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  • Property-a-holics

    5 things I wish I had done differently in BTL

    This month, we are celebrating our 15th anniversary of being landlords, and Property Tribes is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, so, as part of our on-going celebrations under the banner of "Smart Landlord", I thought it might be interesting to reflect on what I would have done differently with out portfolio building in hindsight.

    One of the most powerful things about being a member of this community, is that you can make other people's hindsight your foresight, and thereby avoid pitfalls, minimise and mitigate risk, and thereby accelerate your success.

    We started in April 2004 with a one bed flat in Highbury and Islington, on which we undertook a small refurb.  We still own this flat to this day and it has rarely - if ever - been empty.  It is very popular with tenants due to its location and also that it has gated parking.

    To be honest, although our portfolio building has not always been plain sailing, I've actually struggled to find five things to make up this post!

    The reason for this is that everything we've done where mistakes were made has been a learning experience and ultimately made us better investors.  There is no "win or lose" if you can "win and learn" as we like to say. Smile

    Nonetheless, here are five things I wish I had done differently:

    1.  Not bought new build all at the same time

    Our strategy was to go to developers, put in silly offers in writing, and hopefully get a discount off a new build property.  At the time, there were legitimate deal structures called "gifted deposits" which developers were familiar with and would offer.  There were also incentives like "stamp duty paid" which minimised financial input into a deal.

    This worked so well that we ended up building our portfolio almost entirely of new build.

    The only problem with this is that these houses are all now 15 years old, and showing signs of wear and tear.  We've had a big slew of appliances failures, and two properties this year needed complete refurbishment.  Also a boiler needed replacing. 

    This has resulted in quite significant sums being needed to maintain the property standards.  However, in one case, where there was a bill of £3K, the lettings agent kindly agreed to pay this from the rent at £700.00 per month, so I did not have to find the capital.  That softened the blow a bit.

    2.  Buying leasehold flats

    The first part of our portfolio was buying 1 and 2 bed new build flats in North London.  These were in areas of high rental demand.  However, the combined service charges were massive when you have a number of these.

    This was partly the reason we decided to sell four of them - to reduce the annual service charge bill.

    The other reason was that we had the realisation that family houses were a much better cash-flowing investment.

    10 reasons to buy a house rather than a flat .... EVERY time.

    3.  Not buy property far from where we live

    We have a house in Manchester and a flat in Leeds, and these two properties have been the most problematic in our portfolio.  The quality of tenants has been poor, and the turnover of tenants has been high.

    Being 230 miles from where we live, we have had to rely heavily on lettings agents to manage them, and not all have been up to the mark.

    See - 10 reasons to buy investment property within a 10 mile radius of where you live.

    "Remote properties have been problematic" says landlord Angela Bryant 

    4.  Not buy up North

    See above!

    See - Why higher value properties are better

    See - Is there a "cultural" difference between BTL up North compared to down South? 

    5.  Would have purchased more holiday lets/coastal property

    Holiday lets have proven a very lucrative strategy for us since we started them in 2009.  They have done extremely well for cash flow and also enjoyed some capital growth, despite challenging market conditions.

    The 2 bed house in Camber Sands, which we paid £180K for is now valued around £225K.  The 4 bed house in Portland, Dorset that we paid £225K for, is now valued around £280K.

    Holiday lets have the added bonus of not being subject to Section 24 tax regime.

    See - Holiday let - every portfolio should have one

    Guide to sourcing & setting up a holiday let

    Coastal property rocks ... !

    Key trends in the holiday lets sector

    What things would you have done differently in building your portfolio and why?

    Heads up!  From 13th May, Property Tribes will be running "Portfolio Landlords Week" with interviews with portfolio landlords as to how they grew their portfolio and what they learned.  We will also be looking at how portfolios are taxed and financed as part of that content.  The week will be powered by Less Tax 4 Landlords.

    So tune in from 13th May 2019 for "Portfolio Landlords Week" to get the insider view of what it takes to grow a portfolio.

    SEE ALSO  -          If you knew then what you know now, what might you have done differently?

    UP NEXT -              Growing a property portfolio - resources

    DON'T MISS -         what mistakes did you make when buying first property?



    I only have one regret and it has cost me dearly.

    I took advice from experts and trusted that it was the best advice. I'm not talking about self proclaimed experts or gurus but solicitors, accountants, financial advisors, estate and letting agents, etc. The advice was always legitimate and legal but it feels as if it was more profitable for the advisor than myself.

