Tag Archives: property maintenance

Leaking Roofs and A Drunken Call Out

Heed my warning all you new or wannabe property portfolio owners!  You may remember in this post I mentioned that, as the majority of Eastbourne (Sunniest Town in Britain apparently) was built around the latter half of the 19th century, some of the building materials are beginning to fail such as mortar and felt.  Now, on the Sunshine Coast our weather is mild compared to the rest of the country but this year the roofs have really taken a hammering in the wind and rain.  Four, yes FOUR, of my properties can no longer be patched and now require new roofs.

Perhaps more experienced, long in the tooth landlords investigate the roof condition of a potential BTL before considering anything else but from my research of Property Millionaire Courses run by gurus the focus is on the bottom line numbers/profit at no point have I seen anyone flag up what will happen or how it will affect the bottom line when a major repair needs doing which hasn’t been budgeted for.

Which roof do I pick first when looking at £10-15k apiece?  Well, obviously the one that shows the most!  So on top of delving under the stairs to look at RCD, open kitchen cupboards to locate boiler, my advice is make sure you have a good look at how well the tiles are likely to keep the rain off.

I don’t mind the investment as I’m young enough to feel the benefit for the next few decades and I don’t use the profit to live on, but if you don’t have the cash in reserve and cashflow is tight, a major expense such as this will really, really hurt if you haven’t budgeted for it.  After all, there are only so many times you can fob a tenant off with the words Continue reading

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Tumble Dryers vs Underpants on Display

A certain autumn calm has descended on my rooms and perhaps my tenants are preparing to hibernate for the long winter ahead – freezer drawers stuffed with Iceland ready meals, people home more than usual as work dries up, less drunken incidents (I can’t put this down to any mitigating factor and am perplexed), boilers serviced and turned on and the usual array of pants and bras draped over the communal radiators.

In the new HMOs which I’ve been writing about on Property 118s website, the landlord has installed tumble dryers.  I’ve watched this one with interest as, having five tenants’ clothes drying around the house or on airers in their room creates humidity which in turn adds to condensation problems in their rooms, especially if they don’t open the windows and their room door is closed 99% of the time.

The tumble dryers are in the kitchen attached to a coin operated box which can be set to 15 mins, 32 mins or 64 mins and can take 50p or £1.  The boxes themselves and the installation wasn’t cheap at £250. We took the decision to charge 50p per 64 minutes which is cheaper than the launderette and means the tenants can’t invite their mates over for a free of charge clothes drying party.  The tenants seem to like the idea, are happy to part with 50p for speedily dry clothes which you don’t have to iron if you get them out of the drum quick enough and I’m just wondering whether to install them in my houses, if only to save myself the spectacle of greying Y fronts as I go up the stairs desperately trying not to imagine who they belong to……………..

UPDATE

To everyone who has sent their wishes to Nadine and Andrew:

Nadine:  Has now lost most of her hair and has two more chemo treatments to go.  It’s taken a toll on her and we end up in hysterics driving to the hospital as she has to dope herself up on various pills to keep her calm and is so high and relaxed she talks nonsense. By the time I collect her in the afternoon, she’s had a good sleep while the drip is in her arm, has had a chat with other patients and the sleepy hangover is starting to kick in.  She starts radiotherapy 30 miles away in the New Year and her oncologist has told her she doesn’t qualify for patient transport but the NHS will refund her bus pass.  “But I can’t even walk to the bus stop” she said, “Your treatment has cost us £15,000 so far, we have to make cost cuts somewhere” said the oncologist.  Perhaps he was in the student union when his grant funded medical course was covering “How to Develop A Caring Bedside Manner”.

Andrew:  Unfortunately Andrew got the sack for shouting at a waitress in the middle of a restaurant.  Apparently he “got stressed and she was disrespectin’ me”.  He really didn’t want to lose that job and it did seem unfair as I’m sure he’s not the first chef to have ever shouted at waiting staff.  So, we went back to square one and, after he’d paid his debts and given me £100 towards his rent arrears of two months, he’s applied for Housing Benefit and is looking at the job vacancies again.  Before he got paid, he had 36p to his name and his son staying for the weekend so I loaded up spaghetti hoops, Kelloggs Frosties, pasta, cheese and bread and a couple of pounds worth of Tesco vouchers for him.  Two week’s later I get a hug, a card and a bottle of Pinot Grigio – my children are still looking for those Frosties………

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Room Rates Down and Bossy Women Exposed

Last week two lovely ladies from the Council (whom I’ve nicknamed the HMO Inspectors) came to visit for my renewal licence.  They were very complimentary and we had a chat about the challenge of housing LHA tenants.

