The Evening Standards Accidental Landlord Talks to Total Landlord Insurance (Video)

The Evening Standard’s very own accidental landlord Victoria Whitlock spoke to Total Landlord Insurance to tell us more about the ins and outs of being an accidental landlord.

Whatever the reason, increasingly these people are turning to becoming landlords. Hobby landlord, part-time landlord, private landlord, amateur landlord or accidental landlord, whatever term you use, a significant number of people fall in to this category.

Victoria Whitlock has some great advice for ‘accidental landlords’:
  • Getting the right tenant is the key – a bad tenant can make things difficult
  • Once you start taking money for a property, it is a business. You have responsibilities that you need to fulfil
  • No matter how well things go, sometimes you will have expenses – maintenance costs for example

Transcription

The term "accidental landlord" is one you've probably heard a lot lately, but what exactly is an accidental landlord? Well it could be someone who inherited a property, moved in with a partner or as is increasingly the case couldn't sell their house or flat. To find out more about the ins and outs I'm joined in the letyourproperty.tv studio by the Evening Standard's very own accidental landlord Victoria Whitlock.

Victoria, welcome and firstly, what is an accidental landlord?

Well I think the phrase "accidental landlord" was coined in 2008 when people started to let out their homes because they couldn't sell them because prices had crashed and then it just became a term to refer to anybody who's letting out their home because they've got somewhere else they need to move to or they can't sell it so they decide to let it for the time being, so they're not professional landlords as such - they don't have a portfolio, they've usually just got that one property or possibly one buy-to-let property but they're not going into this in a big way at all.

You're obviously an expert when it comes to this kind of thing, you have a column with the Evening Standard - can you tell us a bit about that?

Yeah that came about because I started out letting out my property - I went to move to France and I didn't want to sell it actually so it wasn't because prices had crashed although they had but I wanted to keep the property to have an option to come back and I'd had a couple of nightmare tenants and I decided that I'd like to let people know aboutthe fact that it's not necessarily plain sailing - sometimes it is but you can (if you don't sort of cross your T's and dot your I's) you can have a few problems and so I approached the Standard and said I'd like to write about my experiences as a landlord.

And I guess through that I imagine that you've learned a bit more as well and listened to what landlords out there are saying as well.

Yeah I occasionally get landlords tweeting me or contacting me through my website and tell me about problems they've had and sometimes they ask me for advice - I'm not sure that I'm an expert, so I'm not always able to give advice but I can just tell them what's happened to me and how I dealt with it and then how I learned from doing things the wrong way and now started to do them the right way.

And I guess as a mother yourself with other responsibilities, being a landlord is just another thing that you deal with on a daily basis - how do you find juggling all of those things?

Well if you get the right tenant then sometimes it's not a problem, you know I can go a few weeks and I don't hear from the tenants and I don't have to do anything at all, but there can be weeks when I'm constantly in demand by the tenants, I'm running backwards and forwards, something happens and you need to deal with it straight away if it's an emergency - if it's a blocked toilet for example the tenants do expect you to deal with those, whether you've caused the problem or not and you do have to drop everything. I might be going toff to school to pick one of the children up and I have to quickly do a U-turn and dash to the property and sort things out. Thankfully these days with the internet you can sort out problems online a lot of the time and on the phone. But I'm not complaining about it because I know there are people out there who don't have a property at all, but it's not something you should go into without thinking about it and working out if you've got the time (particularly if you've got a full time job, then you might not also have time to deal with the property).

Yeah I was about to ask you perhaps for people who are considering renting out a property, I mean what advice do you have before they get started and perhaps commit to that?

