The accidental landlord: only the brave can buy to let

Put your broker on speed-dial and sharpen your elbows. The accidental landlord gives her checklist for landing a rental flat in today’s red-hot market.
Thinking of investing in a buy-to-let property? Are you crazy? It’s mayhem out there. Everyone and their dog seems to have the same idea. It’s hard even to get to see properties for sale these days.
Appointments for viewings must be made days in advance, then you and a dozen or so other potential buyers will be herded around the property like hungry cattle. You will then get just five minutes to decide if you want to shell out several hundred thousand pounds for it and, when you’ve made up your mind that you do, it will be too late, the place will already have been sold.
I have been looking for a rental in south London for a couple of weeks, and all I’ve got to show for it are sore feet and bruised elbows from  all the jostling with other would-be investors.

Do you really want to get out there and try your luck? If that’s a yes, aside from a large wad of cash for your deposit, you will need:
A comfortable pair of slip-on shoes. You are going to do a lot of walking, and you need to get your shoes on and off quickly. If you faff around, someone else could have had their offer accepted.
A calculator. Unless you are some sort of maths freak, you will need one so that you can quickly work out the deposit you will need and your potential rental yield when an agent whispers in your ear that the property has gone over the asking price “but if you offer this now you could bag it”.
It’s easy to get carried away and bid more than you were intending to when put under pressure, but if you haven’t got a large enough deposit, or the rent won’t cover your mortgage interest payments, you are stuffed.
A good mortgage broker on speed-dial, so you can check that you are able to get a buy-to-let mortgage on the property before you put in an offer. Properties that might be difficult or more expensive to mortgage include freehold apartments; flats in council-built tower blocks; homes on large, run-down council estates; those with short leases; premises above cafés, restaurants or takeaways, or those that don’t have working kitchens and bathrooms so they can’t be let immediately.
I email links to properties on agents’ websites to my broker, Martin Stewart, at London Money for his opinion before making offers. His sensible number-crunching stops me getting carried away — most of the time, anyhow. Agents often won’t put forward your offer to the vendor until they have verified that you are good for the money, which is another reason for having a “Martin” in your corner.
A really top-notch, thoroughly recommended, tried and tested solicitor — preferably local as they will know the territory, its downsides and the council. Solicitors need to act fast in this market to make sure you are not gazumped, but given that you will be spending several hundred thousand pounds, you need one you can trust, not a “money-saving” cheap conveyancer. This is false economy.
You also need plenty of stamina — and lots and lots of patience. I wish you the very best of luck.
  • Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock

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