I am delighted to have industry specialist David Lawrenson as my Notable Property Person this week. Here is his story.
1. Please introduce yourself. Say a bit about yourself and your company
I’m David Lawrenson, owner of property consultancy, landlord advice and buy to let information website, www.LettingFocus.com
I’m author of the UK’s top selling property book, “Successful Property Letting – How to Make Money in Buy to Let” as well as being a landlord, media commentator, consultant and the landlord blogs at www.LettingFocus.com/blog.html and www.LettingFocus.com/blogs
Primarily my main role is acting as a consultant to a range of businesses that have products and services for landlords. I help them improve their buy to let and landlord facing products and services.
My main clients include banks (buy to let mortgages and insurance), local authorities and housing associations (setting up private rented sector access schemes) and property portals such as Rightmove, though I do work in other sectors too.
As well as my corporate work, I also find a little time to help private investors as a property coach and mentor.
I don’t charge corporate rates to private landlords but I show property investors of whatever level of experience how they can make money in residential property investment and buy to let using ethical methods that actually work and without taking undue risks.
2. How did you first become involved in property?
I have been a landlord for 24 years. I started when I bought a 2 bed flat and let the other room out. It paid off all my mortgage and I figured this was a good way to make a living and more fun than my day job.
3. What do you think is your greatest achievement so far?
It has to be my book. It has sold 25,000 copies in the 4 and a half years to date and has been the UK’s highest selling property book for 3 years running now.
I think people like it because it is up to date (we have had to revise it many times to keep up to date with all the changing legislation the government keeps chucking at us) and it is honest and doesn’t make any ludicrous claims that you can be a millionaire in a few months like lots of other books do.
I also enjoy all the consulting work I have done to date – whether it is doing 5 figure contracts for big firms or the government or just small half day consulting jobs for private individuals. I enjoy it all and no, I don’t miss being a wage slave and working for someone else one bit.
I also like being a good landlord and looking after my tenants. Most stay a long time so I guess I’m doing something right.
4. Do you or your company have any exciting plans for the future?
Not really. I will just keep on keeping on doing this because it is what I like.
Since I have moved my consulting to do more business to business work, I have become very busy especially with work from banks who want to improve their buy to let lending products and local authorities who want to do more on private rented sector access schemes.
The public sector is surprisingly open to new ideas. Some of the banks are still too arrogant to figure that they have to give a landlord more advice than “here is a £200K mortgage, now off you go.” But I’m working with some of the more forward thinking banks right now to give their buy to let borrowers a lot more help and advice and to improve the knowledge of their customer servicing and sales staff as well as what is on their websites for their customers. This should “change the game” as far as buy to let mortgages are concerned and it will definitely cut my clients’ arrears rates.
Plus, I’m always looking for new property investments for me.
5. What do you think are the greatest problems facing the private rented sector today?
Some regulation can be misconceived and badly targeted.
Take landlord licensing in Scotland. It has all cost a great deal of money and yet loads of landlords letting property remain outside the scheme (despite the risk of fines).
It was supposed to drive out rogue landlords, and yet, the number of rogue landlords driven out by the scheme is pitiful.
When you look at it, it is just a tax on good landlords and I guess it gives some civil servants a job administering the scheme.
6. What do you think are the greatest opportunities?
Too many landlords today don’t understand how letting to people on benefits works.
This is a growing area that can be very rewarding providing landlords know what they are doing.
7. We have a new government. What would you like them to do for the private rented sector?
I’m going to upset some corporate clients here, but here goes.
The government could start by re-reading Julie Rugg’s report that they commissioned, where she said that the small private landlord is doing very well (the private rented sector has grown from 8% of all housing stock in 1988 to 15% odd now).
Then they could ask themselves why they want to dole out tax breaks to big property firms and city institutions so they can make investing in the private residential sector or “build to let” work for them financially.
I ask the government why the big firms should get special tax breaks.
I would say that if they can’t make buy to let work without special treatment then maybe they should not be in the game at all.
Instead, I would suggest the government should look at the oligopoly that exists in buy to let mortgage finance and sort that out and get buy to let mortgage rates and fees down.
If they do so, the small landlord can start buying more property very well.
Also, why regulate buy to let mortgage finance when it patently obvious that it is the activities of some property clubs and bad advisers that needs regulating.
8. Do you use social media (blogs, twitter, LinkedIn etc)? What place do you think it has in the future of the property industry?
I have spent ages learning about and implementing search engine optimisation but of the social networking stuff I only use Twitter (and only because it is quick to do). My Twitter site is www.Twitter.com/LettingFocus.
Apart from that, I’m not convinced of the benefit of the rest of the social networking scene to my consulting business – whether we are talking private landlord clients or big organisations.
Despite the claims of some social networking advocates I know, that most organisations don’t consult Linked in or the like when they want to hire an expert on landlord products or indeed any other sort of expert for that matter.
9. What is the most important lesson you have learned during your time in property?
Buy the right property in the right place and in the right location (especially where transport improvements and regeneration are actually happening)
Make sure you check out tenants carefully or make absolutely sure your agent has done this for you.
There are great letting agents out there and there are ones who, frankly should not be in business at all.
In case you have the latter, you have to keep them on a short rein and fully check the references of any tenants they get for you. (I hear from so many landlords who got a tenant from hell through a duff letting agent!)
Then treat tenants well and have a very robust system when they come to leave to reduce the chance of disputes.
10. What advice would you have to someone thinking of entering the property industry today?
Read my book.
And don’t listen to the many scam merchants in the piranha invested property advice pool – remember property investment advice is still largely unregulated.
Thanks for your wise words David. And I can vouch for the book being a good one, well worth getting, whether you are a new or an experienced landlord. Click here if you want to buy it..