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Stay Aware of the Local Market Conditions When Renting Flats

Local market conditions – like the national economy – can drastically affect your profit margins.

Before buying property, check out the local rental market – number and type of rental properties available, number and size of local companies, road/bus/rail/tube networks etc. All of these can impact on how many potential tenants wish to rent your flat, thus impacting on empty periods and profitability.

Be aware, however, that all of these factors can change over time. In order to make sure that your important investment doesn’t suffer, stay aware of changes in the local market. We learnt this the hard way with our flats to rent in Ipswich.

We did all our preliminary research thoroughly. Apart from checking out the local employment situation and communications, we also contacted various local letting agents; they all told us that flats in Ipswich were far more sought after than houses and that Ipswich flats would yield a better monthly rent.

We therefore bought two trial flats on the Ravenswood estate of Ipswich; the flats rented quickly, as did flats that relatives bought. We therefore “stuck with what we knew” and bought 6 more flats to rent in Ipswich over the next six years.

Preoccupied with other areas of life, we did not reconsider our investments once a host of flats began sprouting up all over Ipswich. Large blocks of flats were built here, there and everywhere and investors were busy snapping up many within the new blocks.

As a result, flats that were once easy to rent now are in competition with many others whilst houses are like gold-dust and rent within a day or two of coming on the market. Unlike other investors elsewhere in the UK, we have not been able to put up the rents since buying the properties 10 years ago whereas, had we taken a sideways step and bought a couple of houses rather than flats, our profit margins would be better.


A Tip for Marketing Rental Flats

When marketing your rental flats (or houses), NEVER underestimate the power of word of mouth to your own personal grapevine.

You tell 10 friends and family that you have a rental flat or house coming empty – odds are each of these people will know enough about 30-100 or so people to know whether they are looking for somewhere to rent. Therefore, with just a few casual conversations, the 10 people you tell becomes 300-1000 people!!

Whilst renting out own Ipswich rental flats, we have often suceeded in renting them (at a time when letting agents were drawing a blank) by telling colleagues, friends, family and even a few casual acquaintances.

Example 1: a lady I worked with in Ipswich was getting divorced; she didn’t need rental accommodation but her ex-husband viewed our flat and five years later he is still a good tenant.

Example 2: a man I worked with on an occasional basis had a trial separation from his wife; he rented a rental house of ours before moving into a penthouse flat when we sold the house.

Example 3: another colleague had a sister who needed t0 rent a flat; the sister stayed in our flat for about a year.

Example 4: my son had a friend who needed to rent a flat; on a different occasion, the same son had a colleague who was looking to rent.

Example 5: we recently had two properties to let in Ipswich – these properties had been on the books of one Ipswich letting agent for a month and we had just given them to a second letting agent. We asked a friend if she wanted to rent one house – she wasn’t ready for moving at that point but phoned back later that evening to say a friend of hers had just split with her partner and could she rent it. We spoke to the neighbours of the other Ipswich house and asked him to keep an eye on the empty property and he said that a lady at his church was looking for a house to rent in Ipswich and could she rent it?

In all of the above situations, renting via word of mouth not only secured a tenant quicker than would have happened had we trusted solely to  a letting agent but also meant that we did not have the – significant – cost of letting agent’s fees.

Rental Flats and Houses: Consider What Tenant’s Need When Furnishing

 Obviously, when furnishing your rental flat or house, you need to make the place look attractive so that it will create an instant appeal with prospective tenants. See tips for making your rental property look good and rent fast.

It is also, however, important to provide tenants with the storage and facilities that they need.

1 Kitchen

Within the kitchen, tenants need good cooking facilities (a modern oven and preferably a microwave as well as a toaster and kettle).

They also need adequate storage facilities – space for china, cutlery, cooking utensils AND food. Most tenants like a freezer as well as a fridge – or at least a large fridge-freezer rather than being expected to cope with a small ice-making compartment at the top of a small fridge.

Most modern tenants also want a tumble-drier as well as a washing-machine – or, failing this, a combined washer-drier.

2 Tenant Bedrooms

Professional adult tenants require a double or kingsize bed – regardless of whether the flat or house is rented to a single person or a couple. In today’s market, single beds are generally only acceptable for children or occasional visitors.

Storage space in the form of wardrobes, chest-of-drawers, dressing table and bedside tables needs to be sufficient for the average person/couple. Where space is tight, a built-in wardrobe permits for storage shelves above the height of the average wardrobe and beds with built-in drawers provide additional storage.