    I still take advice from experts, but now I read as many rules as I can absorb and find my own solution. I then ask the expert to advise on anything I may have misunderstood or overlooked. As, is the usual response, they direct me to a more conventional approach I politely remind them that I want what is best for me, not most lucrative for them.


    Your not the only one that has experienced this.Professionals are to be taken with a huge pinch of salt until you check their advice and talk too as many people as possible.


    Interesting list Vanessa.

    I don't have 5 on my list, but 4:

    1. Don't buy in an area which is reliant on one type of industry or the Govt (bought properties in what is now ex-MOD area). Thankfully sold them, but learned that lesson in time wasted, but thankfully not money as well.

    2. ALWAYS listen to, and trust your gut instinct. I bought a property in the above area that I just didn't feel right about before I signed on the dotted line - 2 years later (and after a light refurb) I sold it for exactly what I paid for it, just pleased to be shot of the local youth that enjoyed targetting the property and those within it. The property was already empty when I viewed which should have set off more alarm bells. If the gut instinct (imho) tells you about 2x things or more that it is not sure about, walk away!

    3. Always let it yourself, no Letting Agents unless there is no other option. The above property, plus some very dodgy-ly referenced tenants by a snidey LA was the end of that area for me. Carp area, carp tenants, carp letting agent = no chance of succeeding!

    4. Don't get involved in cheap areas - for reasons 1 & 2 above.


    Two very useful additions, thank you Adam.

    Our "Business Risk Mitigation" Week covered some of these issues:

    Monday - the launch of week and looking at how landlords can insure against risk - with Alan Boswell Group.

    Tuesday - the importance of inventories with the Association of Independent Inventory Clerks and Inventory Base.​

    Wednesday - mitigating risk through the use of a reputable lettings agent with David Cox, CEO of ARLA.

    Thursday Mitigating business risk via due diligence

    Friday - Mitigating business risk by using verification

    The interview with Richard Bowser of Property Investor News mentions your No. 1 !

    With regards to "gut instinct", I should have added that, on every occasion where I went against mine, it did not turn out well ....

    See - How important is "gut instinct" in property & landlordism?


    Great article

    my only regret is not being more aggressive in 2006-7. I wish I bought at least 1 more but I could never have imagined house prices doubling especially after the financial crash of 08.

    i have also learned it is better to have a tenant who pays slightly less rent but will keep it clean than go for more money and incur property damage,

    it has been 13 years since I started out and boy am I glad I did, it has allowed me to reduce my work hours to 25 per week and there is no other asset now that can generate over 24-30k profit pa without significant expert knowledge or funds


    The effect of compound interest is highlighted in my parents situation, house bought in 94 for 58k, 60k was spent on refurb and double extensions before it was rented out in 2011. Approx value of 430k, a remortgage of 150k on interest only will cost 300pcm but enable them to build an annex for their retirement and fund a holiday flat in Spain whist retaining the asset and rental income.



    Two things I wish I had done :

    1.  2007 I was going to start a company and my accountant told me not too

    2.  I wish I had purchased houses over TYNESIDE flats.

    Houses are much better I my opinion


    Learn Change and Adapt ?????

    All comments are for casual information purposes only. If you wish to rely on any advice I have given please ensure you obtain independent specialist advice from a third party. No liability is accepted for comments made.

    There is only 1 thing I would have done differently:

    1. Built up cashflow and paid off each property when this built up cashflow allowed.

    My whole portfolio are on repayment mortgages and until this year I was overpaying all properties across the portfolio. The issue with this strategy is moving to a new mortgage provider when the balance on a unit is below the £25k mark (30k mark with one mortgage company). This can be solved by having a portfolio mortgage, but I did not want all (or most) of my eggs in one basket. Also, with my portfolio being at overall 40% LTV there is no benefit in terms of better rates in the mortgage market, as the best rates are below 50% LTV and I am well within that.

    I am now not making any overpayments but building up cashflow and putting these funds into premium bonds every couple of months. I am on fixed rate mortgages, all the mortgage companies offer switching (which saves on fees). So, I am now using the build up cashflow strategy and within six years the whole portfolio will be unencumbered.



    I don't have any major regrets, just a couple of things that with hindsight I would have done differently

    1) My choice of first investment property - a fairly standard 2 bed terrace requiring refurbishment, I have found that properties a bit above the standard do better.

    2) Not selling my former home when I had to reduce the rent to get new tenants. Prices have fallen there for the same reason as the rent - a large number of new flats created by converting office blocks.