Experienced landlord Phil Spencer and the Telegraph’s Christopher Middleton offer their top tips for investing in the buy-to-let market
“There is only one way house prices can travel in the decades ahead,” he says. “Which is why I believe it is good news to invest in property. And if capital values are set to rise over the long term, what about rents?
PHIL’S TOP TIPS
Losing tenants because you did not look after them can turn a good yearly return to nothing. Tenants like to feel they can pick up the phone and talk to someone who has direct contact with the landlord.
You need to be confident that a letting or managing agent is adding value. Some will certainly be cheaper – but will they deliver what they promise?
SOAK UP THE LOCAL KNOWLEDGE
I’ve always chosen a specialist lettings agency who is local to the area to manage my properties and I feel that has given the best result.
LESSONS FROM NATURE
A lot of properties need some paintwork done over time, or need regular window-cleaning. Keep the property in good nick – otherwise the maintenance jobs become far bigger.
INVEST IN THE FAMILY
If you are targeting the families-moving-out-of-the- city market, you may pay a premium for a home in a good school catchment area, but rent will be at a premium and there’s more chance of capital growth. Relocating families, perhaps renting with a view to buying, make good tenants. They have money in the bank and look after a place.
FROM PROFIT TO LOSS
Voids are the real killer of the financial model behind buy-to-let. Do anything you can to avoid them. A long one, or even three short ones in successive years, can turn what would have been a profitable investment into a loss-making one.
Resist the temptation to over-furnish or overstock the property. Ask yourself how much these additions will add to the rent – and the answer is probably none. Tenants won’t choose a property because it has every last gadget in the kitchen. They’ll base their decision on factors such as location and proximity to transport. If your property offers those, you should already be able to get the going rent for it.
Are long-term tenants more demanding than short-term tenants? Not really. Tenants, on the whole, are pretty demanding — and why not? For the landlord, a long-term commitment to rent is good news and it does not mean your tenant pays less rent. If it does mean spending a bit on improving the property, it’s a small price to pay.
SAFE AS HOUSES
If you are an landlord and concerned about whether you can leave your property to tick over in your absence, I would say you shouldn’t have to worry about it if you put it in the hands of a reputable lettings agent.
DRESS TO THRILL
If you have a buy-to-let property that won’t let out, try dressing it. If it looks tired, paint it. If there’s condensation on the windows or a mouldy shower, get rid of it. The property must be clean and it must feel like a home rather than an investment property that you don’t care about.
Set aside three months’ rent in case things go wrong or tenants leave. There will always be maintenance costs too, particularly in older buildings, so there needs to be an allowance for that.
PEACE OF MIND
Lettings agents’ fees can seem chunky but look into them. If you manage it yourself but can’t get to the property easily, and you don’t have a contact for a good plumber who can get there quickly, then it’s a price worth paying.
LOOK AFTER YOUR TENANTS
Fix things as quickly as you can and respond pleasantly if they tell you there’s a problem – otherwise, next time, they may not bother, and the problem will escalate from being a tiny one into a big, costly one.