09 Aug The Property Investor
I am often asked how I got into property and, the truth is, I am no different from most other property investors.
Everyone I meet who is involved in property seems to have had a defining moment – something in their lives that caused them to dramatically change direction. The by-product of this event-induced change often appears to be increased passion, drive, determination and focus.
The stories I have heard have been varied; from tales of individuals working in dead end jobs who have had someone say something quite cutting to them which triggered an emotive response to do something new, to those coming from a position of overwhelming debt. Some people have lost people close to them or have suffered a personal tragedy. These life defining events can set in motion a true motivation to make money from property investment.
I am often asked about my journey to becoming a property investor, though I rarely recount it in as much detail as I will here. I hope that by telling my story, I can encourage others to build a brighter future by taking that first step into property.
The date of my ‘epiphany’ was November 5th 2014. I was being wheeled into an operating theatre in a London hospital for my fifth spinal operation and my last surgical option. I had been in the same hospital two years prior and the operation had not been successful, meaning that this procedure was very much my last chance.
My health had degraded significantly since the previous operation and daily life had become intolerable. I was in constant pain; taking five different painkillers at the maximum dose. These had become less and less effective and I was suffering hot and cold sweats.
Physically, at this point, I could barely walk a hundred metres and only manage to work a few hours a day in an office environment. Sitting had become very painful and even alternating between a regular office chair and a specialist kneeling chair offered no respite. My daily office routine consisted of regular walks to the kitchen primarily to keep me moving and secondarily for caffeine to keep me awake, as I was not sleeping very much and therefore finding it incredibly difficult to concentrate. After a few hours, I would return home and go straight to bed.
My nights were spent drifting in and out of consciousness, and I rarely awoke feeling rested. Often, I would be awake at night pacing around just so I would tire and then perhaps be able to fall back to sleep.
On that fateful November day, I was on the trolley bed feeling cold and shivering. Dressed in one of those indecent robes that tie at the back but never quite meet in the middle, I could smell that distinctive hospital odour and was watching people in blue and green overalls scurry around me opening sterile plastic wrappers. It took a few attempts to get the cannula in my wrist. I had a red wristband indicating allergies to certain medications namely certain antimalarial drugs and yet, for the fourth time I was asked what I was allergic to, my name and date of birth.
I recall feeling very nervous – this was the same surgeon, same hospital and a repeat of the same operation I had had two years previously, which left me in a worse situation than ever before. If the operation failed, I had no further avenues to explore.
I knew very well if this operation did not help me, all the things I had worked for would fall apart like a house of cards. I am the sole breadwinner for my family and I was acutely aware that, if my health degraded further, I would no longer be able to work. My daughter was happy at a small private school which my wife would not be able to fund alone, and if I was not able to pay my mortgage, how long would it be before the bank came along to repossess the house?
As the mask was put on my face, I said in jest “If I die in here, I am going to come back and haunt you lot!” I don’t think it went down too well, as no one even hazarded a smile, and that made me all the more nervous.
I had sustained the initial injury which caused my condition twenty years previously whilst on military operations when serving in the army in Northern Ireland. I had acquired a spinal compression injury, which had effectively squashed my spine.
It was caused by my jumping over a barbed-wire fence with a lot of weight on my back whilst on a rural patrol. Jumping over fences was something I did around 200 times a day to avoid potentially booby-trapped gates. This time, the field on the opposite side was several feet lower than the field I was jumping from, meaning the drop was far greater than I had expected.
When I landed on the other side with both feet on the floor, the spring in my legs was completely expended and my pack hit my ankles causing a sharp pain and me to cry out. I was laid out on the ground in agony and a couple of guys in my patrol dragged me into a nearby cowshed to assess my condition.
I was in a lot of pain. Though luckily, after a few minutes to recover, I could still walk. My equipment was distributed amongst the rest of the section and I managed to complete the patrol. However, after that, my health degraded year on year.Back in the theatre, I was looking around wondering how I had got there and feeling fearful of my future. This was my lightbulb moment and the reason I got into
Back in the theatre, I was looking around wondering how I had got there and feeling fearful of my future. This was my lightbulb moment and the reason I got into property.
This financial situation was my fault! Why, with failing health, had I not planned for this? My realisation was that my current income was completely dependent upon me exchanging my time for money, which was fine if I had time to exchange, but if I was incapacitated, then what?
I needed an income which would just roll in without my active participation or what property experts call ‘passive income’.
Although I had purchased an HMO in Salford about two years before, it was hardly a success. Lots of void periods, tenants skipping off with rent unpaid, damage to the property, poor management and slim returns – although still a better return than the bank would offer in interest on savings.
I needed to ensure that I could turn things around and make this work. I decided to face the situation head on and invest time and money on specialist property training.
From the training, I learned why my property was not working for me, and what I needed to do about it. However, I lived 200 miles away! I needed to build up a team, but how was I going to achieve that at an arm’s length?
Fortunately, problem-solving is something I am good at and I convinced the IT Company I worked with to open a sales office in Manchester. They already had a logistics base there, so the investment was relatively small and this would give me an opportunity to add value to their business while affording me the opportunity to build up my team in Manchester.
I now have a Power Team in Manchester, including builders, architects, cleaners, property managers and solicitors whom I trust.
The same HMO which had previously struggled has enjoyed over 100% occupancy since my new team was put in place and, although I have a tenant moving out this week, I have another tenant moving in on the same day. I don’t incur void losses and maximise my return on investment.
Luckily the operation was a success and my health has improved significantly since that life changing day back in 2014. I am now in a much better financial situation, owning seven investment properties which are a mixture of single lets and HMOs.
My latest acquisition is a 4-bed house for which I paid £148,000 and I have just submitted a planning application to turn it into an 8 bed HMO, offering en-suites to every room.
Taking the time to really understand both the lifestyle I wanted to create for myself, and how to fully optimise the income from investment properties, combined with building up a trusted team has ensured that I am now able to live without the worry of what may happen should I encounter health problems again, and I feel fully able to provide for my family no matter the circumstances.
So, that is m]y story of how I got into property. I hope it inspires someone else to change their life for the better. If you risk nothing, you risk everything!