth after flipping? Long-term income? A certain return on investment? What type of input will you need to achieve these goals? For instance, do you have the infrastructure in place to manage serviced accommodation? What level of cash will you need going forward? How much investment will you need up front?

Plan how you will make a profit

It’s important to plan how you’ll make and maintain a profit.

If you’re looking to flip a property, instead of renting it out, everything you spend should be focussed on improving the resale value. This does include updating the property, but if an item doesn’t increase the value, then think hard about whether it’s necessary. Your taste might not be someone else’s, so flipping properties isn’t the time to take design and decoration risks, as you’ll probably narrow your market.

One of the biggest costs for a landlord can be the fees paid to letting agents to find tenants and manage the property. However, it’s possible to do this yourself. I use OpenRent to find tenants at a fraction of the cost of high street letting agents. I’ve also always managed my properties myself, saving around 15% a year of the gross rent per property. Sure it does take a bit of effort, but the savings go right through to the bottom line.

>> Related Post: How to find tenants yourself

>> Related Post: How to self-manage your buy to let

Landlords need to increase rents

The days are gone when landlords only put up rents when a new tenant moves in. Landlords should increase rents every year, so that they track market rents. That said, it’s usual for landlords to increase rents for existing renters by a lower amount than the average for new tenancies. This rewards loyal renters and helps avoid rent shock with large increases.

Some landlords are reluctant to raise rents, but if they don’t do not it in a period of high inflation, they’re effectively reducing the rent each year.

According to the ONS data released in October 2023, private rental prices increased by 5.6% per annum in England, 6.9% in Wales, and 6.0% in Scotland in the 12 months to September 2023. This includes all tenancies, including existing tenancies. This is a little less than wage inflation.

>> Related Post: How to increase rent

Paperwork

Do also keep records of expenses, as regardless of whether you buy a property through a limited company or as a sole trader, you’ll need to file a tax return.

Make sure you update the EPC if you’ve done work to improve energy efficiency, and keep on top of your paperwork.

3. Take a long-term view

Unless you’re buying a property to sell as quickly as possible, property should be seen as a long-term investment. When refurbishing properties for letting, whether it’s a single let, HMO or serviced accommodation, it’s worth investing in quality materials such as carpet that will last.

Arrange for a gas engineer to service your boiler every year at the same time as the gas safety certificate, as it’ll last longer.

Keeping up with repairs will help preserve the long-term value of your property, and help achieve higher rents. It also improves the experience of your renters, who are more likely to want to stay if it’s well maintained.

4. Include safety buffer

landlord shown as man on trampoline, surrounded by padding to help him succeed in 2023
Don’t try and fly without somewhere soft to land

A recession in a period of high inflation is not a time to over-stretch yourself. The cost of materials and labour has shot up over the last year. It’s very easy to spend more than you expect. Also, if re-selling a property in 2023, you’re won’t the “free” uplift from a rising market.

Be conservative about your estimates and your assumptions so you have sufficient padding if things don’t turn out as expected. After all, no-one predicted base rates would increase to over 5% 18 months ago.

For further advice on how to survive a recession, click here to read my recession-busting tips.

5. How to achieve financial freedom through property

Property gurus often talk about financial freedom. But what does that actually mean?

I think financial freedom means having enough reliable income and investments to fund the lifestyle you aspire to.

Property can be an excellent way of building wealth over the long term. Or even the short term if you’re successful at flipping. However, flipping is a lot riskier and harder to do successfully in a recession.

Sure, recycling deposits and expanding as a landlord through debt can be a good way to start your property journey. However, surely financial freedom isn’t about being saddled with so much debt there’s not enough margin for a big bill? Or fearing the next refinancing because the property value has dropped and the interest rates have gone up.

Many people will advise borrowing as much as you can and taking out as much money as possible when you refinance. I disagree with this. With interest rates going up, having lower levels of borrowing is good for your cash flow, as your net income will be higher with less interest to pay.

It can also be very tempting to measure success by how many “doors” you have as a landlord, or how many properties you’ve flipped. However, it’s all about the bass, to borrow from Meaghan Trainor.

Working towards financial freedom means increasing your net worth. This means net profit, the bottom line, not gross turnover. Building net assets, not building debt. Your property portfolio isn’t worth £1 million if the mortgages or third party financing total £750,000. The real worth is £250,000. The bank or other investors own the rest and shouldn’t be included in the value of your portfolio.

True financial freedom means building your net worth over the long term. Then you’ll be free from worrying about your finances.

6. Don’t be too trusting

Property investor checking company on Companies House website
It’s easy to check a company on the Companies House website

The old adage that if something looks to be good to be true, it probably is, is correct. Be very wary about people offering you something that sounds like an exceptionally good return, and do your due diligence.

Many unscrupulous companies and individuals try to prey on people’s inexperience or trusting nature to promise high returns that prove to be a scam or just wishful thinking.

For instance, let’s take schemes that are supposed to save you tax. HMRC published a warning in October 2023 that transferring ownership of properties to a limited liability doesn’t work, and is tax avoidance. These schemes have been heavily marketed by tax “consultants”, and unfortunately many landlords are having to unravel these schemes.

