The accidental landlord warns buyers against falling for a 'bargain' property

It pays to research the local area before investing in a property. Or, like our accidental landlord, you might smell rather more than a rat…
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To anyone looking to buy a rental property, I would always say it is better to invest in an area that you know well. Don’t try to be clever and sniff out the next property hotspot, because you can come a cropper that way.
Unfortunately, I don’t always follow my own advice.
When I decided to expand my fledgling property portfolio from two to three, I started searching for another good buy in my own neighbourhood, but prices had risen so much I couldn’t find anything affordable.
Even scruffy little flats were being snapped up for £100,000 more than they were worth 18 months earlier. So I extended my search into streets further and further away, until I found myself straying into a neighbouring borough with which I was totally unfamiliar.
Here, I spotted what I thought was an excellent little flat that no one else wanted. It had been on the market for months without attracting any offers, or so the estate agent claimed, and yet I couldn’t see anything wrong with it.
It looked like an excellent buy, not least because it was a top-floor maisonette with potential to extend into the loft space, meaning I could increase its rental value by adding an extra bathroom with an en suite.
I congratulated myself on finding a little gem in an area that had yet to become fashionable, so prices were much more affordable.
Of course, I realised that the fork-tongued agent had lied about the rental value to get the sale. I only had to look at rental properties advertised on Zoopla and other property websites to work out that it was worth £200 a month less.
No matter, it still seemed like a sound bet. I thought I might be able to squeeze slightly more than a five per cent yield out of it, and I quite fancied the challenge of a small building project, too.
Prior to making an offer, I took the precaution of getting a builder to take a look in the loft to make sure it could be extended, and I also checked that the deeds included the roof space. See, I wasn’t going to let anyone pull the wool over my eyes, oh no.
But I was so busy looking for “the catch” that I failed to smell the rat.


Some weeks after my offer had been accepted I discovered why the property hadn’t been snapped up earlier, and why the location was not, and was never likely to become, a fashionable one.
It was — and this is the real stinker — very close to a sewage works. That’s right, south London’s cesspit lay just a few hundred yards from the back door. I spotted this fact as I was browsing a satellite image of the area, after I had already shelled out hundreds of pounds in solicitors fees and surveys.

Never mind, I thought, it probably doesn’t smell much. Then I Googled it and found that the residents in the area knew that was not true.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, an afternoon’s online research revealed the local council was very strict on residential development, so was highly unlikely to allow much in the way of an extension.
I only had myself to blame, but you can learn from my mistakes. Stick to where you know.
  • Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock.

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