I think you should think about whether you really want to do that because it is a business - as soon as you start taking money from somebody for your property you have become if you like a professional landlord, and you have responsibilities. You have to make sure that you've got all the legal paperwork in place, that you've done all the proper checks on your property, I would strongly suggest that you do have the right insurances in place so that if anything goes wrong you're covered, and that means not just your normal household insurance, you've got to get proper landlords insurance if you want to be protected. You also have to make sure that you've complied with gas safety regulations and that everything in the property is safe and sound, all that sort of thing. And then there's a lot of paperwork to do, so you've got to make sure that you've got the time to deal with it. And then you've got to think about whether you want to use an agent or do it yourself, and using an agent can take away a lot of the pressure but it's also very expensive, so look at the figures as well and work out can you afford it, because you'd be surprised at how expensive it can be to let a property.

And as you say I guess with all the legislation and rules and regulations that exist for landlords, it's easy to get bogged down by the paperwork, I mean how can you make it more manageable?

Well I think some people just decide they'll use an agent to manage as well as to let the property and that does make it I suppose quite easy, but I would say that if you do that then remember that although the agent will tell you they're working on your behalf, they're actually working for themselves so you are still ultimately responsible for you property so you need to keep an eye on it and you need to keep an eye on what the agent is doing, and then just think carefully about whether this is something you want to do. There are websites where you can go to get information on what paperwork you need in place and all the regulations that you need to follow - I mean I look at direct.gov.uk which has quite a lot of advice for amateur landlords in terms of what you need to do - what you absolutely need to do to make sure that everything's protected and you're doing things by the law.

Yeah and I guess if you do decide to rent out a property and you're trying to get tenants in, I guess that's a big issue for first time landlords as well as tenants - they're the ones who can make or break everything for you, so how do you advertise your property, how do you get the right tenants?

I think it's all about finding the right tenant - if you've got the right tenant in place then it's plain sailing really, I mean there may be a few little maintenance issues and things but if they're a good tenant, if they pay the rent and if they're nice to deal with then that's crucial really, that makes things a lot easier. So I prefer to find tenants myself - I advertise online myself for tenants. Some people might prefer to go through an agent and that's fine but even where I have used an agent, I've preferred to do the viewings myself or to accompany them on viewings so I can meet the tenant before they take the property so I know that I feel comfortable with them and they feel comfortable with me and we know each other.
And what kind of criteria do you use to choose your tenants?

It depends on the property because since renting out my home I've then acquired another couple of properties - one of them is an ex-local authority property so it suits groups of sharers, so I tend to look for young, single sort of guys or women who I think would be happy and comfortable in that property. The other one is a one bedroom flat and I really like single guys in there because I know this is a bit sexist but I think that single men make the best tenants - they know how to change a light bulb, they don't complain when they get locked out in the early hours of the morning, they don't call me to help them get back in so that's the sort of tenant that I look for, but that's probably going to get people ringing in furious!
Have you ever had any really bad experiences with tenants in terms of renting a property?

I've had a couple of tenants who've driven me round the bend - one who just complained the whole time, and another one who didn't pay her rent, and didn't really see the need to pay the rent and then wouldn't move out of the property, so those are the two nightmares, but I think that's not bad compared to the problems that some people have had, and I think it's because I like to check the tenants first.

And I guess now that you're an experienced landlord and you've been doing this for a while, you're in a good position to judge how easy it is to be a landlord or on the flip side how difficult it is, I mean what do you think?

As I said, if you've got the right tenants in place and before you let the property if you make sure that it's sound you know, don't think that'll be okay, the tenant won't notice or it won't matter, just make sure that everything is sorted and it's a good, solid property, and then make sure you get the right tenant, even if you use an agent, make sure that you meet the tenant, that they've met you, that they know what they're responsible for, you know what you're responsible for, you've got a good tenancy agreement in place with them, make sure they've passed all the credit checks and that you feel they're going to be able to afford the rent, and then it's not such a problem. But be prepared for the odd maintenance issue that you're going to have to deal with and also the odd expense - there are expenses that come with any business and like any business it can be expensive from time to time and you have to be prepared to accept that before you go into it really.

Excellent - some great advice there, thank you very much for joining us Victoria Whitlock!

No worries, thank you.