The mistakes I made with HMOs

It’s easy to think that everyone else has it easy. Especially if you’re looking ahead at someone who has ten times more property than you have. We all have a tendency to compare ourselves with others don’t we? Even though we know it’s not helpful, if we’re completely honest with ourselves we can’t help it!
Although comparing yourself with other people is often unhelpful, it can also propel you to take more action than you would have done alone. I wanted to share with you how I took a lot of risks and made a lot of mistakes to get to the point of having over 150 rooms in ownership or management, a pub, a commercial conversion, and a portfolio of single buy to let properties.
For example, when I decided to invest seriously in HMOs in 2012, I bought a small two-up, two down. It had one shared kitchen and one shared bathroom. It was small but I loved it. I poured hours of my time into that one house. And I spent very little on the refurb – about £7000. Which is about the profit I made in my first year. It was 100% return! But I was still swapping my time for money. That house became a part-time job for me as I tenanted it, managed it and even cleaned it!
On my second HMO, half way through the refurb, my builder mentioned an idea he had to go into the loft and convert it to another lettable room. Despite not having the money, nor knowing where the money would come from I said YES to him. So he started the work and I couldn’t pay him.
When the Council’s Building Regs Control officer came round his jaw opened to the floor. Not because I was doing such a good job project managing it. Quite the opposite! He dropped the bombshell that I would need planning permission for a 7 bed HMO and acoustic insulation. I had NO idea what he was talking about so had to rapidly go home and google it.
If I had known all that beforehand, I would have saved myself thousands of pounds.
I began to see that doing it alone was costing me time, and money. And I wanted a business that saved me time and made me money.
My basic problem was that I was too proud and independent to ask for help. I wanted to show the world I could do it and I wanted to prove that I was as good as anyone else in property. Deep down, I felt second rate. In many parts of my life I had felt a failure (I failed my ‘A’ levels, my first marriage failed, and I didn’t think I had always put other people first as much as I should have). So here I was determined to change it!
Wendy was going to WIN! But my pride was getting in the way of my success.
I bought a flip that flopped.
I failed to properly investigate asbestos in a building which cost many thousands of pounds to put right.
I bought a house with Japanese Knotweed.
I bought an apartment in Portugal and rapidly had to sell it when we realised the market was flooded.
I bought a house with my JV partner which I massively underestimate the refurb costs on and we overspent by £30k (and had to leave it in the deal).
…and many more.
The reason I am listing all these admissions is to say that you too will probably make many mistakes if you are determined to get to financial freedom. But the biggest lesson I learned was not to try to do it on my own.
Once I got involved in a community, listening to experts who had already done it and could help me with my deals and warn me of upcoming likely challenges, and educating myself about property thoroughly, I started to see the impact.
And I got my time back, and I started to make money.
This is not a post to sell you mentoring or training and education. This is a post to help you see that you will probably make mistakes. And you will learn just as I have. But you could avoid many of those mistakes and go faster and better if you align yourself with the right people at the start. Learn from my mistakes, so that you can make money quicker and with far less stress than I did.
Oh and by the way, apart from the Portuguese apartment, we still have all those other properties to this day. So there is always a silver lining to the property cloud of doom.
What mistakes have you made? What is your biggest regret?
Discussing a property deal

So you think you have no money to invest with?

One of the biggest problems that I hear from people when they start investing in HMOs is that they don’t have any money. They think that they can’t invest or do rent to rent or do anything. They feel completely stuck. 

The biggest problem that they have is NOT that they don’t have any money but that they don’t know how to find money. In fact many people who say they want to start investing DO have money! They’re nervous and fearful about using it to invest with. It’s their pension, or savings, or back-stop. So they start by thinking that the only way they can invest is by using other people’s money. 

I love using other people’s money. In fact it was only by using other people’s money that I grew my business from two to over twenty HMOs. But I realised that in order to put my money where my mouth is I had to start by using my own money; my own resources; my own confidence.