Ensure that all beds are clean and comfortable – would you like to sleep on a rock-hard bed or a lumpy bed with a saggy mattress? Would you want to sleep on a bed with a soiled mattress? – Note that it is sensible to provide mattress protectors and to stipulate in the contract that these must be used at all times.

3 Guest Bedrooms

Many houses and some flats have smaller “guest” bedrooms. Consider furnishing these to appeal to tenants wanting a bedroom for visitors as well as tenants wanting an office where they can bring work home to. A futon or single bed together with a computer desk and chair and a small bookcase if room generally does the trick.

4 Lounge – Lounge/Diner

Most people like to relax on a settee so try to provide a settee with a second settee (or matching comfy chairs) for visitors. As with the beds, ensure that these are clean and comfortable – would you want to relax on a rock-hard settee or sit on grimy chairs?

Within the dining-room/dining-area, provide a table and chairs – enough for the tenants and a couple of visitors.

A sideboard can provide additional storage space if the kitchen is small.

5 Bathroom

Most tenants like a shower as well as a bath. Don’t forget little things such as towel rails, toilet roll holders, bath/shower tidies and bathroom mirrors. A cheap plastic hook on the bathroom door can be useful for clothes.

6 Other.

Don’t forget the little touches – a mirror in the hall so guest can check their appearance as they leave, a hall table for keys, coat hooks for outdoor coats. Somewhere within your rented flat or house it is also nice to supply a bookcase or too.

How to Furnish Your Flat so it Rents Fast, Fast FAST!

You’re a landlord so you need your flat to rent fast. Right? After all, flats that remain unoccupied for long periods of time cost you money – there’s no rent coming in but you still have the mortgage and utilities to pay.

Therefore furnish your flat so it rents fast … FAST … FAST!

In addition to furnishing your flat or house to provide what the tenant needs, consider the following.

1 Neutral is Best

In most situations, renting a flat fast is like selling a house fast – you need to appeal to as many people as possible by making sure that the colours and the furniture are things that the majority of prospective tenants will not quarrel with. In a word, make them neutral.

Yes, you may love deep purple walls and red sofas and pink accessories, but this will alienate many would-be tenants thus making your flat stand empty for weeks – if not months – before the “right” tenant comes along.

You may be a young man who loves dark, masculine colours and strong bold statements – or you may be a middle-aged lady who loves pretty pink floral curtains and pink floral sofas … and pink china … and nice floral pictures. Whatever your own personal taste is, try to think beyond what YOU would like and consider what the average tenant would like. Try to buy furniture – and use colour-schemes – that will appeal to a young man in his early twenties or to a divorced woman in her forties or to a couple in their thirties or fifties.

In our experience, furniture that is modern and wooden (or wooden veneer) and of a relatively conventional design will generally appeal to most people. As far as colour schemes go, a cream/magnolia type of colour scheme on the walls with fawn or light rust carpets and a few touches of colour in the accessories generally go down well.

2 Warm Colours are Easier than Cold Ones

How do you make a north-facing room seem more inviting? Use colours that have a warmish undertone to them – for example, choose cream settees and chair-coverings that are a warm shade of cream rather than those that have a cold undertone. Then coordinate the warm look with a few colourful warm accessories – rust-coloured cushions or brown/red pictures.

Even if you love dramatic/dark colour schemes, try to keep things fairly light and cheerful – if you wish to have a dark settee (many landlords consider dark settees don’t show the dirt as much as lighter colours do) then match this with wooden furniture that is of a lighter shade of wood so that the flat doesn’t seem too oppressive or too masculine.

3 Coordinate your Furniture

Try to coordinate the furniture throughout your flat – for example, if your kitchen has birch-veneer cupboards, then choose birch-veneer furniture for the lounge and bedroom(s) and dining-room (if any). If the flat has a unified look and feel throughout then, even if the furniture is not all that expensive, it will have a classier feel than a flat furnished with mismatching odds and ends.

Property Inventories

When renting property,  ALWAYS ensure you create an inventory of all rooms. Include everything on this inventory – condition of walls, kitchen cupboards, furniture, carpets etc as well as light fittings supplied and type of cooker. Be specific – is the microwave brand a or brand b, is the mattress make x or make y and what pattern is on it?

In the worst-case scenario, someone COULD take your beautiful new double mattress and replace it with an old mattress from the tip!

For reference, we have attached a sample inventory we recently did for one of our flats (please excuse the poor formatting – you get the idea!)

