A buy-to-let (BTL) landlord leads a very busy life. From one day to the next it will be a procession of phone calls, information to digest and decisions to be made, and that’s if you have just one property in your portfolio. If you have more than one you could be dealing with a range of problems from a leaking tap to signing paperwork for a new mortgage, or from vetting a new tenant to agreeing designs for a new kitchen.
On any given day, the BTL landlord needs to wear several different hats and be an ‘expert’ in many different disciplines. Alas, it can’t all be done by one person, both physically and mentally, so you need to have a range of contacts on speed dial who you can rely on in any circumstance.
The importance of contacts being reliable
If you have ambitions to grow your BTL business into a portfolio of properties you need advice, information and physical help with key aspects of it. We will detail all these shortly, but the importance of these contacts being reliable is that a lot of what happens in the property market is down to timing. You need to be decisive and act fast, but armed with the best knowledge, or with the assistance of skilled people. And you can’t afford to make mistakes, or you could miss out on the best property, pay more than necessary for something or make a bad decision that backfires on you and becomes very costly.
So all the contacts listed below need to be trusted, reliable and high quality, and ideally you need alternative contacts in each case too. So if someone can’t help you at short notice and you are desperate, you have someone else you can fall back on and you know they won’t let you down. It is no exaggeration to say these people could be the difference between your business growing successfully, or it stagnating or even going backwards. If you take bad advice or receive poor workmanship, it can set you back years. Therefore it is important that you are professional but also amiable and friendly in building relationships with all these contacts. There are times when you might need a favour or someone to act quickly or go the extra mile for you in a critical moment. That is more likely to happen if you are a good client with a good relationship, and are someone a contact will want to do a favour for.
In this list we will look at every contact you will need, but depending on how you choose to manage the property or properties, some of these may not be necessary for you, such as maintenance or tradesmen if you employ a property manager to look after all this for you. However, we will explain this as we go along. So here is the list of key contacts a good BTL landlord needs to make.
Key contacts for a BTL landlord
Letting agent/property manager
There is something of a grey area between what is a letting agent and what is a property manager. In essence, a letting agent is someone you pay to find tenants and collect rent, while a property manager is someone you pay to look after the property with regards maintenance, repairs and security. But in reality, each function may crossover to take on all these duties if you find the right person. Fundamentally, this is where you have decided to be a hands-off landlord and pay someone else to do the day-to-day running of the property.
A letting agent or property manager will need to look after the following:
Doing immigration checks/right-to-work checks
Getting the property in a fit state to let
Getting contracts prepared and signed
Chasing late payments
Periodically inspecting the property
Managing maintenance and repairs
Ensuring Environmental Performance Certificate is valid
Dealing with nuisance reports
Ideally you would want a letting agent/property manager who is local and can react quickly to issues at the property, and of course you will need to pay a monthly fee to them for any service you receive.
This might trigger an eye-roll from many readers, but insurance is SO important to a BTL landlord, because it can actually protect your profit when most people simply see it as eating into profit. Okay, most of the time it does, but the BTL landlord needs a very specific insurance deal because of the issues likely to arise that are unique to BTL landlords. These include injuries to the tenant, damage to the property and emergency repairs, legal costs during possible repossession, covering void periods where there is no income. These are all issues specific to a BTL landlord and hence your insurance policy needs to be tailored to cover these, so you need a close contact with your insurance provider to help manage this.
Again there are some blurred lines between what each function does here, but there are some essential services you need, and a trusted contact under either name is likely to have you covered. From the outset you need advice on how to structure your business, and this may be shaped by your longer-term ambitions if you are planning to build a portfolio of businesses. Decisions you make at the beginning could save or cost you a lot of money going forward. You then need advice at each stage with regards to bridging finance, re-mortgaging and loans for repairs and maintenance as you purchase subsequent properties and manage the delicate balance of having more than one ongoing property.
Of course, because you are operating a business you need to submit accounts and you have tax commitments also, so you need a professional looking after your affairs who can work on your accounts while also advising on new tax legislation. This ensures you are fully HMRC-compliant. It is possible you could find a financial advisor who will look after all this for you, or you may need two separate bodies; an independent financial advisor and an accountant.
A good solicitor will be able to draft tenancy agreements and tailor them to suit each property while maintaining them as a valid legal document. You may also need a solicitor when it comes to disputes with tenants over non-payment of rent, damage to the property or nuisance complaints. A lot of this will be covered by the work of a letting agent or property manager, but you will still need a reliable solicitor to look after the conveyancing aspects of your property procurement. You will already know how important this function is, particularly for the BTL landlord, and a solicitor who is trusted to be quick and reliable can help speed a property move along and grease the wheels so that you secure a property you really want when time is tight. If you don’t have a good or strong relationship with your solicitor, it may be harder to get these kind of favours and that can be to the detriment of growing your business.
If you are managing the property yourself, this means you will need to get it ready to let in the first place, you will need to fix repairs and update the property between lets and you will need to manage emergency repairs during the let. This means you will need a long contact book of reliable tradespeople, and in this case we can’t stress the word ‘reliable’ enough. This kind of work is essential and costs money, so you need it doing right and to a good standard, otherwise you can find yourself having to repeat the work or repair the repair. Reliable also means you need it doing fast, so having tradespeople available and willing to do you a favour can be worth its weight in gold, and can be the difference between being able to let out a property at the agreed time, or losing tenants completely.
Some BTL landlords will buy a property cheaply and spend money improving and renovating it before letting it out. This can be a good money earner if you know what you are doing, and having reliable tradespeople is key to that. So a BTL landlord needs a lot of good trade contacts to establish and maintain a lettable property, including:
Gas appliance fitter
Painter & decorator
It is also true that you will need a general ‘handyperson’; someone who is always on-call and can turn their hand to pretty much anything; from fixing a broken toilet seat to mending a washing machine. Some jobs may not require a specialist tradesperson, or you might not be able to get hold of one, so – within reason and remembering your legal responsibilities as a BTL landlord – a general handyperson can be crucial in solving these many and varied small issues.
Following on from the requirement to know a barrel load of tradespeople, you also need to know plenty of trade suppliers. This is how you make property renovations affordable and practical, and again, can be the difference in making a BTL project viable and getting a property ready in time to let. Time is of the essence, and you might hit void periods of no rental income or miss the start of the student term and have an empty property in the middle of a busy student area.
So you need to have good relationships with kitchen suppliers, bathroom suppliers, tile depots, paint depots, carpet showrooms, door suppliers, window suppliers and builders merchants. Getting to know these people through regular custom may allow you to enjoy trade discounts and again, will enable you to call in a few favours with regards the availability of materials.
Estate agents generally have a pretty bad reputation, but this is largely unfair, and as with most professions, there are good ones and bad ones. But certainly, getting to know a trusted and reliable estate agent can help you enormously. A good estate agent will help you sell a property of course, and they might be able to do this quicker for you than they would someone else. But you can also get good advice on a local area which you might not be able to pick up elsewhere. This is not something you necessarily need to pay for, and might come from general chit-chat when you bump into them at the supermarket, but it comes from having built a good professional relationship.
Make sure you know an estate agent who you can call-up and ask about typical rental prices in ‘xx’ location. This might help you set a realistic rental price to help fill your property, and they might also be up-to-date with changes in the local market. Ultimately, you want straightforward, trusted information with no sales flannel and you only get that from an estate agent you know and trust.
The mortgage product you decide upon is arguably the most important financial decision you will make, and it carries a lot of risk. And because there are so many different products out there and the market is changing all the time, you need solid advice you can rely on. A mortgage broker will know all the latest deals, and will be able to advise on what is best suited to the property you are looking to purchase and your personal circumstances. But beware, and make sure you are taking independent advice. Many mortgage brokers earn their money from referrals and commission, so they will deliberately steer you towards certain products – which might not be 100% suitable for you - knowing they will earn from it if you sign up.
So it can be very hard to differentiate a truly independent mortgage broker from someone wanting to sell you only a certain deal, but this is where a good relationship can be priceless and knowing someone inside out can save you a lot of money and a few years saving your business from potential ruin.
This possibly ties in with having a handyman, but it will be useful to have a professional cleaner to look after the property, not during a tenancy, but between tenancies. A tenancy agreement should spell out how a tenant needs to look after the property, what their responsibilities are and how they should leave the property when they vacate it, but you will need to get the property ready for the next tenancy and hence will need to ‘dress’ it ready for viewings. This is going above and beyond what the previous tenant would most likely do, so that the property is attractive and appealing to prospective tenants.
This might sound odd, but yes, you need your tenants on speed dial too. When chasing rent, asking about repairs, chasing references, deposits or signed contracts you need to be able to contact them at short notice. And you may even be able to recommend your new property to them if they are an ex-tenant. Just like anybody else, a trusted and reliable tenant can be hard to find, so if you already know one it can save you some time, money and stress by getting in touch when trying to fill your next property.