If you have resources that you’re not willing to use, because you’re fearful and don’t really believe that what you’re doing is going to work, do you think an investor will be willing to work with you?  What money do you already have that you’re not prepared to use yet? If you’re not prepared to use your own resources, that demonstrates a lack of belief in what you’re doing. If you don’t believe that you can make money should you really be using other people’s money with which to invest? 

Until you funnel ALL your resources into getting your property business off the ground you probably won’t ever become investible. This is a huge mindset shift for most people, but it’s so important. You need to be totally committed if you’re going to make investing work. You have to take risks (which yes, you must identify and mitigate) and you must be prepared to give it 110%. If not 200%! Obviously doing the deal analysis, sourcing the right properties and doing the necessary foot work is also part of what you give. But you MUST use some of your own financial resources too.  

If you do believe that you can make money in property and you’re prepared to take the risk first step is to find and use your own money. Where do you find the money then? 

  1. Old savings or bank accounts that are sitting lying dormant 
  2. ISAs and other investment accounts that are giving a lower rate of return than you could make with an HMO
  3. Using your pension. Not all pensions can be used to invest in property but some can, and this is worth investigating
  4. Saving with your hard-earned cash. If you can’t make cutbacks and budget and save each month, you cannot look after money. If you cannot look after your own money you will never be able to look after someone else’s.
  5. Remortgaging your house
  6. Selling stuff you no longer need on ebay to make some cash. Selling other people’s stuff when yours is all sold
  7. Set up a car wash business, dog walk business or cardboard box collection business (yes I do mean used cardboard boxes. Think of all those deliveries that fill up people’s re-cycling bins so there’s no room for anything else). Charge a reasonable amount, do it regularly and leverage your time using other people’s skills. Save the money, use it to invest in property.

What else could you do to find the money yourself? How do you feel reading this? Do you think I am off my rocker?!

Creating a Pipeline of Deals

There are plenty of places to find deals, and creating a sourcing pipeline needn’t be difficult. You do need to be organised and have a structure in place to ensure that you maximise your chances of success. To find great properties and great deals you need four things

1.       Process

2.       Perception

3.       Paperwork

4.       Persistence


Without a process you won’t be able to create a steady stream of potential property deal. Without perception you could uncover a wealth of amazing properties but not know what to do with them. Without paperwork you can’t finalise the deal. Without persistence you can’t grow wealthy. As you can see, only two of these are practical actions – the other two are personal attributes. Finding deals needs you to be practical and personal.

1.       Process. Ideally you want to design a campaign. This gives your activity definition and purpose and allows you to learn each time from your mistakes and successes. I would recommend that you design a 4 week campaign, in which you agree to target a particular area of no more than 1.5 square miles.

·        Using a map, define the area you are going to target and find the postcodes that are part of this location. This will be the HMO location that you’ve already pinpointed. Now locate all the shops, post offices, takeaways and supermarkets that serve that location.

·        Next, you want to get some leaflets designed that tell people about you and how you can help them. We use www.smartpropertyleaflets.com who provide ready-made templates ideal for leaflet campaigns of this type. One thing to remember: you will want to repeat your campaign up to seven times before you see steady results. Order enough leaflets at the start to ensure you have enough volume to repeat your campaign regularly.

·        Find a reputable leaflet delivery service. There are many ways you can achieve this – one is by working with a local takeaway service who are already delivering leaflets in the area. Another is by hiring independent leaflet distributors. Make sure you have a way of spot-testing the coverage of the drop.

·        Write out a number of simple postcards that you can put up in shop windows locally. A suggested wording would be:

   ‘Struggling to sell your house? Do you need to move fast? I am looking for a house to buy and might be able to help you. Please get in touch to see if I can help you call Wendy on xxxxxxx’. A simple postcard with a call to action is the best way to get your message out there.