Inventory For Flat X, Date Y

ITEM                                                                                                                                         CONDITION

1 key for communal entrance door, 1 key for flat entrance, 1 post box key 1 electricity meter key
Orange carpet, cream walls, white ceiling, white doors with brass handles                                     New
Medium size wall-mounted Dimplex heater                                                                                  New
Cream intercom phone                                                                                                                New
Ceiling light with silver lampshade                                                                                                New
4 gold coathooks on a wooden plinth                                                                                           New
2 fuse boxes                                                                                                                                New
Master Bedroom
Orange carpet, cream walls, white ceiling, double-glazed window                                                 New
White door with brass handle and gown hook                                                                              New
Small wall-mounted Dimplex heater                                                                                             New
Double bed and matching Sleepcraft mattress, cream with blue lines                                             Good
Mattress protector                                                                                                                      New
Light green padded headboard                                                                                                    Good
2 matching birch-effect bedside tables                                                                                          New
2 matching silver/glass bedside lights, extension lead behind bed                                                   New
2 matching 3-drawer birch effect chest of drawers with wooden mirror on wall                             New
Natural wood curtain pole with wooden pole ends                                                                       New
Lined cream curtains with cream pattern with curtain tie backs                                                      New
3 light circular chrome ceiling light                                                                                                New
Full length fitted wardrobe with three sliding mirrored doors, silver edging, shelves & rail               New
Second Bedroom
Orange carpet, cream walls, white ceiling, double-glazed window                                                 New
White door with brass handle and gown hook                                                                              New
Small wall-mounted Dimplex heater                                                                                             New
Single bed                                                                                                                                   New*
Cream Headboard                                                                                                                      New*
Mattress protector                                                                                                                      New
Blue computer chair                                                                                                                    New
Birch-effect computer table with white pull-outshelf                                                                      New
Natural wood curtain pole with wooden pole ends                                                                       New
Cream curtains, material tie backs                                                                                                New
Large birch-effect bookcase with two shelves                                                                              New
3 light circular chrome ceiling light                                                                                                New
*=To be delivered
Orange carpet, cream walls, white ceiling                                                                                     New
Two frosted double-glazed windows,                                                                                          New
White door with brass handle and gown hook                                                                              New
High wall-mounted convector heater, extractor fan on ceiling                                                        New
White tiles on all walls, with black border with inlaid squares                                                        New
Matching white dimple tiles and border floor-ceiling in shower                                                      New
Matching white bathroom suite comprising:
Bath with mixer chrome taps, chrome/white shower attachment                                                    New
Roca sink with chrome mixer taps                                                                                                New
Roca WC with chrome flush buttons                                                                                            New
Shower tray, glass and white doors to two sides, chrome “New Team” shower                            New
White heated towel rail                                                                                                                New
Ceiling light                                                                                                                                 New
White rimmed circular mirror                                                                                                       Good
White blind                                                                                                                                 New
Rust-coloured mats for bath and WC                                                                                          New
White and chrome stand-alone toilet roll holder                                                                            Good
Chrome Bin                                                                                                                                Good
White toilet brush and holder                                                                                                       Fair
Chrome shower tidy                                                                                                                    New
Airing cupboard with MegaFlo boiler and slatted wooden shelf                                                    New
Silver Ultralight 1400W upright vacuum cleaner                                                                           New
Turbo steam Morphy Richards iron                                                                                             Good
Ironing board – blue cover with stars                                                                                           New
Brush                                                                                                                                          Good
Dustpan and brush                                                                                                                      New
Orange carpet, cream walls, white ceiling                                                                                     New
Double-glazed patio doors to black balcony with black rails, 1 patio door key                              New
Large wall-mounted Dimplex heater                                                                                             New
White door with brass handle                                                                                                      New
Matching 2-seater and 3-seater cream leather sofas                                                                     New
Birch-effect coffee table                                                                                                              New
Birch-effect TV stand with 2 shelves                                                                                            New
Natural wood curtain pole with wooden ends                                                                               New
Full-length, lined cream curtains with ivory writing for patio doors, matching tie backs                   New
2 3-arm gold ceiling lights                                                                                                            New
Extending circular birch-effect dining table                                                                                    Good
4 birch-effect chairs with cream seat coverings                                                                             New
8 cream place mats with black writing; 8 matching coasters                                                          New
Matching cream crockery with writing: 4 plates, 4 side plates, 4 dishes, 4 mugs                            New
Tall salt and pepper pots                                                                                                             Fair
Light brown lino with cream/black diamond pattern, cream walls, white ceiling                              New
Double-glazed window,                                                                                                               New
Range of maple floor and wall units with chrome handles, skirting heaters                                      New
Chrome AEG Competence cooker with stainless steel AEG 4-ring hob                                        New
Grill pan                                                                                                                                      New
Electrolux extractor fan & light                                                                                                     New
Black speckled work surfaces with white 4-inch tiles above                                                          New – 2 slight
                                                                                                                                                   chips to tiles
Ceiling light (chrome circle with 4 spotlights)                                                                                New
Rust blind                                                                                                                                    New
Tall white fridge/freezer (Hotpoint)                                                                                               New
White washer drier (Ariston A1600 WD)                                                                                    New
White digital Hinari microwave                                                                                                    Good
Chrome cordless Hinari kettle                                                                                                      Fair
Chrome toaster (Russell Hobbs)                                                                                                  Good
Chrome bread bin                                                                                                                       Good
Matching cutlery: 4 knives, 4 forks, 4 spoons, 4 teaspoons                                                           Good
Chrome cutlery stand                                                                                                                  Good
Chrome kitchen roll stand                                                                                                            New
4 wine glasses                                                                                                                             Good
4 small and 4 medium glass tumblers                                                                                            Good
Matching set of 3 stainless steel pans with glass lids and stainless steel handles                              Good – one
                                                                                                                                                   scorched base
Non-stick frying pan                                                                                                                    Fair
Glass Pyrex bowl                                                                                                                        New
Glass Pyrex casserole dish with lid                                                                                               New
Chrome colander                                                                                                                        Good
Large, glass “Chop and cut” chopping board                                                                               New
Bottle opener and corkscrew                                                                                                       Good
Tin-opener                                                                                                                                  Good
Sscissors                                                                                                                                     New
Set of 5 kitchen knives                                                                                                                Good
Wooden spoon                                                                                                                           New
1 black cooking spatula for non-stick frying pan                                                                           New
1 chrome cooking spatula, 1 chrome ladle, 1 chrome cooking spoon,                                           Good
1 chrome slatted cooking spoon                                                                                                  Good
Chrome stand for cooking utensils                                                                                               New
Kitchen tongs                                                                                                                              Good
Glass measuring jug                                                                                                                     Good
Roasting dish                                                                                                                               Good
Grey bin with top                                                                                                                        Fair
1 large chrome mixing bowl                                                                                                         Good
1 glass juicer                                                                                                                               Good
1 white/chrome grater (small)                                                                                                       Good
1 blue china pestle and mortar                                                                                                     Good
Small plastic utensil for removing lightbulbs                                                                                   New
Grey washing up drainer rack                                                                                                      Good

