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2013 resolutions for landlords

Although we all know that good communication is essential to any relationship most of us are guilty of periods of miscommunication – or sometimes no communication at all. Make 2013 the year that you talk (and listen!) to your tenant…

"Good communication between a self-managed landlord and tenant is vital," says proprietor of Belvoir Bury St Edmunds Patsy Day.

"Depending on the time in the tenancy or indeed the time of year there are a number of things landlords need to tell their tenants – and having a relationship based on good communication allows you to deliver these key messages with ease. For example, you might need to tell your tenant to keep the heating on low while there’s frost on the ground to prevent your pipes freezing, or you might need to speak to them regarding their fixed-term contract coming to an end.

"It’s good to keep the channels of communication open so you can find out about the property itself, too. If a tenant is simply left to get on with it, it’s impossible for you to know what’s going on in your property. But, if you are in touch and talking regularly, it will keep you in the ‘know’.”

"I think tenants appreciate hearing from their landlord, as long as it’s not too much,” continues Patsy. “All communication has got to be timely and relevant and it’s important that you leave your tenant to enjoy living in the house, while creating a relationship in which you feel that you can talk to them when you need to."

2 Pay a visit

When did you last visit your property? If it was more than six months ago you really should be putting a date in the diary. Regular inspections are important for both the landlord and tenant. An opportunity for landlords to assess the treatment of their property and review any necessary updates and repairs, inspections also give the tenant a chance to raise any problems or concerns.

"Don’t underestimate the value of inspections – they are extremely important," says proprietor of Belvoir Cheadle Darragh Lee. "If you’re self-managing your property you really should visit the property every six months as a minimum. At Belvoir Cheadle we visit our managed properties every three months as part of our contract, and I always advise self-managing landlords that even if they can’t go as often as we do, it’s vitally important that they schedule a visit at least every six months. The time for this visit should be pre-arranged with your tenant and confirmed in writing where possible.

"A visit to the property is the only way to get an accurate picture of what’s going on in your property. Just because someone’s paying rent on time every month and isn’t hassling you it doesn’t mean everything is all right.

"Sometimes there is a problem pointer that a tenant doesn’t tell you about because it isn’t particularly bothering them, such as a stained patch on the ceiling. But, of course, it would bother you as it would indicate that there was something wrong with the property that could, if not treated early, be a major problem later down the line."

3 Rapid repairs

Are you guilty of delaying repairs and not responding to maintenance issues quickly enough?

When maintenance issues are reported, act swiftly in order to avoid long-term damage to your property and, ultimately, the bigger price tag that this is likely to carry.

"It’s important to react quickly when maintenance issues are reported," says proprietor of Belvoir Swansea Ben Davies. "It’s your property and you are responsible for it and for maintaining the value of it. Even minor leaks can turn into something quite serious if left."

As well as helping to maintain the fabric of your property, a speedy response to maintenance problems is beneficial for your tenant too. Not only will it increase their confidence in you as a landlord, but it will also make their living environment more comfortable and possibly encourage them to stay longer.

"You wouldn’t choose to live in a damp, cold property with a host of outstanding maintenance issues – and neither would your tenant," says Ben. "I always say to my landlords, ‘you wouldn’t want to spend the winter in a property with a faulty boiler, so why would they?’ Always remember that you have a duty of care to your tenants.

"Also, if they are good tenants, you will want them to stay with you for as long as possible. I am a firm believer that keeping the property well-maintained can help increase a tenant’s confidence in you as a landlord and possibly lengthen their stay with you too."

4 Financial review

Do the figures add up? Review your outgoings (and your incomings) to ensure your finances are working for you as efficiently as possible.

"It’s a good idea to sit down with your paperwork at least once a year to identify if anything can be streamlined," says Darragh Lee. "Would you benefit from a better mortgage rate, for example? There are buy-to-let products coming on to the market all the time and there are some great deals currently available. Look at speaking to a good broker to ensure you have the best product for your circumstances.

"Another major area to scrutinise is the bills and invoices from contractors that do any work on the property. Whether they are plumbers, electricians or handymen, are they charging fair prices for the jobs they are doing?

"Likewise, assess your insurance costs,” continues Darragh. “Are your provider’s prices competitive with others? If not, could you negotiate a better deal? Of course, it’s vitally important to take care when shopping around for insurance as, although there is likely to be a cheaper solution available, cheaper isn’t always best and it’s important that the policy covers everything you need.

"In fact, while evaluating any area of your finances always remember that although it’s usually good to cut costs, it’s never good to cut corners!"

In addition to assessing what’s going out of your bank account, think about incoming revenue too. Is it time for a rental review?

"Is the rent you are being paid the correct amount for the property?" asks Patsy Day. "Is it time for an increase? An annual increase of 4 or 5% depending on the local market isn’t uncommon, but be careful not to jeopardise a relationship with a good tenant by unjustified rental increases. If you’re unsure of the current rental value of your property, ask a specialist letting agent, such as Belvoir, for a valuation. And, if you’re not going to put the rent up, then let your tenant know that too."

5 Refine your timeline

Have you got a long-term plan? When are you planning to sell your rental property and what is your exit strategy? Refine your timeline now in order for you to exit in the most effective way and maximise your profit on resale.

"It’s extremely useful to have a well thought-out long-term plan – and if you haven’t already got one now’s the time to make one," says Patsy Day. "In order to do this you should have a firm idea why you’ve got the property and what its function is – is it for retirement planning, is it for income or is it to pass on to your children? Always know what you want your investment to achieve.

"As part of this plan you should also know when you’re intending to exit and how you’re going to do that. For instance, there’s no point buying a property for capital growth with a plan that says you want the money out next year. Think about the implications of your exit strategy on your tax position too.

"In fact, perfecting your plan now will help enable you to have a well-executed exit later."

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