On paper, being a successful landlord is easy. The right property + the right tenant, mixed with a smidgeon of luck, and voila! You have a successful buy to let business. Unfortunately, there is also a lot that can go wrong!
There are always stories about rogue landlords in the press. These people always get way more column inches than good, responsible landlords. Unsurprisingly, the general public believes bad landlords are in a majority.
Thankfully, there are far more good landlords out there than the press would have us believe. But make no mistake – it’s not easy being a successful landlord. In this article, we have 43 tips to boost your chances of being a buy to let success story.
1. Treat buy to let as a business
Buy to let is a business. Never forget that. If you don’t take your landlord venture seriously, it’s unlikely to generate you a significant profit. In fact, it could even end up costing you money due to careless decision making and forgetfulness.
Create a property business plan outlining your short-term and long-term goals, as well as how you plan to achieve them. This is your blueprint for success.
Manage your expenses and monitor your rental yields. If a property isn’t making you money, sell it.
2. Work with a good accountant
Accountants are an expense, but they can potentially save you considerable sums of money. A good accountant will help you minimise your tax obligations and ensure you pay what you need to on time. Unless you are a whizz with numbers and an expert at tax and VAT, it’s well worth paying an expert to manage your books.
3. Use landlord software
On the back of the previous two points, we recommend you use landlord software to manage your business admin, rent collection, and more. This keeps all of your property-related transactions in one cloud-based location and ensures you don’t forget to do anything important, like place a tenant’s deposit in a government-approved scheme or service a gas appliance. It will also help you track rental payments. Which is handy if you are the forgetful type.
4. Act like a professional at all times
As a professional landlord, it’s essential that you act in a professional manner at all times. This includes – but is not limited to – ensuring all correspondence is polite and to the point, you treat tenants like customers, and you maintain professional boundaries. If you have an issue with anything, try to resolve it amicably and professionally.
5. Memorise the contents of your tenancy agreements
A tenancy agreement is a contract between you and your tenant. It outlines what each of you is responsible for. For the avoidance of future issues, it is sensible to familiarise yourself with each clause of any tenancy agreement you ask a tenant to sign.
Many of the clauses will be self-explanatory, but it’s helpful if you can quickly explain any that cause confusion and draw your tenant’s attention to anything you feel they need to know before they sign. In addition, if your future tenant calls you out on something they feel you haven’t done, you can politely draw their attention to Clause X, sub-section X.
6. Offer tenants different ways to pay the rent
If you want your tenants to pay the rent on time, make it as easy as possible. Setting up direct debit payments is one of the best ways to ensure the rent is always paid on the allotted day. You can ask the tenant what day is best for them, so their rent comes out on the same day they get paid. That way, they don’t end up in a financial hole. Be flexible about how the rent is paid. It really doesn’t matter how they pay as long as they do pay!
7. Be open to zero-deposit tenancies
The deposit is often a huge barrier for tenants on a low income. Asking a tenant to find up to six weeks’ worth of rent is a big ask. It also makes it extremely difficult for tenants when they want to leave. Most landlords won’t release the deposit until the tenancy ends, which means a tenant has to find the cash for a new deposit to hand over to their next landlord.
Zero Deposit schemes make private rentals much more affordable for tenants. The tenant buys an insurance scheme, which is approximately one week’s rent. This covers the landlord in the event of property damage. If there are any issues at the end of the tenancy, the scheme reimburses the landlord and then chases the tenant for the money. It’s a win-win for everyone.
8. Store all documents in the cloud
Imagine how you would feel if you lost all of your business documents. This could be because your house flooded or there was a fire, or perhaps you have recently moved house and incompetent removal men dropped a box full of files into a puddle and forgot to mention this before everything went into storage for a week.
Whatever the cause, the loss of business documents is a huge headache when it is time to do your tax returns. If you don’t have access to comprehensive records of your income and expenditure, it’s impossible to figure out what you owe and what you can claim for.
