A Robust Business Model Has Been Key to our Continued Success During the Pandemic
Thank goodness for property investment!
As many folks livelihoods have been thrown into turmoil by the Covid-19 outbreak, we have been so grateful for our decision to start investing in property several years ago, which has allowed us to carry on more, or less as normal during these strange times.
No doubt, all of us who have an interest in property investing have been forced to review our strategy in recent weeks due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
These have definitely been anxious times. While we can never be certain of the future, a life-threatening pandemic will definitely throw a spanner into our forecasting machinery.
We are facing once-in-a-lifetime challenges, but if we accept that every cloud has a silver lining, then for every challenge we face, there must be an opportunity.
It's how we approach our individual challenges that will determine our ultimate success, or failure.
One thing can be guaranteed: if we adopt a pro-active approach, we will remove the majority (if not all) of our anxieties.
While we have been grateful for our property investments, we have still had to face challenges aplenty over the last couple of months. Below, we will explore them in more detail and outline how we have tackled them.
There will be many who will have buried their head in the sand and adopted the 'let's wait and see.....' approach, which is definitely tempting as we all like to be certain of our options before diving-in and making any decisions.
One thing is certain though: the decision to 'do nothing', dwell on our problems and procrastinate about our options is flawed and will, in fact, only serve to exacerbate our anxieties.
In the weeks since lockdown started, these are just some of the issues we at Golden Egg Property have had to consider:
- Tenants not paying their rent.
- Tenants not communicating with us about their individual circumstances, which may affect their ability to pay their rent.
- Property maintenance issues.
- Getting contractors in and conducting safety checks.
- Empty rooms/properties. (Voids).
- Viewing, visiting and inspecting properties.
- Lack of financial support.
- Social distancing measures.
- Hygiene, health and safety.
Let's delve a little deeper into some of these issues and outline how we as a business have tackled them.
Tenants and Communication
Tenants are the life blood of any residential property investment business. They come in all shapes and sizes and have varying dispositions.
While we as landlords will have concerns about our business at this time we must be considerate of our tenants and understand that they are currently facing many similar challenges in their own lives and will, therefore, also be feeling very anxious.
Since the beginning of lockdown, we have discovered our tenants are generally quite a resilient lot. Initially, we had fears that governmental announcements may be used as an excuse by tenants to avoid paying their rent. However, this has not, on the whole, turned out to be the case.
We have a range of circumstances ranging from tenants who are key workers and are, to all intents and purposes, carrying on as normal, which includes paying their rent on time, to those who are currently paying nothing.
Communication and Rental Payments
Non-payment of rent is nothing new in residential property investment and Covid-19 has merely provided another excuse that people may use to shirk their responsibilities.
However, we have found that those (in our case 3) tenants using this as an excuse are the same type of tenants who provide landlords generally, ourselves included, with the most headaches at other times, when there isn't a pandemic going on!
We're back in Pareto's Principal (aka the 80/20 Rule) territory, whereby 20% of the people create 80% of the issues and take up 80% of our precious time. Meanwhile, the other 80% of folk just get on with their lives and vicariously only demand a corresponding fifth of our time.
Having said all this, we also understand that tenants may have genuine problems resulting in them being unable to pay their full rent on time. Where this is the case, we have been working with them to find a solution that works for everyone. In order for us to be able to do this, we first need to understand exactly what the issue is.
Without a doubt, it is frustrating when we first learn about a problem when an expected rent payment fails to land in our bank account at the allotted time.
This all comes down to communication. When we have received full and honest dialogue from our tenants, we have been able to help them accordingly. In some cases this has been to assist them to claim the relevant benefits that are available to them. In others, it has just been a matter of establishing a suitable repayment plan for any missed/short payments.
Where tenants have found themselves having to claim Universal Credit, in all cases, we have been able to submit a UC47 form to facilitate the tenants rent (or a significant portion of it) being paid directly to us, from the government. We have also found that the benefits agency have recently been very efficient in processing these requests.
Ultimately, we believe that the quality of the communication between tenants and landlords comes down to creating the right environment for tenants. By this we don't mean having the latest ultra-high-definition telly for them to watch in their ultra modern bedroom. What we do mean is making ourselves approachable, so that tenants feel that they can discuss their problems with us (tenancy-related only. We're not agony aunts!)
We have done this by being pro-active with our own communication. Within days of the governments 'lockdown announcement' in late March, we wrote to all our tenants outlining our expectations regarding social distancing and the need to maintain good household hygiene standards as well as pointing them in the direction of the various support resources that the government have made available to cope with the crisis.
It was also made clear that we expected rental payments to continue as normal. We have also been pro-active in contacting individual tenants as soon as rent payments have been missed and maintained ongoing dialogue to support them and to resolve problems.
While it has been irritating on those occasions where full and open dialogue has not been forthcoming, we have managed to address it quite promptly, establish reasons for non-payment of rent and agree a course of action to resolve any issues before they become insurmountable.
Contractors, Property Visits and Safety Checks
Social distancing measures and safety concerns have meant that we have all had to adopt a more cautious approach to those property investment activities, which require us to visit our properties, especially if they are currently tenanted.
In addition, individuals have interpreted social distancing measures in their own way and also have varying appetites to risk.
In some cases, this has been contractors deciding that they are not going to work until they feel safe to do so. In others, it's been tenants refusing entry to their homes even to carry out safety checks.
However, government have been clear that landlords still have a responsibility to ensure that essential works, including safety checks are completed as necessary.
Like most investors with multiple properties, we have had reason, in the past few weeks, to arrange for contractors to attend our properties. E.g. gas safety certificates becoming due for renewal.
We have been fortunate enough, over the years, to have built a strong power-team and therefore have had choices when it comes to getting such checks completed. Where one contractor has been unavailable, either through choice, or simply because they have been too busy, we have easily been able to call upon another to carry out the relevant work in a timely manner.
Where visits have been arranged, we have had to check that the contractor is happy to attend the property and is (and has been) symptom-free.
Likewise, we have had to ensure that the tenant(s) are amenable to the contractor visiting, that they also have been symptom-free and that all parties adhere to the social distancing and hygiene guidelines before, during and after the visit.
Dealing With Empty Properties/Rooms
At times like this, when faced with a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, it is inevitable that businesses will suffer, irrespective of the support made available by governments around the world.
For property investors, one of the key measures of success is having all properties/rooms-to-let fully tenanted. However, at times like this, it is also inevitable that we will be left with empty properties/rooms.
In our case, we have been left with a few empty rooms as tenants from abroad have decided to return home. Of course, they have gone with our blessing and our best wishes.
This has left us with the question of how do we re-fill these rooms and with whom?
Traditional-style viewings were clearly not an option to us during lockdown.
We have managed the process in the following manner:
- We have continued to advertise for tenants on the various portals (SpareRoom, OpenRent, Gumtree, Facebook etc.)
- We have liaised with existing tenants in our HMO's to ensure that they are happy to receive new housemates, again stressing social distancing and hygiene guidelines. We have also assured them that we will ensure that new tenants are fully briefed on our expectations prior to them moving in.
- We have also asked trusted existing tenants to provide us with video 'walk-throughs' of our properties that we can use for virtual viewings.
- We have targeted key workers.
- We use Go Tenant to manage all our tenancies. This is a great platform that ensures all the 'i's' are dotted and the 't's' crossed and, as everything is conducted online, including digitally signing tenancy agreements etc, it means that we can tenant a property with only minimal contact the prospective tenants. (nb. Right to Rent checks are still necessary, along with fire safety checks, prior to handing the keys over). Please also note, we are not affiliated to Go Tenant in any way.
The New Normal
Hopefully, you will see from above, that the coronavirus crisis doesn't have to be a crisis for property investors.
In fact, investing in property has allowed us to traverse the situation relatively unscathed.
Furthermore, whilst managing our existing portfolio, we have continued our search for more suitable properties to expand it.
However, since lockdown commenced we have seen the economy shrink significantly and it will take a considerable amount of time to return to its former level.
We can see from the stock chart above for the FTSE 100 that there was a significant sell-off as the impact of coronavirus started to become clear. (Between 17/01/2020 and 16/03/2020 the market lost in excess of 36% of its value.
At the time of writing (late May), we can also see that while the stock price has recovered somewhat, we are still a long way from pre-lockdown levels.
We still don't know for certain when the UK's behemoth service sector will be able to return to some kind of normality and as a result there will continue to be increased demand for benefits.
Additionally, at some point the government will also want to recover the costs of the crisis, but we don't yet know how this will look. We may well be facing a new round of austerity measures to rival those last seen in the noughties.
This is all likely to put downward pressure on house prices and rental incomes.
Looking ahead, it will be essential for property investors/landlords to be flexible and agile in order to adapt to the 'new normal' situation.
Look out soon, for more information from us highlighting where we see the opportunities for the weeks and months ahead. If your head's buried in the sand, you definitely won't spot them! So, let's look up and ahead and find those silver linings together.
One final thought, as the old adage goes:
"Don't wait to buy property...... Buy property and wait!"