This prompted some research: I know we’re in a recession and I was on the understanding that LHA rates were set reflecting current market levels.  Why then, has the weekly shared accommodation rate gone from £73.64 in March 2010 down to £71.50 in 2011 then down again to £67.00 in 2012 despite the fact that, looking in our local paper you can’t get a room for under £90pw and some ads were even asking £130pw up from an average of £75pw three years ago!?!  Visit http://www.lha-direct.voa.gov.uk to check out the rates nationwide.

To those who keep a close eye on the rental market, this won’t be news but to anyone else, consider this:

  • Waiting list for council homes is typically 5 -25 years
  • There are no legal requirements to house my typical tenant – over 21 years old, single, in possession of most of their mental and physical faculties.
  • Any market rent over and above the LHA rate must be paid for by the tenant from their other benefits e.g. Jobseekers which is set around £65pw
  • This leaves £42pw disposable income which, depending on your point of view, is either just enough to stay out of trouble or an incentive to work illegally

The ladies seemed surprised when I told them that, despite informing Housing on 7th June  of one tenant being 8 weeks in arrears and requesting direct payment – well over 2 months later I still haven’t had any contact or money from the Benefit department so I shall now reluctantly serve a Section 21 notice before I have to apply for charitable status.

Now, I’m a patient kind of girl and hate to see people being taken advantage of, but is it really any wonder why, according to Landlord Today, that over 59% of ads stipulate no Housing Benefit?

Octavia Hill – My New Heroine

Leading on, I was led by Ben Reeve-Lewis to an article in the Guardian about Octavia Hill, the social reformer who collected her rents in person.   You can read the article here but one of the reply comments said “Octavia adopted a very strong, controlling influence over the lives of her tenants…”

I can see how my methods could be viewed as similarly dictatorial but it remains, as in her day, that we are not all created equal and some tenants want help, advice or just someone to chat to.  I’m careful to be appreciative, even grateful, of any rent received and, if a tenant doesn’t want me to interfere, I’ll happily accept a standing order weekly or monthly which is easier than being given permission to sift through their pants drawer to find the cash because they can’t be bothered to get out of bed.

The benefit of personal contact in ANY market can never be underestimated.  Take Andrew: he’s fed up with his job (street selling) and has got himself an interview as a chef.  With scant reading and writing skills his career options are limited but he phoned me today to let me know the good news.  We chatted about what he was going to say, which questions he might be asked and I reminded him of his positive attributes which he needed to get over to the interviewer so she’d forget about his Community Service Order.  With no family to encourage him and friends who would take the p**s out of him committing to a full time job, I hope that keeping me up to date is mutually beneficial.

Gwynneth Paltrow – Makes Me Want To Try Heroin

Talking of interviews – Times Style interviewed Gwynneth Paltrow on how she juggles the demands of being a working mummy.  Oh to have to worry about dividing quality time between the kids and the yoga instructor, travelling between homes in London and Los Angeles  as well as keeping  a gorgeous rock star husband sexually satisfied.  Somehow I can’t quite see the Sunday media wanting an exposé on how my kids enjoy spending their summer holidays on room viewings, rent collection or tenant chasing whilst I balance life in the fast lane trying to talk to ANYONE from Housing Benefit with day trips to Legoland!

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Tenant Gets The Sack – Part 2 of Don’t Judge Your Tenants

Continuing on the maintenance theme (somehow I think this could be ongoing!) I’m in the midst of a continuing dilemma:

Tom has been a tenant for 4 years after being referred to me by the Salvation Army.  He’s an asset to the house when sober but a pain in neck when drunk as he can never get his key in the front door when he staggers home and is often found on the stairs having forgotten which room he lives in!  He’s unemployed, survives on Value noodles, spends his days ironing his clothes and keeping the common areas spick and span – talents picked up from his Army days.

The only time he has cash in his pocket is when he’s picked up a bit of work, but it doesn’t stay there for long.  He’s told me of all the things he’s going to save for: a trip to see his mum in London, visit his brother in Ireland, upgrade to a bigger room.  However, while the cash burns a hole in his pocket he just can’t help himself but go to the pub, followed by a ticking off by me after some of the other tenants complain about his behaviour when he gets home.

According to Tom he has lots of skills and is a trained HGV driver, scaffolder, builder,  gardener, bouncer and  can put a bullet in his enemy’s head from 5 miles away. Unfortunately, he can’t pass his CSCS (Construction Skills Certificate Scheme) test which is needed to work as a labourer on a building site.  He says he revises but is thwarted by the multiple choice answers and the job centre will only pay for him to take the test 3 times.

In this vein, and in recognition of the fact that he tries his hardest to be a decent member of society, I give him some painting work.  To be fair to him, the finish is excellent but I’m not 100% sure about his preparation.  He tells me what he’s done, the products he’s used but always seems to have finished the work in a quarter of the time me and most legit decorators do.  The point is, it keeps him happy, makes him feel useful and I compensate him for his time as well as giving him a little bit of credibility down the pub.

And here’s the problem – no sooner has the cash hit his pocket then he’s suited and booted, off to town and staggers home in the usual fashion.  Another tenant, Jason, called me the other night “Have you given Tom some money lately ‘cos he’s off his face, banging on the front door and I can now see him p***ing in the porch.  I ain’t answering the door because I swear I’ll smack him one!”.  Luckily, my recently trafficked Romanian border guard graciously let Tom in and pointed him to the right bedroom.

Next day, I spoke to Tom to say that he’d put me in an impossible situation – I can’t give him my money just to drink and, whilst I appreciate once it had changed hands it became his, I was having to deal with the repercussions.  Also, I’d done him a favour so he could visit his mum on her birthday.  I’d previously mentioned that the hallway and outside the house needed doing but I’m going to retract those offers now – if he could cause havoc with £40 in his pocket imagine what he’d do with 10 x that amount!

At another house, a tenant called to say he’d got into a fight last night, the other bloke followed him home and put a plant pot through the window – could I get it sorted as it was letting in a draught?

Guess my maintenance budget really is being p***ed up the wall!

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One Mad Czech and a Washing Machine!

It’s been a week of washing machine malfunctions – whoever said Landlording was glamorous?  The first washing machine to fall foul of its duties was in HMO number 1 but I’d been very organised and taken out a repair warranty on it.  As most of my tenants in that house are occupationally challenged they waited with eager anticipation for the washing machine repair engineer – it really was the highlight of their day and they were glad to be doing something useful.  Unfortunately, it turned out that the engineer was deaf and so the machine’s problems were communicated via sign language.  He came back the following day only to condemn the machine and issue a ticket for a brand new, sparkly one free of charge under the terms of the guarantee.  My tenants are very, very excited to get to learn something new.

The next misbehaving washing machine was in HMO number 2.  I received a text saying “Water on kitchen floor – please sort” so I trotted over to inspect said water.  Yep, it was on the kitchen floor so I took the executive decision to call a plumber.  You see, I’ve tried several times to send myself on a light maintenance course but can’t find any and have given up trying to diagnose any problems so instead refer to my little black book of maintenance men.  Left instructions for tenants not to use washing machine.  An hour later I received the following text from Zitomir – a Czech security guard with dreams of being a porn star or, failing that, the opportunity to have sex with any willing female – “Just got in to see your note.  It wasn’t me.  It was that bastard Robert, I know it him.  I said hello and he ignore me and put washing on.  He ignore you.  Next time I hit him”.  I’ve learnt not to rush round to put myself between two testosterone fuelled Europeans (they’re ALWAYS greeting me with a kiss, very un-British) and left them to it.  Half an hour later another text “It’s OK, it not his washing in machine.  I not hit him.”  See?  Some things are just best left to sort themselves out.

Tomorrow I shall be heading off to a long weekend break in Europe with some girlfriends.  I’ve left the receipt book, kids and keys with Mr HMOlandlady but haven’t told the tenants as they’d probably either suffer separation anxiety or do something naughty.  The last time I went away, a tenant did a midnight flit and the time before that, there was a fight.  Nope, I’m not telling them.

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That’s It! I’m Going to Rent!

I’ve just about reached the end of my tether and have decided that renting has just got to be an easier option.  This week the following problems have jumped to the top of my maintenance schedule pushing all the others that have been patiently waiting right to the bottom until I have the money:

1. Three bed terraced house deserted by tenant who was offered council accommodation – besides dog poo in the garden, changed locks, doors hanging off, carpets ripped and evidence that she mistook the house as the local Tip – estimated bill to put right £2,500

2. Broken gutters and new damp course in another family home – tenant has been very patient whilst I’ve saved up the money to get the work done before the winter – £1,500 bill

3. Just received an email from a tenant asking which fence boundary we own.  Guess what?  We own all three sides!!  Without needing a phone call, I’m guessing a fence has blown down in this week’s wind – estimate £100 – £500

4. Roof leaking on an HMO – £1500 to include scaffolding and repair damage

That’s nearly £7,000 in one week and could have been an awful lot of shoes.  This is ongoing proof that most Landlords DON’T MAKE MONEY if they’ve got a mortgage and a conscience.  Wouldn’t it just be fantastic if, the next time my boiler failed or I found a damp patch in my own home, I could just pick up the phone to the landlord?  No idea how to pay as none of these can be put on a credit card – (sensible) suggestions?!

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