To avoid this kind of problem, store as much of your business documentation in the cloud as you can. Scan receipts, invoices, and everything else. Upload all documents to an online storage facility.
9. Be consistent in your approach
Consistency is key to a more professional approach. Have solid business procedures for everything you do. That way, there is no confusion about anything and tenants (and suppliers) know exactly where they stand.
10. Be available when required
You must set clear boundaries in your professional life. Let tenants know they can contact you in person between set hours. Any messages sent out of hours will be dealt with the next working day, unless it’s an emergency, of course.
Be very clear about what constitutes an emergency. Being locked out of a house for the umpteenth time may not be your idea of an emergency, but use your discretion here.
Genuine emergencies should always be dealt with promptly.
11. Reply promptly to emails/telephone calls
Whilst it’s sensible to set clear boundaries about when you are available to deal with problems/queries, do reply promptly to emails and telephone calls. There will be times when you can’t answer the phone, but if a tenant leaves a voicemail, return their call as soon as possible. With emails, aim to answer within 24-hours, or sooner if the problem is more urgent.
If you know you are going to be unavailable for a short spell, set up an out of office message for your email account and change your voicemail greeting to something more appropriate, so tenants/business partners don’t expect an immediate response.
12. Provide more than one contact option
It’s sensible to provide multiple ways for a tenant/supplier to get in touch. Giving out your mobile number provides a direct line straight to you but have a second business phone for this purpose. That way, you can switch it off when you go on holiday or when you don’t want to be disturbed.
Other handy contact options include email and social media. Run social media and messaging accounts for your buy to let business and encourage tenants to contact you on there. Many younger tenants are more comfortable using Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook to communicate, but be flexible according to your tenant demographic (expecting an elderly tenant to use Twitter as a communication tool is probably not suitable for that type of tenant).
13. Appoint someone to be your point of contact when you go on holiday
Since it is unreasonable for anyone to expect you to be available 24/7/365, make sure you have someone who can handle the business when you are jet setting. Let your tenants know they can contact this person in the event of problems.
Of course, if you use a letting agent to manage your properties, you don’t have to worry as much, but it is still a good idea to delegate a trusted third-party to act in your absence.
14. Target the right tenants
This one isn’t rocket science, but it is surprising how many new landlords don’t have a coherent business strategy. It’s very important that the property you let is aligned with the type of tenants you want to attract. For example, if you have hopes of letting to upwardly mobile young professionals, the property should be in a well-connected area and of suitable quality.
Have a target tenant in mind before you search for a property. Otherwise, you’ll struggle to find anyone suitable or achieve the kind of rental income you are hoping for.
15. Use multi-channel marketing
Marketing helps you find a tenant. If you’re using a letting agent’s “tenant finder” service, then this is their responsibility and you can relax. But if this is something you want to take on yourself, it is easy to do.
For best results, adopt a multi-pronged approach to marketing. A stand alone ad in the local paper might yield a few enquiries, but it is better to advertise the property on multiple channels.
Begin with sites like Rightmove and Zoopla, as these are where many tenants look first. Bear in mind you’ll need to sign up with an online letting agent before you can add a listing.
Don’t forget about social media. This is often highly effective, especially if you are targeting millennials and Gen Z tenants. Encourage friends and family to share your posts, so they reach a wider audience.
Try and advertise where your target tenant is likely to hang out. So, if you are looking for older tenants, newspaper ads and cards in local shop windows are great, but for students, word of mouth is effective.
16. Take great photos
Photos are critical. A property listing lives or dies based on the photos. The better the photos, the more interest in the property you’ll have. Use a decent quality digital camera to take photos. Pay attention to lighting and if possible, stage the rooms to show prospective tenants what the property looks like furnished.
If your photography skills aren’t up to the job, pay for a professional to do the publicity shots. Unless something changes dramatically between tenants, you can reuse the photos next time you need to find a new tenant, so it’s a good investment.
