My Landlord Life: Adam Male

This week we met landlord Adam Male, who invested in multiple South London properties over a decade ago.

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How did you take your first step onto the landlord ladder?

I wanted to renovate property originally, so I found a property in Streatham Hill in South West London, which was supposed to be up and coming at the time. It’s one of those areas that’s always been up and coming! I don’t think it’s ever quite gotten there, to be honest. Surrounding areas such as Balham and Clapham have, but Streatham hasn’t. It’s not bad, but it hasn’t done well as some areas have.

But in 2007, I wanted to renovate a property and we got this two bed flat fairly cheaply. I think we paid £210,000 for it. And we spent just £10,000 pounds renovating it and that was a full stripped down re-plaster, new kitchen, new bathroom, fully repainted. 

I actually did a bit of the work myself. I remember renovating all the doors to make them look more Victorian, and painting them myself. 

Then I went to an estate agent and we decided to let it rather than resell it as the re-sale price wasn’t that exciting after what we’d paid in tax and what we paid in financing. 

This was the time of the Sarah Beeny property ladder shows where people were making loads of money on the market going up 20% every year, rather than actually renovating. But we didn’t seem to do that well!

So we decided to let it and I was shocked at how much letting agents wanted to charge me to let the property. At the time, these mortgage rates of 1-2% didn’t really exist then, it was more like 5-6.5% on a Buy-To-Let mortgage. So on the rent of £1,000 we didn’t really have much over, in fact I think we might have been adding to it sightly. 

So that was my first let and how I got into it. And then one came up next door, exactly the same flat, where a lady had bought it and rented it out and the tenant was in arrears. She just, she was an inexperienced landlord. It was her first rental and she’d just rented it out to the first person who came along and I don’t believe the tenant ever paid her any rent. Eventually, she had had enough and just wanted to sell up. So we picked that up and then the credit crunch happened!

We had agreed quite a lot of financing to do a couple of projects and the market fell drastically and we managed to get some good bargains. I started buying property roughly one a year until 2011 and then stopped and haven’t bought anything since. 

Have you had any landlord nightmare experiences?

Not really. I’m really strict with my tenants in terms of the checks I do. I use Mashroom’s referencing and I speak to the tenants and understand why they’re renting, what their jobs are, if they’ve had any problems before. 

The only two experiences that I’ve had is when I had a young lady who just struggled to pay every month just because she had a lot of financial difficulties generally, so we just kept communicating with her and keeping up-to-date with her situation. She was about one and a half months in arrears, but when she left she cleared it all.

The other nightmare experience was during Covid and it was quite bad. We had a tenant who had lost their job and just stopped paying and refused to communicate with us. To be honest, I would have been happy to help the tenant through it, but unfortunately they just refused to communicate. So we had to issue a Section 8 in the end and managed to remove them, though we didn’t do it through the courts. We ended up offering her money to leave, as it was just taking so long and it was easier to be amicable in the end, when she left. 

We’ve moved on now and re-let the property to some great tenants who have already started redecorating and making it their home.

What’s been your best experience in your landlord career?

That’s a difficult one… It ties into the last question – bringing the nightmare experience successfully to an end and getting some new tenants in there. 

The property wasn’t in great condition. It’s a great location in Balham, a lovely big Victorian property, top floor, double fronted property, but it wasn’t in very good condition when we received it back after nearly a year of no rent being paid. 

So what I did is, I offered it out to the market, at a really cut-down price and said to tenants that they could have this property on two-year contract, at a massively reduced rent, but they’d have to decorate it and re-carpet it. 

And this worked really, really well, I had about 115 inquiries, so we got a tenant straight away. The rent was probably about £250 under value, but they’ve already started re-decorating and re-flooring. So it was just a lot easier than me having re-do the property myself because I didn’t really have the time to do that. They’re really happy, we’re really happy and it worked really, really well. 

What would be the best piece of advice you’d give to someone starting out?

Well, I think, although the best deals may not be in the areas that you know, I think sticking to what you know is really, really important. 

The most successful landlords that I’ve ever come across are ones that know their markets and stick to it. So for instance, I used to know a guy in Guilford who wanted to buy his first property and in order to do that, he lived in a small HMO as that’s all he could afford if he wanted to save up to buy his first property. I think he stayed there for about three years. So eventually, the business he set up was setting up HMOs that were really good quality, they had TVs, really good internet, they were like hotel rooms, that allowed young professionals to have a place to live, have independence, but also save for their first property. And he set up quite a lot of those in Guilford and that’s all he did and he did it really well. 

Another landlord I knew was a student in Leeds, so he focused on student properties in Leeds because he knew the good and the bad areas. He knew he knew what the students wanted and made really good money on it. And that’s all he did. 

And all I do, is property in Balham and Clapham because when I was working in banking from around 2002 to 2014, that’s where I lived in London. So I knew the roads, I knew where it was good to live, where it was bad to live, where the stations were, where was close to the parks, where the great restaurants were. So I knew where people wanted to live in Balham and Clapham, so I was confident when I saw a property, that I knew if it was a good property, if there were pitfalls and whether it was cheap or not. 

Know your area and understand what you are buying. And try not to listen to the next big thing, you know, the YouTube videos saying ‘I made a million pounds and this is how you can too’ because it’s not that easy. Have reasonable expectations.

Would you change if you could do it all again?

I’d probably buy more when things were cheap! There was a period of time when there was a lot coming to the market, especially in London, and it didn’t last long actually, but for a short period of time, you could really pick up some bargains. But hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

I probably won’t be buying anything more. I’ve got two loft conversions that I’d like to do, as they would significantly increase the value of the properties, so would love to do those. So, my portfolio could do with a bit of love and care. Not just paint jobs and other little things, but a few big renovations, loft conversions, a big rip-out of the property, which we putting a balcony in and things like that.

My properties are all on interest-only at the moment, just to get us through Covid. So I’d like to get them back onto repayment and start paying down the remaining debt that I do have on them. I’d also like to look into potentially transferring them into a limited company, but that’s quite complex, so taking advice on that at the moment. 

What is the best tenants to have?

The best tenants I have don’t tend to be young, professional sharers. I’ve always found professional couples, perhaps around their 30s,  looking to buy a house in the next five years are the best. They tend to stay for two or three years, they’ve rented before. They care about paying their rent on time because they’re working towards a mortgage

So that’s always been the best fit for me. And they tend to want to make a house a home, which I think is the biggest thing. If you can get a tenant who cares about their financial health, so they don’t want to be in arrears and they care about their home, they’ll look after your property really well and they’ll pay their rent on time. 

You can build a good relationship with them. That’s the perfect tenant for me.

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