·        The third aspect of your campaign is direct-to-landlord letters. You can download a sample letter from the website www.centreround.co.uk. The letter needs to be direct, friendly and polite. It needs to state what benefit you can offer to a landlord and how you can help them. One piece of advice: persistence is the key. I regularly receive letters from well-meaning investors who have found my details online and are offering to help me rent or sell my properties. I always wait until I’ve had a second letter before I respond. The sad thing is, I’ve rarely had that second letter. Remember that landlords who may be ready to sell, want to know you are committed. One letter is not a sign of commitment.

·        Another great tip is to incentivise your recipients in some way to meet with you. I mentored a female partnership who had no money to invest and were looking for a rent-to-rent deal to get started. I suggested that to stand out from the crowd, that in their letter they offered to meet up with the landlord and pay for a coffee. As a surprise incentive, even if the landlord was not willing to meet in person this time, I suggested that they include a voucher for a free coffee. As a result they had a number of calls from investors, one which led to a profitable rent-to-rent deal making them over £800 profit per month. Be different.

·        Your campaign should also include contacting all the people like estate agents that you’ve already started to engage with, and should include networking like crazy.

·        Plan your diary so that you can give yourself deadlines and structure. You don’t need to complete all your actions in week one.

·        After you’ve completed the four weeks, spend some time analysing what went well and what didn’t. It takes time and experience to execute a great campaign. Now you need to wait for your seeds to flourish, plan the next campaign and follow-up any leads you have generated.

2. Perception. Perception gives you insight into the possible motivations of a seller so that you can delve into the real reasons for a fast and efficient sale. This is a vital skill as it means you can cut to the chase and start negotiating on terms that are meaningful to you both. Perceiving what will work is a core skill when negotiating with people, and if you rush into the details of an offer too quickly you may miss important details.

However, educating yourself about the various strategies available to secure property is also a must. Without education I would have overlooked many potential deals that crossed my desk. It’s by understanding what makes a deal work that you will be ahead of the crowd, and you’ll be able to work with vendors, agents, local people and your contacts with confidence and insight. Knowing how to adopt the right strategies in particular situations, coupled with understanding people, will allow you to find and negotiate great deals.

Knowing the different approaches for securing property deals will allow you to have a number of strategies to use in addition to the usual route of traditional buying. This will give you confidence to negotiate deals. It will also bring you a streak of creativity when it comes to funding. Many sellers are not necessarily looking for cash. Although their property is up for sale, and it apparently looks as if a purchase transaction is what’s required, many vendors have reasons they HAVE to dispose of the property even though selling is the least beneficial to them. They don’t know what you know and therefore choose go to an estate agent to sell the house. They simply don’t realise that other strategies are possible. It’s your job to work with them and use your knowledge to help them too.

Other vendors are desperate to sell and need a fast transaction. So in an environment where sellers want SPEED and CERTAINTY, how can you work with that? Unless you understand the process for executing a deal fast, you won’t be able to meet the needs of a seller and you will most likely lose out on a possible deal.

In the negotiation for a deal, then, perception and awareness is key. If you struggle with this, here are some tips to help you:

·        Put the vendor first. Make sure you listen more than you talk, and hear more than you speak.

·        Create rapport by asking pertinent and meaningful questions. Watch the person to see how they react to you, and whether they are nervous, shy or wary. Are they a dominant person, a decisive person or an impatient person? Take some time to find out a bit about them but be aware of their motivation. Don’t prod too far immediately, or spend too long on meaningless chatter. There is a maxim in psychology which is ‘pace, pace, pace, lead’. In other words, let the other person set the pace while you set the structure. Then you can mould the interaction and lead the discussion.

·        Have a list of questions already prepared, but sense when it’s time to stop. There are facts you’ll need to gather to assess whether you can form a deal or not. Some people want to get to the point of the offer immediately and others are assessing you to see if they even want to do a deal. Don’t rush into making an offer or saying something you’ll later regret. If you sense that the other person wants to rush you (which is common if they’re motivated to sell) just explain – ‘So that I can make you the best offer, I just need to go away and crunch the numbers. I’m sure you’d rather I got this right than messed you around?’. Most people will say yes to that.