17. Have effective tenant screening protocols
A terrible tenant can ruin your business. They can cause extensive damage, refuse to pay the rent, and it usually takes months to evict them. An effective tenant screening process will save you money, time, and possibly even prevent a future nervous breakdown.
Try and weed out unsuitable tenants at the first hurdle. Carry out thorough referencing checks and chase up references. At the first sign of a red flag, walk away.
18. Listen to your sixth sense
Ask plenty of questions and listen to your inner voice. If a tenant seems too good to be true, it’s probably because they are.
19. Be respectful to your tenants
Be polite and respectful to your tenants at all times. Be patient and explain things if something is not clear to them. Never resort to acting rude or using bad language.
Address tenants by their name in all correspondence and keep any communications you have with them professional.
If you need to inspect the property or organise a repair, try and work with your tenant’s schedule. This may be your property, but it is their home (for now), so respect that.
20. Use the Pavlov’s Dog approach
Pavlov, a Nobel prize-winning behavioural scientist, conditioned his dogs to salivate when a stimulus other than food was introduced. From this, he realised behavioural responses could be taught using classical conditioning techniques.
You can use these principles to condition good behaviour in tenants. When tenants do things you like, such as maintain the garden or decorate in tasteful colours, reward them with a discount off their monthly rent. If you make it worth their while when they do things that benefit your property, they are far more likely to continue to look after it.
21. Let tenants keep pets
Pets are a contentious issue. Some landlords forbid pets whereas others don’t mind a cat or small dog. If you are not an animal lover, we understand if you refuse to allow pets in your properties, but remember, saying “no” to pets means you also say “no” to a significant number of prospective tenants.
Allowing tenants to keep pets is fine as long as you manage the tenancy carefully. Landlords can no longer ask for larger deposits to cover the extra damage, so you’ll need to make it quite clear in the tenancy agreement that any damage caused by pets will be charged to the tenant.
Carry out regular property inspections to check for damage. Be vigilant and as soon as you notice any issues, deal with them.
22. Don’t ever discriminate
We shouldn’t have to say this, but discrimination is a big no-no. Sometimes landlords advertise that they don’t want tenants on benefits, which rules out a significant number of potential applicants. Why reduce your pool of would-be tenants? That makes no business sense whatsoever.
It’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital status, etc. If you do discriminate on any of these grounds, you could be the subject of a lawsuit.
Sadly, it’s not illegal to discriminate against someone because you don’t like the colour of their hair, the car they drive, or the fact they claim benefits. However, it’s not nice. Fergus Wilson may have been happy to ban single mothers, plumbers, and curry fans from his properties, but you don’t have to be that kind of landlord.
23. Never lose your temper
Just. Don’t. Go. There.
Do not lose your temper, even under severe provocation. The moment you lose your temper, the tenant has won. They can accuse you of all kinds of bad behaviour.
Stay calm. Take a few deep breaths, and if all else fails, walk away until you calm down.
If it proves impossible to resolve an issue with a tenant, try using an arbitration service to sort things out.
24. Treat tenants like customers, not friends
As we have already mentioned, boundaries are important. Tenants are your customers, not your friends. It’s important to respect their boundaries and vice versa. Maintain an air of polite professionalism. If they are long-term tenants, it’s OK to be friendly, but don’t overstep the mark. Most tenants don’t want their landlord “popping in for a chat”.
25. Help a tenant get settled in
Whilst maintaining professional boundaries is good, it’s nice to start off on the right foot by helping a tenant to get settled in. Be available in case they have any questions. Ensure they know where everything is. Offer to help, such as passing on the number of a “man with a van” if they have nobody to assist with the move. A little bit of compassion goes a long way and the nicer you are (up to a point), the easier it will be to establish a positive working relationship.
