When you think of a landlord or a property investor, what picture comes to mind? For those who remember the 1970s sitcom, Rising Damp, it might be Mr Rigsby: middle-aged, mean-spirited and male. However, times have thankfully changed. According to the English Private Landlord survey published in 2022, 51% of landlords who have invested in up to 5 rental properties are women.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2023, this blog post focuses on the successes of four women as property investors, and the strategies they’ve used to grow their businesses. I also look back at how far women in the last hundred or so years.
At a glance
A look back in time
Before we look at women investing in property today, I’d like to celebrate one of our female forebears and remind ourselves how far women have come.
When buying one of my Victorian buy to lets in Maidstone, I spotted an interesting entry in the Register of Title. The original property developer who sold the property in 1902 was a woman called Louisa Isabella Whatman.
How can this be, considering women did not receive equal rights to own property until 1926? (A right granted in a section in the Law of Property Act 1925 called ‘Married women and lunatics‘!)
Mrs Whatman was able to build and sell this development of Victorian houses, and donate land to build a church, all in her own name, because she was a widow. Unlike married women, widows were legally permitted to own and manage property themselves. But when women married, their property automatically belonged to their husbands under the common law doctrine of coverture.
She was the widow of James Whatman, the local Liberal Party MP and owner of the Whatman paper-making empire based in Maidstone. He died in 1887, shortly before Mrs Whatman started building this large housing development for families.
Mrs Whatman died in 1905, more than 20 years before women were given the right to vote in the UK.
However, it wasn’t until the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 was passed in 1975 that discrimination against women or marital status by employers and banks was outlawed. The practice of demanding a male guarantor on a woman’s mortgage application lasted until the late 1970s.
Incredibly, independent taxation for married women didn’t come into effect in the UK until 1990. Before then, married women did not have a personal allowance or basic rate band in their own right. Married women also weren’t able to submit independent tax returns.
Although we now have legal equality in the UK, there are still more than 30 countries, where women and girls don’t have the same rights to own and inherit land as men and boys.
Kim Opszala – HMOs
Our first modern day investor is Kim Opszala, who started out investing in properties in 2015, and set up KoMo Properties with her husband Mike in 2016. Since then, the business has grown to over 40 tenants in 3 single lets and 7 HMOs.
Kim qualified as a solicitor more than ten years ago, and has specialised in corporate law. Lawyers are used to getting up to speed on new areas of law, assessing risk, and coming up with a plan to navigate new situations. Perfect for the roller coaster that is investing in property!
Although Kim started with single lets, she prefers HMOs due to the high cash flow and return on investment they can offer compared to other strategies. She uses a number of different strategies to own or control HMOs, adding income to KoMo’s property business. This includes rent to rent, purchase lease options and Buy, Refurbish, Rent, Refinance.
As you can see from the beautiful properties showcased on the KoMo Properties website, Kim is very creative. Each property has its own project name (eg KOMO BAY, KOMO HAVANA and KOMO KINGSTON), named after places in the Caribbean. Not a standard white wall and grey carpet room in sight! She loves putting their stamp on the interiors of each property, and she celebrates her Caribbean heritage by using the bright colours and natural materials of the Caribbean. This creativity and care shine through in the stunning final results.
Kim’s success is all the more remarkable because Kim and her family have become “digital nomads” since the pandemic ended. They manage their portfolio while on the road in a camper van, using a mixture virtual property assistants and a part-time property manager. For more information on how Kim does this, read my blog post about managing larger portfolios. Here’s the link to follow KoMo Properties on Instagram.
Not only does property investing give Kim financial freedom, it gives her geographic freedom. It’s very inspirational.
Heather Smail – Flexibility!
Another inspiring woman in property is Heather Smail, who invests in Nottinghamshire. Although Heather has been investing in property for over ten years, she found her sixth gear during lockdown. Heather set up Blonde Property in 2020 and doubled her portfolio in two years. She hasn’t stopped there, and continues to add to her portfolio through Heather Smail Property Group Ltd.