The Importance of Networking When Renting Property

When we first started renting flats – and then houses – we worked in isolation and didn’t network. That was fine up to a point – our portfolio increased and the rent came in. Financially, however,  we were going about things in a very amateurish fashion.

By chance, a friend who was also renting flats told us that there were better mortgage options than the repayment option we had, without thinking, taken out. By changing to interest-only mortgages, we were able to afford more properties witht he idea of selling some to pay off the others when property prices rose.

Another friend an Ipswich Property Network and, from that we have learnt many new ideas such as options, HMOs (and how the rules for them have changed), how to buy under value, changes in the law on things such as sell and rent back schemes etc etc.

Most property network groups meet once a month and charge £10-£20 per person. One network of groups is (run by Simon Zutshi) which have groups throughout much of England. Other regional groups include

The Importance of Using an ARLA Agent

When using a letting agent to rent property, I would recommend an ARLA agent. ARLA – or the Association of Residential Letting Agents – does something to ensure that it’s members adhere to what they call “best management practice” and it has its own complaints procedure. This gives landlords some form of guarantee that their rental properies will be let and managed in an ethical way.

In the past, when an ARLA agent failed to treat a relative of mine fairly and was none too swift to make amends, I found that the threat of a complaint to ARLA produced immediate results.

I am now rueing the fact that another letting agent is no longer an ARLA member – they were a member when I first gave them my rental flat to manage ten years ago but unbeknown to me, until recently, they have since ceased to be so. Therefore, when they sold out the business to a second letting agent (also not an ARLA member) without informing me, and when that letting agent had the keys to my flat stolen and didn’t bother to tell me that the keys had been stolen or that (worse) they had only replaced the cheap Yale lock and not the insurance-recognised five-lever mortice lock, I had no recourse to ARLA. When that same letting agent then informed a month later that the mortice lock was “broken” (by coincidence, just after the block of flat’s management agents had forced them to replace all mortice locks!), I again had no recourse to ARLA.