26. Provide a welcome pack of groceries
Visit any holiday let and you’ll be greeted with a small welcome pack of groceries, such as milk, bread, butter, etc. At most, it will cost you less than a fiver.
Of course, this might be above and beyond, but it’s nice to help tenants out with a few essentials when they move in. Moving is a stressful business and they will probably appreciate some milk and other essentials. Remember, if you go the extra mile, they are more likely to recommend your properties to friends and family.
27. Create a file of useful information for new tenants
Information is just as welcome as a pint of milk and some tea bags. Not all tenants will be familiar with the local area. Some might have no clue where the nearest train station is or what the schools are like.
Create a useful information file for tenants. This can include:
- Local public transport information
- Address of the nearest convenience store
- Bin collection details
- Useful telephone numbers, such as taxis, takeaways, etc.
- Contact details for appliance repair plans, central heating repair/maintenance, and anyone else the tenant might need to call.
By making your tenants’ lives easier when they first move in, they’ll be more receptive to looking after your property and paying the rent on time.
28. Listen to tenants’ complaints
Take the time to listen to your tenants if they have a complaint. If they have a problem, offer a solution and organise a fix in a timely fashion. This is all part of being an excellent landlord.
29. Exercise empathy
Show a little empathy. If a tenant has lost their job and asks for an extension on this months’ rent, consider allowing this. Be flexible and understanding where possible. We all have bad luck at times. Right now, it’s them facing tough times, but it might be you next time!
30. Don’t be a doormat
There are some tenants who will push landlords to the limit. They make excuses for non-payment of rent and come up with tenuous reasons why they won’t be able to let you in to do a property inspection.
Do not be intimidated by this type of tenant. If you act like a doormat, they will treat you like one. Be polite, firm, keep records of everything they say and do, and if you can’t find a resolution, hire a property manager with more experience.
31. Ask for help when you need it
No one person is an island. Being a landlord can be hard work and there is a lot to think about, from current legislation to landlord licencing. It’s easy to get bogged down and feel like you are sinking under the weight of your many responsibilities.
Because of this, it’s very important that you ask for help if you need it. There are always people willing to provide assistance, some of it free. Network with your fellow landlords and ask the more experienced ones for their advice when you’re not sure how to handle a situation.
There’s no shame in admitting you don’t have time to manage your properties and hold down a full-time job. Sometimes, using a letting agent to do the day-to-day stuff makes sense, even if there is a cost attached. After all, if paying a letting agent to manage your property means you avoid any fines for landlord health and safety violations, consider it money well spent.
32. Have an online profile
A large number of tenants use online sites to search for suitable rental properties. If you have an online presence, new and old tenants can contact you, share details of your available properties, and contact you if they need assistance.
It’s a good idea to have a Facebook page. Invite tenants to “like” your page and share any property listings on local buy/sell sites. The more exposure your properties have, the easier it will be to find new tenants and minimise voids.
33. Monitor what’s said about you online
An online presence is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it will help you find new tenants, but on the other hand, it gives tenants a place to post any negative feedback.
Negative comments have a life of their own. For example, a disgruntled tenant might decide to post a series of unfavourable comments about you on their Facebook page, which are then shared hundreds of times. Before you know it, you have acquired an unwelcome reputation as a rogue landlord and journalists from the local paper are contacting you for your side of the story.
It’s best practice to know what’s being said about you online, especially if it’s false, and to be able to deal with comments according. Set up a Google Alert for your name, your company’s name, and any other name people might use when they mention you online. If you get any hits, check them out.
34. Carry out regular property inspections
Sensible landlords carry out regular property inspections, especially in the first year of a new tenancy. Property inspections help you spot any problems earlier, rather than later.
Tenants with something to hide will do their best to prevent you from setting foot inside the door. It might be that the tenant has acquired a cat and is scared you’ll evict them, but equally, they could be up to something far more nefarious.
