How to start a buy-to-let portfolio

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Many people aspire to own a buy-to-let portfolio. They dip their toe in the water, buy an investment property and wait to see what happens. But there are those who are bitten by the buy-to-let bug. They might have a passion for property, interior design or are naturally good at renovating. These people are often driven and have an attention to detail and design.

Elana Overs is one such person. Here she shares some of her experiences for would-be-landlords, who are thinking of starting their own property portfolio in 2018. Elana is a film publicist and a member of BAFTA, but for the past seventeen years, she has also been a successful buy-to-let landlord.

Her first project was a run-down Grade II-Listed house owned by her father, who was planning to sell the building - the property had been divided into bedsits and was no longer paying its way. Elana persuaded him to hold on to the property, then personally project managed a major refurbishment programme, working with English Heritage and a leading architect to create high-spec apartments.

The risk paid off, and Elana has subsequently renovated a series of other London properties to create an impressive buy-to-let portfolio. Some projects have been more challenging than others, but she has enjoyed every one of them. “Location is obviously key in choosing a buy-to-let, but you also need to get to know the nuances of the lettings market,” she explains. “Properties with concierges, for example, may have higher services charges as they are most useful for holding keys and doing small jobs for tenants if you live far away”.

Her buy-to-let strategy has clearly worked. She puts her success down to her personal business mantra, The Four Ts:

1. Team
“You need to find the most reliable tradespeople in an area and build up a good relationship with them. That way you will be able to rely on them when urgent maintenance issues arise. It is also important to find reliable companies to help with inventories and end-of-tenancy cleaning.”

2. Trust
“Never play agents off against each other. Trust is paramount in the property business, so if you have accepted an offer, you must stick with it, even if a better offer comes along.”

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 3. Transparency

“The principle of transparency runs through everything I do and is central to the landlord-tenant relationship. The starting point is the tenancy agreement, which needs to be fair to both parties and, just as important, clear in setting out who is responsible for what. It is vital to keep careful financial records of all payments/ receipts, along with the supporting documentation. And, if you have a number of tenants, as I do, it is useful to keep a separate spreadsheet for each tenancy.

“At the start of a tenancy, it is just common sense, and good manners, to spend a little time with the new tenants explaining housekeeping matters such as where to put the rubbish. Leaflets covering everything from fire safety to operating the boiler and washing machine are useful, too. You also need to give tenants gas safety certificates and safety certificates for items such as kettles. And make sure that there is a folder containing instruction manuals, which includes a copy of the government guide called How to Rent.”


4. Tenacity
“It is very important to chase agents when the market goes soft. A quick reminder in a short email or telephone call can work wonders. It is fatal to let things drift.”

The key is to learn the art of thinking strategically, take a long-term view of what a particular property is worth and remember one other vital ingredient. If you look after your tenants, then invariably, they will look after you.

• Our thanks to Elana Overs (who is a Kay & Co client) for her help with this article.

• Contact Kay & Co estate agents for details of properties for sale or to rent in Marylebone, Bayswater, Paddington, Notting Hill, Mayfair, Hyde Park, Fitzrovia, Regents Park and The West End (020 7262 2030; Kay & Co).

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