Last time I tried re-let my one-bedroom rental flat, I was disheartened at the reaction of the viewers. It was obvious that the property, once the pride of my portfolio, had lost its wow factor.
The vast rooms, the soaring ceilings, the warmth of the natural wood floors no longer impressed them, and for a while I couldn’t work out why. Then a friend who is known for her breathtakingly blunt, but honest, opinions pointed out the obvious. It was, after nine years, pretty drab, she said.
True, I hadn’t done a thing to it since the original renovation, apart from the usual small maintenance jobs. I had to admit the décor was long past its best-before date. And in stark contrast, a new development of residential units had opened directly opposite — flash pads with their sleek kitchens and built-in espresso machines.
So I rapidly painted two of the rooms and dropped the asking price to less than I was getting three years earlier, but the flat was still empty for three weeks before I found a tenant. And the one thing landlords hate and fear most is voids.
When this new tenant leaves, I am planning to install a stylish kitchen and an impressive new bathroom, and then increase the rent by about £200 to £250 a month. And, hopefully, there will be no more voids.
I reckon I will have to spend at least £15,000 to £20,000, which is money I don’t have. I can’t remortgage the flat because I recently released the equity in it to raise a deposit for another rental flat. I could remortgage the only other rental property I have with any equity, but this will be tricky. It’s on a council estate, which many lenders don’t like.
Also, it has “deck access” — in other words, the front door opens on to an exterior walkway. For some reason, lenders like that even less, so I will have fewer to choose from and won’t necessarily get the best interest rate.
My husband, co-owner and unofficial financial adviser, has pointed out that refurbishing the flat could be a waste of money, because even if I achieve a £3,000 increase in the annual rent, it will take at least five years to recoup what I spend. The alternative is to leave the flat at a low rent. It’s decent enough and there is a lot of demand for more affordable accommodation in London.
But I am itching to restore it to its former glory. It’s not logical, I know, but long-term, it will be paid off and will have regained its wow factor. And to make me feel less guilty about spending all this money, I reckon it will give me less hassle, as the newer equipment will not break down and the tenants will not call me out in the middle of the night. Result.
Victoria Whitlock lets four properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock