This Business Would Be Great... If It Weren’t For The Tenants
Next Level Landlord, Chapter One
I had just come off stage, speaking at a property conference, when I received a frantic call from one of our first HMO tenants. The house he was in was great for 2016: grey feature walls, furniture pack, sitting room and Banksy-inspired artwork chosen by my mum. Because we’d spent a bit more than planned on the property, we chose to self-manage it to boost the bottom line. But against all advice from colleagues, coaches and mentors, I had accepted our first applicants without hesitation or doing full background checks. (It’s easy to get carried away in the excitement of populating your first property.)
Two of the tenants had taken a dislike to each other, and things eventually got physical: one had pinned the other down and was repeatedly hitting him. The property was in Warrington and I was in London when I got the call, so there was no way I could get there fast enough to address the issue. I was aware that tensions had been building: that as tenants they were not a good match and shouldn’t be sharing a space together. The question was how to deal with it.
The police attended and said that if the victim chose to press charges, the attacker wouldn’t be allowed back into the property – and that’s what happened. The victim remained resident, while the accused left to stay with a family member (he later agreed to sign a Deed of Surrender and moved out).
Despite the conflict – and to our relief – all of the tenants continued to pay their rent. We refunded a portion of his rent to the tenant who moved out, and relet the property to a new tenant two days later.
Don’t let the excitement of your first property throw caution to the winds. Screen your tenants in advance to avoid headaches later.
Make a start
By no means would this be the only conflict among our tenants. Ignorance is bliss, and if someone had been frank with me at the start about the issues I would encounter on my journey to becoming an HMO landlord and co-living developer, I think I’d have run the other way – but I’m glad I didn’t. It’s so important to get moving. The most important step you will take along the road to success is your first one.
To be successful, we need a certain amount of fearlessness – or willingness to assume risk. We have to be willing to make the jump, but with our eyes open.
My goal starting out was to double my portfolio size every year for the first three years. Such rapid growth inevitably brings challenges, but of course with challenges come opportunities to learn. We tend to see the wealthiest and most successful people out there through a rosy filter of apparent overnight success. We aren’t aware of what it took, or how long, for them to get where they are. How many played out of tune, off the beat, unsure of the next note to hit, before figuring out the right chords and go on to superstardom?
EDISON: FROM FAILURE TO SUCCESS
The inventor Thomas Edison is arguably one of the best examples of such a success story. He created more than 3,000 light bulb designs, then painstakingly tested more than 6,000 different plants in his quest to determine which would burn the longest and serve as the most suitable filament (1).
This was a man who never gave up, despite failure after failure.
We learn from our mistakes – if we choose to. The concept of failure is a fallacy: nothing more than a learning curve, a winnowing of possible alternatives, the next step on the road to success.
No doubt those of you who are landlords already have your share of horror stories and war wounds, but also your fair share of success stories and positive moments.
We have houses that throw birthday parties for the other tenants and play board games together. And others that you never hear a peep from, because they’re so happy to call it their home. That is success!
Learn to love your tenants
I’m sure you will have heard of the Pareto Principle: the 80/20 rule (2) where roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. For Next Level HMOs, it is no longer 80:20, it’s 95:5. If you focus your attention on creating a co-living portfolio in the top 5% of all the shared properties in your areas, you will have a much easier life. This is the top 5% in design, space and service (more on this in Chapter 2).
Tenants are the lifeblood of our business, so if we spend the necessary time to get this bit right, we can learn to love our tenants. And we must: they pay for our mortgages, cars and holidays, and help us ensure financial security for the future.
The next time you find yourself moaning or complaining about something a tenant just did, remember the mantra: ‘Love your tenants,’ as they’re providing your income now and in the future.
(1) V Kumar, ‘Who invented the lightbulb: The complete truth’ (RankRed, 2020), accessed 19 November 2020
(2) R Koch, The 80/20 Principle: The secret to achieving more with less, 3rd edition (Broadway Business, 1999)