If you’re planning on using a builder, or even appointing a new letting agent, there’s a lot of information on companies available for free on the Companies House website.

You shouldn’t be afraid to ask for references. If you’re thinking of using new builders for a big refurbishment, ask to visit a previous job, speak to the client and see the quality of their work. Good builders won’t mind.

>> Related Post: How to get the best out of managing agents

>> Related Post: What landlords need to know about Section 24

7. Don’t be a shark

shake hands with fingers crossed to show unethical behaviour
Don’t be a shark – once your reputation is lost, it’s difficult to get back

Even though there’s a recession and prices are dropping, do behave ethically. It’s very easy to get a bad reputation if you go back on your word without good reason.

If the situation does change for the worse, for instance an unexpectedly bad survey, be upfront about it, and think about how you would wish to be treated if the positions were reversed.

Don’t be one of those sharks who tries to renegotiate a price shortly before exchange, just because you have the upper hand. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Far better to get a reputation for being fair but professional, as estate agents are more likely to call you first with the next good deal. What goes around comes around.

Let your word be your bond. After all, you’re in it for the long term.

8. Think sustainability

word sustainability in trees and flowers

Part of investing for the long term is building a sustainable business. This doesn’t just mean investing in energy efficiency (click here for some energy efficiency tips), although that’s a start.

It means being a good steward of assets. Also, it means being socially responsible in the way you go about managing your investments, being a good landlord and looking after your properties properly. Thinking about sustainability and the needs of your renterswhen refurbishing.

New doesn’t necessarily mean better. Look for ways to recycle or improve what you have. Not all properties need new kitchens. A good clean and a lick of paint can do wonders. Not only does this say money, it also means less goes into landfill.

To find out more on what sustainability means to property investors, click here to read my blog post on ESG.

9. Be adaptable

Key to thriving in a difficult times is being adaptable. For instance, you might buy a property to resell, but its value drops due to falling house prices. In this case, it makes sense to pivot to letting the property for a few years until prices come back up again. There’s no shame in this. It’s being adaptable.

Being adaptable also means keeping up with new ways of doing things. This includes embracing new technologies and new ways of working, like using virtual property assistants. Take a look at this blog post to see how landlords of larger portfolios obtain economies of scale (lower costs) by moving from agents to virtual teams.

Adaptability also means adapting to legal changes. For instance, although the requirement to upgrade rental properties to an EPC was abandoned by Rishi Sunak in September 2023, this would change under a Labour government. It makes sense to start factoring that into your decision making now.

If you’re flipping a property, improving the EPC to a C will make it easier to sell. If you’re a landlord, an EPC makes it easier to rent. You can do the investments over a few years to spread the cost. You’ll also then avoid the scramble for EPC assessors and insulation if and when the rules come in.

Likewise with the Renters Reform Bill. It makes sense to start thinking about what changes you’ll need to make to adapt to the “once in a generation” change for the private rented sector.

Being adaptable is a state of mind which is crucial to success in property investing. There’s no point having the perfect strategy for 2019 or 2021 in 2023. Don’t be afraid to go back to change your approach if conditions change. We don’t yet know what 2024 will bring, but we need to be thinking about how best to adapt to the new normal.

>> Related Post: How to get ready for the Renters Reform Bill

10. Keep learning

landlord studying a blog post from The Independent Landlord in 2023 to learn how to succeed
Keep adding to your knowledge by reading articles from reliable sources

One of the aspects that makes being a landlord so challenging and interesting is that there is always more to learn. Not only is the legal landscape constantly changing with new laws coming into force each year, but different economic conditions require different responses.

In order to succeed as a landlord, it’s very important to keep refreshing your knowledge to keep up to date. Not only will you then understand your legal responsibilities, but you’ll also be a better landlord, and plan ahead to make sure you stay on top of everything.

Don’t even consider becoming a landlord if you’re not willing to educate yourself about your legal responsibilities. Even if you outsource management. Managing agents and letting agents sadly don’t always do what they’re supposed to (I speak from experience), and the buck rightly stops with the landlord. This means you need to be educated so you can supervise what they’re doing.

Educating yourself doesn’t have to mean having to spend thousands on a property guru course. You can subscribe to my weekly newsletter for free to keep up to date with what’s happening in the property world.

Another good approach is to join the NRLA and become an accredited landlord member. By doing their Landlord Fundamentals course, you can be assured you know all the basics to help you succeed

Finally, read this blog post on why it’s a myth that landlords earn passive income.

Good luck with the property investing!

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Man jumping on trampoline with padding around it, to show how to succeed as a landlord in 2023

4 thoughts on “How to succeed as a landlord”

  1. Variable Home Loan Rates

    I love this insight about property investment . Thanks for sharing this

  2. Revolve Commercial

    Investing in property is a good move that everyone should follow through.

  3. Mortgage Broker and Real Estate Agent

    Hi there! Your website’s content is truly impressive. Your blogs are a goldmine of information, and I’m excited to dive deeper into this subject through your posts. Your approach to tackling this topic is admirable. Keep shining and inspiring others! I really appreciate this blog about property investment .

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