The accidental landlord: I'm in love with Margaret Thatcher - she put me on the property ladder

Victoria Whitlock gives thanks to Lady Thatcher, whose Right to Buy initiative meant she could invest in a council property
Say what you like about Margaret Thatcher — and I note that many have ignored the taboo of speaking ill of the dead to do just that — but I for one must recognise that it was her policies that enabled me to get my first flat and ultimately turned me into one of the early "accidental landlords".

Don't worry, I'm not going to go all political on you, and I'm no fan of Thatcherism, but as Londoners turn out (or not) for her funeral, I have to credit her for giving me a leg up on the property ladder. If they're honest, many other landlords will admit that they're still benefiting from the policies she introduced.

As a 21-year-old with not a penny deposit, and take home pay of less than £300 a month, I was able to buy my first flat thanks to Thatcher's Right to Buy initiative, introduced in 1980 to allow council tenants to buy their homes at attractive discounts.

This policy, combined with her liberalisation of the mortgage market, meant people like me, with no savings and low incomes, could go house-hunting.

My first flat was an ex-local authority property, which had been bought from the council by the previous tenant. I bought it from them for £16,500 with a 110 per cent interest-only mortgage from the Northern Rock Building Society. Was it responsible to borrow so much on such a small salary with no means to repay the money? Hell no, but at 21 I didn't care.

The flat was only a bit bigger than a shoe box, but it was the cheapest flat for miles around and I was thrilled to own my own place, even though it meant I couldn't always afford to eat!

When property prices crashed in the late 80s and I couldn't sell the flat, I decided to let it instead and, ta-da, I was an accidental landlord. Fast-forward nearly 25 years and I have a small "portfolio" of two private properties and an ex-local authority flat, the latter bought from another landlord as a rental investment.

Ex-council properties are great buy-to-lets because they're so cheap compared to private houses. You can pick up a local authority flat for little more than half what you'd pay for a private property and yet you get only about 20 per cent less rent, making for a good annual return.

On the estate where I bought my ex-local authority flat, 75 per cent are still owned by the council and, of the 25 per cent that were initially bought by their tenants, a handful have subsequently been sold to landlords like me.

As a result, the estate has a mixed bag of residents: those in the council flats are mainly families, low-paid workers, the elderly and the longterm unemployed, who are living alongside young professionals and students who make up the bulk of my tenants and those renting the other private flats. This side-by-side living is a legacy of Thatcher's Right to Buy.

I'm not oblivious to the fact there's a significant downside to councils selling off their housing stock, and I'm sympathetic to the fact that a lack of re-investment in social housing has led to a shortage of accommodation. A recent article in my local paper lamented that many of the borough's council properties have ended up in the hands of "greedy landlords", but you can't blame us for buying them or former tenants for snapping them up at discounts and selling them on at a profit.

Blame Maggie, or credit her.

Follow our accidental landlord on Twitter at @VicWhitlock

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