Always pay for repairs on buy to let home: hiring a good contractor should add value to the property in the long run, even if it reduces short-term profit

The accidental landlord finds that the old adage 'buy cheap, buy twice' holds true for home repairs. But paying up is even better if fellow freeholders chip in...

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Huge sighs of relief all round. I have finally solved the problem of the leaky roof. My tenants now have a new roof over their heads and have happily cleared away the buckets and bowls they were using to catch the rainwater pouring through the ceiling.

It’s great for me as well as for them to have the problem sorted after long months of stress, but the cost has wiped out at least a couple of years’ profit from that flat. I keep comforting myself with the thought that the new roof will boost the value of the place.

I have learned quite a few lessons, the most important being that when it comes to major repairs it’s a false economy to get it done on the cheap. It’s much better to go straight to the experts. I wasted £3,000 on two amateur roofers who tried to plug the leak but just made it worse.

In the end the tenants politely told me they were not going to pay their rent until the roof was watertight, and I couldn’t blame them. In fact, I was surprised they left it so long to kick up a fuss.

At that point I decided to give up on the useless odd jobbers and hire a proper roofer. I took a friend’s advice and found a firm via the National Federation of Roofing Contractors, whose members provide the comfort of an insurance-backed guarantee. They said that if I’d gone to them first they could have repaired the original roof but it had now been so messed up that I was left with no option but to replace it. It was hard not to scream.

Luckily, the owners of all the other flats in the block, who each own a share of the freehold, chipped in. That was a big relief — freeholders aren’t always as co-operative. I once had a buy-to-let flat in another building where the owners of all the other flats had set up a kitty to cover the cost of repairs, and I contributed my share. However, they went deaf when I told them my tenant had complained of damp patches on the ceiling. I couldn’t afford to take legal action to force them to pay to repair the roof and I couldn’t delay carrying out the work because I might have lost my tenant, so I had to shoulder the entire cost myself.

Repairs are an ongoing problem for a landlord because if you don’t keep on top of them, you can’t let your flat. Other owners in the block can leave repairs as long as they like, because they live there and are in no hurry to share costs for the building, even if it does benefit them.

A landlord I know has just paid for the drains to be unblocked and the gutters to be repaired while no one else in the building has contributed a penny. If I take on another buy-to-let flat with a share of the freehold, I’ll make sure there is a sizeable sinking fund and a good relationship among the other freeholders, so I can be certain they’ll all share the maintenance.

Victoria Whitlock lets four properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock

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