35. Have clear policies for late rent payments
How you handle late rent payments is your prerogative, but what’s important is that you have systems and policies in place to manage rent payments and, in particular, rent arrears.
Monitor rent payments so you are alerted immediately when a payment is late. Don’t just “assume” a tenant has paid. Ideally, set up direct debits so rent payments are made automatically, but if this isn’t possible for any reason, keep records of payments so you can spot when a tenant’s rent is overdue.
Have a policy in place to handle overdue rent, which is detailed in the tenancy agreement.
Example steps include:
- Talking to the tenant
- Discussing payment plans
- Serving a Section 8 notice
- Seeking a repossession order if the tenant doesn’t leave
Treat each case individually and consider offering payment plans to otherwise reliable tenants, but make it crystal clear that rent arrears will not be tolerated and you’ll have no choice but to evict non-paying tenants. In most cases, this will be enough to prevent any serious problems.
36. Renting to family and friends
Renting to family and friends can feel more informal than renting to strangers. Ensuring you treat these tenants the same as you would any other is a great start. Put the same agreements and procedures in place and make sure you and your friend or family member are on the same page about the small print, to avoid any confusion later down the line.
37. Always buy landlord insurance
Insurance is there to protect you from life’s unexpected problems. Landlord insurance is there to protect you from unreliable tenants, environmental disasters, and anything else that might cripple you financially.
Don’t take a chance with your future – yes, landlord insurance is an extra cost, but it is tax-deductible!
38. Understand your landlord obligations
Successful landlords are always clued up about their legal and statutory obligations. There is a ton of stuff to be aware of, so it’s very much a full-time job keeping on top of your obligations.
If you are new to the world of buy to let, consider paying a letting agent to manage your properties until you get up to speed. Forgetting to do the important stuff, like place deposits in a government-approved protection scheme or apply for an HMO licence could land you in hot water.
If you’d rather manage your own properties, read this government guide and then make a point of following reputable landlord sites for the latest news and updates.
39. Stay up to date with landlord law
In addition to the last point, it’s very important that you are familiar with laws pertaining to landlords and tenants. Legislation is there to protect tenants and if you inadvertently break the law, whether by accident or design, it won’t end well.
There are several key pieces of legislation you need to know about, including the Tenant Fees Bill and the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill. Keep a close eye on the Section 21 rules, too, as these are set to change in the near future.
When in doubt, consult an expert.
40. Join a landlord support group
Landlord support groups and associations are there to offer advice, support, and a shoulder to cry on when it all goes horribly wrong.
The two best-known are the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) and the National Landlords Association (NLA).
It’s worth joining some of the bigger landlord forums, too, such as the one on LandlordZONE and propertytribes.co.uk. Forums are the place to ask advice and share your horror stories with other landlords.
41. Don’t read the popular press
Sitting down with a cuppa and the Daily Mail Online, it’s hard not to feel like all landlords are rogues and all tenants are hard done by. Get sucked into some of the stories published by the broadsheets and you’ll soon become deeply disillusioned.
Try not to fall victim to the doom merchants. Your profit margins and rental yields are all that matters. If you’re keeping your expenses in check and your rents at the right level, you’ll make a profit. Simple.
42. Know when it’s time to get out of the buy to let market
There comes a time in every landlord’s career when the moment has come to call it quits. Maybe you’re ready to retire or you are fed up with juggling tenants and family responsibilities. Whatever your reasons for leaving the sector, be honest with yourself and take the steps necessary to sell up and move on.
43. Have an exit strategy
Selling a buy to let portfolio isn’t straightforward. There are tax implications and a lot more besides. It’s wise to have an exit strategy in place before you actually want to cash in your portfolio. Speak to a professional advisor and see what your options are.
Being a successful landlord is a combination of many factors. Consider what kind of business model you want to pursue and treat it professionally. At the end of the day, you are running a business. Focus on customer service and make sure you adhere to all regulatory requirements, just as you would if you were an electrician or accountant.