·        After any interaction with someone spend some time reflecting on what you learnt. What did you observe? What were the give-away clues about the motivation of the vendor? What conclusions could you draw about whether a deal is possible on a personal basis? Did you rush the discussion? How were you feeling throughout?

·        It is impossible to predict the outcome of a discussion at this point. Stay calm and positive, and press on with your next steps.

3. Paperwork.

Having the right structure to do the deal once you’ve found a motivated vendor is vital. Before starting any paperwork, you need to gather some core pieces of information from a vendor (seller). These pieces of information are best gathered face to face. Your leaflets and postcards and letters will generate interest and phonecalls. You need to be prepared to take some basic information on the phone. However, the idea is that by meeting in person you can create far more rapport and trust and have much greater chance of creating a deal for you both. The aim is a win-win situation.

Without the following pieces of information you won’t be able to come up with a succinct, clear and precise plan that benefits you both. The core pieces of information to gather are:

  • Address and details of the property and the vendor
  • How long the vendor has owned the house/ property
  • How quickly the vendor needs to / wants to sell
  • What the reasons for the sale are (divorce, downsizing, moving abroad, pay off debt etc)
  • Why the property isn’t up for sale already with an estate agent
  • Are other people to be involved in the decision (partner, parent, siblings etc)?
  • Is there any debt on the property (mortgage, second charge, bridging finance)?
  • If there’s a mortgage, how much is it, what type is it and what’s the remaining term
  • Has a purchase of another property already been agreed?
  • Would the vendor be prepared to let out the property rather than sell it?
  • Has the vendor got plans for the money from the sale?

Once you have these core pieces of information you can then go away and crunch your numbers and come up with a suitable offer. There might be a number of different possibilities so be sure to present them clearly and slowly. Chances are your vendor has never heard of some of them, and was awaiting a simple purchase price offer. They will be pretty mystified when you start to talk about lease options, rent-to-rent and delayed completion if you’re not careful about avoiding jargon. Your communication skills in presenting a deal will be paramount to whether the offer is accepted or not. Practice your delivery with someone who can give you fair feedback if you are unsure of your ability to be clear.

Once you’ve had a successful meeting, you’ve come up with a plan, and an agreed way to proceed, it is vital that this is captured in a Heads of Terms Agreement. This simply lays out the roles and responsibilities that the partners in the agreement will take. This needs to be signed and each partner should have a copy. The Heads of Terms Agreement then forms the basis for your legal documentation. I always advise people to take legal advice on any deal. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that many general property solicitors are not well-versed in creative deal strategies. You may have to refer your specialists to your vendor in order for the deal to proceed.

4. Persistence. Sourcing an attractive deal takes patience and determination. It takes time to set up the pipeline, and time to negotiate with the vendor. It may take a few weeks before you see results from your persistence. You may get a few phonecalls that lead nowhere. You may feel like you’re wasting your time and money. However, in property, like investing generally, persistence pays off. Don’t let your early failures or lack of progress set you back.

After a number of months being seen and heard in our local area, telling people what we were doing and what I was looking for, I hadn’t seen much progress. I began to wonder whether it was worth all the effort and time I was putting in. I was sitting at my desk one day when I received a phonecall from a man who didn’t want to pay for an estate agent to sell his house. The house was a great size and in a good location for an HMO. I was first in the queue! By being known in my local area, I had a distinct advantage when it came to buying or negotiating a deal. He and his wife wanted to downsize, having raised their family in this spacious terraced property. However, the house needed some work to make it attractive to a family buyer – cash he didn’t have. I was able to sit down with him and work out exactly what he needed to move on, and how we could benefit too by creating a win-win solution that worked for us both. He was delighted to save the money that otherwise he would have spent with an agent, leaving him more to put towards a smaller house. In this situation, knowing the strategies that can be used in property deals is paramount, as a simple purchase transaction is only one of many that can be employed to buy and secure property.

So remember Edison’s famous words when you’re tired and feel like you’re getting nowhere, and when you’ve had little results from your efforts:

‘Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time’ ―Thomas Edison