Heather doesn’t have a favourite property investment strategy, other than being flexible, and focussing on high quality. She believes it’s important to be able to adapt quickly to market conditions, and not get fixated by a single strategy. (Note to self, be more flexible!)
As well as the usual flips, refurbs and buy to lets, she works as a developer for herself. Heather also provides services as a property consultant and strategy builder for clients, having built a “full power team for hand held property investing”. This year, she has started to mentor budding property investors and plans to launch a training course.
Heather has a degree in business, and a background in marketing and buying. Her flair for marketing, shows in her distinctive Blonde Property account on Instagram, and her experience as a buyer is invaluable for property sourcing.
For more on Heather’s journey, do listen to Heather’s moving and inspirational interviews with Christian Rodwell on the Wealthtalk podcast from July 2022 and Raj Chengadu on Property Investing 2.0 in September 2022.
Louise Reynolds – Buy to lets
With a background in marketing and management consultancy, Louise Reynolds first started investing in property in 2007 to build up a retirement pot.
Louise’s preferred strategy is to buy and hold freehold houses as single let rental properties. She also favours freehold over leasehold, as there is more control over running costs, and there aren’t concerns with service charges and ground rent. There’s also no complication of having to get the freeholder’s consent for improvements. (Read this blog post for more on the benefits of houses over flats as buy to lets).
Also, Louise believes that flipping properties eats into profits, because of stamp duty and expenses. This is particularly true where she invests in Surrey. The county’s high house prices translate into high stamp duty.
Louise prefers character properties and enjoys increasing value to homes by creating quality places for families. She gives the example of her latest residential project in Surrey (see the photo above), where she, has transformed an ‘uninhabitable’ house to a modern, well-designed, low-maintenance, quality home. It also has an EPC C, and retains its Victorian character and charm. Louise shares her secrets on Mission EPC C in her blog post here.
In terms of advice to women starting out in property, Louise stresses it’s important to play to your strengths and understand yourself. You need to be willing to learn, and understand your tolerance to risk. Buy to lets may be better-suited to risk-averse investors, whereas developing is higher risk.
Louise regularly gives presentations at property networking events on investing in property. You can hear her useful advice on property due diligence in this interview of Stephanie Taylor on the Rent2Rent Success podcast in February 2022. Louise also provides advice to property investors in the UK and Europe – click here for more details.
Lisa Brown – Supported living
Our final investor is Lisa Brown, who specialises in supported living, a living arrangement for tenants with support needs. The support needs arise for many reasons, including disability, learning difficulties or young people in care. Housing is provided along with support, supervision or care, to help people live as independently as possible in the community. Click this link for the National Statement of Expectations on supported housing the government website.
Typically, supported living involves a property owner entering into a lease with a service provider, who is responsible for providing support to the tenants. Depending on their support needs, the property may need adapting. This is a growth area due to huge waiting lists for safe homes for people with support needs to live in.
Before becoming a property investor in 2018, Lisa worked as nurse for over 20 years. In her career, she worked her way up up to Senior Sister and Emergency Nurse Practitioner in a busy East London A&E and as a Health Visitor. She discovered supported living property by chance and found it a natural fit with her experience as a nurse.
Not only is Lisa is the host of The Supported Living Property Podcast, she is the founder of the Supported Living Property Network. The network provides training and a place for providers and property investors to connect. Lisa also helps property investors develop safe, high quality homes for supported living. Click here to follow Lisa on Instagram.
Unlike when Mrs Whatman built her terraced houses in Maidstone in the early 1900s, there are no legal restrictions on women investing in property in the UK today.
In fact, property investing enables women to grow wealth and build financial independence, on their own terms, outside of a corporate environment.
As you can see from the wide range of property investing strategies which Kim, Heather, Louise and Lisa use, there is something for everyone. In each case, they use transferrable skills and expertise developed outside of property, and focus on quality as property investors.
Next time you hear the word landlord, don’t assume the landlord is a man. It’s just as likely to be a woman!