The accidental landlord

Victoria Whitlock goes into free fall as the repair bills for her rental properties build up to crisis point
This is such a great time to invest in a buy-to-let, never been better, money for old rope - or at least that is what you might think, reading some of the pundits. But before you rush into it, put the kettle on, sit down and read this.

Rental properties don't just take care of themselves, they're a BIG responsibility and they're expensive - boy, are they expensive. Unless you are a DIY expert and you've got loads of spare time you could easily spend any profit you might make just keeping a property ticking over.

I'm rubbish at DIY (every time I try to mend something I break it a little bit more) so this month alone I'll have to spend close to two grand on relatively minor repairs. Yes, two grand.

Last week I spotted there was a damp patch on the kitchen ceiling in my maisonette. It was coming from the bathroom above, water was getting behind the tiles in the shower so the whole lot has to come off and the area retiled. Cost? £355, thank you. A corner of the kitchen will have to be redecorated to cover the damp patch, too. Cost? Another £150.

A sash cord on a window in my other flat has snapped and I had hoped to get it done for a few quid, but it turns out this is quite a specialist job. The entire bay window will have to come out and for that I've got to bring in a specialist sash refurbishment firm. Cost? £550.

On inspecting the window, the aforementioned specialist spotted one of the sills was rotten (he wasn't blagging, you could poke your finger right through it), so that has to be replaced now. Cost? £820.

And that's not all. While I was letting out my own home, the tenants broke the shower by forcing the handle on the thermostatic valve. They didn't tell me so I didn't find out until after I moved back in; now I've been told that it will have to be replaced. The trouble is this will involve smashing the tiles to get the valve out so the whole unit will have to be retiled. Worse, the stud wall may have to be rebuilt, too. Total cost? More than the house is worth.

So altogether I've got to spend £1,875 on maintenance in just one month and that doesn't include the cost of repairing the shower because that will have to wait until I've won the Lottery.

You see this is the irony of being a landlord, your own home might be falling to bits about your ears but you've got to keep your rental properties in tip-top shape because your tenants pay you rent.

Paul Shamplin, founder of Landlord Action, which specialises in tenant eviction, says it's not uncommon for tenants to use maintenance issues as a reason for withholding rent. And as tenants, even bad ones, are better protected than bats, you can't just boot them out if they don't pay up. No, you've got to go through a long-winded legal process.

I'm not asking for your sympathy, I'm just saying that it's not easy to make money from buy-to-let, not even now when rents are rising and tenants are 10 a penny. If you're sure the value of a property will go up it might be a good investment but in the meantime you might not make a penny.

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