The accidental landlord: a guide to getting started

Rule number one: buy close to home...but not so close that you'll bump into tenants on the street
Now, it must have been almost a fortnight since I had an SOS from any of my tenants, which is odd: either they’ve finally run out of things to moan about or they’ve worked out I’m writing about them and they’re sulking.

So, as it’s been a quiet few days, I thought I’d share with you my thoughts on what makes a successful buy-to-let — think of this as an idiot’s guide rather than an expert view, just a few tips to get you started.

I’m not going to hand out financial advice and I’m assuming you’ve already persuaded someone gullible to lend you the money (I hope it’s your bank manager and not your gran), so you’re already at the point where you’re trying to decide what to buy.

Well ignore advice from property experts who’ll tell you to go with your head not your heart because they’ve obviously never tried to let a place they didn’t like.

If you fall in love with a property, the chances are others will love it too (unless you’ve got appalling taste, in which case you should give up now). If you don’t like a place, don’t buy it.

Buying near to where you live makes sense because then it’ll be easier to manage, but don’t buy so close to your own place that you’ll bump into your tenants every time you go out. Knowing the area well is an advantage because then you can sell the plus points; you can tell viewers about that fabulous deli, where to find the nearest Costcutter (especially if they’re students) or give families the lowdown on local schools.

Buy close to a university, hospital or other large employer and you’ll be almost guaranteed a steady stream of tenants. Similarly, proximity to public transport is a bonus, especially in London. Outside space is not essential and it could be a drag unless it’s easy to maintain — I’d go for a balcony or patio rather than a garden.

Think about ways to squeeze extra value from a property, such as dividing a large room in two, or turning a reception into a bedroom, but make sure you’ve got enough bathrooms and loos for the number of occupants and that the kitchen is large enough to accommodate everyone.

Unless you want to go through the hassle of applying for a licence for a house of multiple occupancy, steer clear of very large properties. When you’ve found a place, what you’ll need more than anything else are reliable people to service it. At the very least you’ll need a good plumber, a gas engineer and a handyman. Good idea to go on a weekend DIY course, too, for emergencies.

You can find tradespeople on websites like but it’s better to get recommendations from friends or other landlords, though as it’s easier to find a parking space on King’s Road than a reliable tradesman, they might be reluctant to share them. I’m often asked to recommend tradespeople, though many I’ve used are reluctant for publicity as they’re already so busy. However, as it’s the season of goodwill, in next week’s column, I promise, I’ll give out some of my contacts.

When you’ve found a place, you’ll need to fill it. You can use letting agents to find tenants but it should be easy enough to find them yourself, assuming you live close enough and can spare the time to show people around.

Use an online agent like and you can advertise your place on all the main property portals for less than £100. Or you can just stick an ad on Gumtree, which is where I’ve found most of my tenants. It allows landlords two free ads per year.

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