Property Partner makes it easy to invest in rental homes intentionally, but what if you are among the growing army who do so accidentally? In this guest blog, Martina Lees, author of The Accidental Landlord and Sunday Times property journalist, tells you how to let out your own property with complete peace of mind. Plus, win 50 books and download a free chapter and landlord checklist at accidentallandlord.info/propertypartner
It happened to David Cameron when he became prime minster. It happened to Daniel Gandesha — and prompted him to found Property Partner. And it happened to Daniel Lees and I (pictured above) when we got married. Not divine inspiration, no, but becoming accidental landlords.
None of us bought our home with the aim to rent it out, but we’ve all done so through circumstance. Cameron let his Notting Hill townhouse while in Downing Street; Gandesha did the same with his Reading home after moving to London (and then found it so hard to invest in more property that he set up this platform). As for us, we ended up letting my husband’s Wimbledon bachelor pad.
Britain now has about 500,000 such accidental landlords, and we’re a tribe on the rise. Since the recession, more and more older owners have held on to their starter homes to rent them out after trading up, according to the London School of Economics. Yet we have to navigate 140-plus landlord laws, post-Brexit market jitters and tax changes that will cause many to make a loss.
There is surprisingly little help for people like us. We have had to learn the hard way — through letting out our flat, then many of our friends’ former homes. Eventually, my husband started swift.property, a lettings agency that looks after the London homes of accidental landlords living on five continents, while I became a property writer for The Sunday Times. Together we have written The Accidental Landlord to guide others like us through the lettings process in five Ps:
You may have started out accidentally, but to succeed in a market that is more expensive, taxed and regulated than ever, you’ll need to be deliberate. Define your goal: do you want monthly income while you start a business, for example, or long-term capital growth to help you retire in comfort? Sit down with a spreadsheet to see if your property will give you what you want. If not, you might be better off selling and investing elsewhere.
Ask your lender for consent to let or take out a buy-to-let loan, for which you’ll need at least 25% equity and rent that is 125%-145% higher than your mortgage payment. If you don’t, your bank may call in your loan — and yes, it happens more often than you think. Letting your home will also invalidate your insurance, so take out landlord buildings cover and, for leasehold flats, inform your freeholder. Get tax advice upfront so you can use all your allowances — if you’re married, transferring ownership to the lower earner could save you thousands in tax.
Homes attract the tenants they deserve. We all think our children are adorable, but being blind to the peeling lino will put off the professionals you seek. Fix those snags and dress your property for your target audience: students want fully furnished while families prefer empty houses to fill with their own furniture.
To stand out in the morass of fuzzy phone snaps on Rightmove, engage a professional photographer for £50-£125. Upload a floor plan to help tenants see whether the layout suits them — sparing you from wasted viewings. Set a realistic rent: look online for similar local properties, then call the agents and ask what rents were agreed. If you ask too much — whether you’re trying to cover your costs or an agent buttered you up with an overestimate — your flat will languish empty.
Tick all the legal boxes. By law, you need an energy performance certificate and an annual gas safety check — give tenants copies of both. You must fit smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, check the electrics are safe and ensure furniture have fire safety labels. Some councils also require you to have a landlord licence, so check with yours. The buck stops with you, not your agent. Their “Oops, my bad” is your invalid insurance, unlimited fine or tenant you can no longer evict.
Don’t let to friends. You’ll feel bad for charging a deposit or increasing the rent, and they won’t like it either. Do thorough checks: call via their employer’s switchboard — not via the number the tenant supplied — and check on the Land Registry whether the named landlord owns their current address. A tenant referencing company will do the legwork for about £30. Above all, go with your gut. Would-be tenants who mess you around or make lots of demands will keep doing so after they move in.Bar exceptional hardship, collect the rent on the dot. Call or email if it is not in your account by noon on the day it is due. Let things slip and the slack or scatty will end up paying later and later.
You will almost certainly have an assured shorthold tenancy. That gives you and your tenants certain rights and duties, even if you scrawl “this is not a tenancy” all over your contract. The government offers a free model contract here.
You must protect the deposit in one of three state-backed schemes within 30 days of receiving it, and give your tenant the scheme’s “prescribed information” to show that you have done so. Use an independent clerk to draw up a written inventory with photos of your property’s contents and condition. Without that, you’ll have a hard time to agree on deposit deductions.
Making prompt repairs keeps tenants happy, costs down (one leaky boiler caused a £55,000 dry rot bill) and it’s the law. Fixing that boiler is not optional, and neither are repairs to the building’s structure, power, water or sanitaryware.
Arm tenants with a house guide on how to use your home and give them a number to call in an emergency. But screen their requests before calling a tradesman — the “broken” boiler might just be switched off. Update tenants on progress and be honest on timescales; keeping them in the dark makes it worse.
Inspect the property for slow-burning maintenance problems at least once a year. To ensure tenants check out without falling out, send them a detailed list of how they should leave the property six weeks prior. Giving them a chance to make good will keep a dream tenancy from ending in a deposit deduction nightmare.
The Accidental Landlord: The Keys to Letting Out Your Own Property with Complete Peace of Mind is out now at £12.99; accidentallandlord.info
Together with Martina Lees, we are giving away 50 free copies of her book at accidentallandlord.info/propertypartner. Plus, everyone who enters will get a free download of the first chapter and a full all-in-one checklist of everything you need to do when you start letting out your home.
Property Partner and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.