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 raking in the cash. Unfortunately, there is also a lot that can go wrong!
There are always stories about rogue landlords in the press. You know the people we’re alluding to – the landlords who cram 25 illegal migrants into beds in sheds; the landlord who evicts his vulnerable tenant on Christmas Eve, with no notice. 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 and your tenants like to take advantage…
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, not irritations or your best friend, and you maintain professional boundaries. If you think a tenant has done something wrong. If you have an issue with anything, try to resolve it amicably and professionally, you know, like an adult.
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 but not TOO available
You must set clear boundaries in your professional life. Some tenants will try to take advantage – that’s human nature. 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 because the drunk tenant dropped their key down a drain may not be your idea of an emergency but use your discretion here.
Genuine emergencies should always be dealt with promptly, but be careful not to be too available, or it could negatively impact the amount of spare time you have.
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 Snapchat to communicate, but be flexible according to your tenant demographic (expecting an elderly tenant to use Twitter as a communication tool is probably a step too far).
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. It should prevent any hysterical telephone calls when you’re propping up the bar after a long, tiring day on the beach.
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. So, there’s no point purchasing a run-down terrace in a deprived part of town and trying to charge a higher than average rent.
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 it’s really not that difficult, so why pay an agent to do something you can easily accomplish yourself?
For best results, adopt a multi-pronged approach to marketing. Sure, an 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 suck big time, 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 literally ruin your business. Rogue tenants 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 or a bit dodgy, it’s probably because they are.
19. Be respectful to your tenants
Tenants are people too, so they deserve a modicum of respect. Unless they trash your property and leave it looking like a bomb site, in which case they don’t deserve any respect whatsoever. But we’ll assume that so far, your tenants are nice, respectable people.
Be polite and respectful at all times, even when there is evidence to suggest your tenants are one sandwich short of a picnic or not the brightest lights on the Christmas tree. Be patient and explain things if it’s not clear to them. Never resort to insults or bad language if you feel your patience fading fast.
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 you like and are nice to them, they are far more likely to look after your property.
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. Not only is it abhorrent to discriminate on racial or gender grounds, but blatantly advertising that you don’t want tenants on benefits rules out a significant number of potential applicants. Why reduce your pool of would-be tenants? That makes no business sense whatsoever.
In case you need reminding, it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital status, and if a person identifies as trans. 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 and given the ubiquitous nature of smartphone cameras, someone somewhere will have captured your hysterical rant on video to use as evidence against you.
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. It’s much better than risking a conviction for ABH.
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. By all means, give them a Christmas card and perhaps a bottle of wine for a special occasion but be careful not to go too far. Most tenants don’t want their landlord “popping in for a chat” or oversharing details of their love life during a property inspection.
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. Don’t dismiss them out of turn and ignore their “whinging”. 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.
Do be careful to draw a line and set appropriate boundaries. It’s one thing to take phone calls about a malfunctioning boiler and quite another to play armchair therapist when your tenant is having a bad day.
29. Exercise empathy
Show a little empathy. If a tenant has lost their job and asks for an extension on this months’ rent, give them a break. Be flexible and understanding where possible. We all have bad luck at times. Right now, it’s their life going down the toilet, but it might be you next time!
30. Don’t be a doormat
There is a world of difference between an empathetic landlord willing to help out when required and a doormat all too happy to roll over in favour of an easy life.
There are inevitably tenants who like to push landlords to the limit. They make excuses for non-payment of rent, come up with all kinds of tenuous reasons why they won’t be able to let you in to do a property inspection. Some unpleasant types might even threaten you with extreme violence if you try and politely suggest they do a spot of cleaning or rehome their 10-stone bull mastiff.
Do not be intimidated by an unruly 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 deal with them, hire a property manager with more experience.
31. Ask for help when you need it
No man or woman 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, especially if you have a few demanding tenants.
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.
You don’t need to spend every waking moment on social media, but 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 ample opportunity to write mean things about you if they feel so inclined.
Negative comments have a life of their own. For example, a disgruntled tenant might decide to post a series of libellous 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 rag are contacting you for your side of the story.
For obvious reasons, unless you are desperate for a guest spot on Bad Tenants, Rogue Landlords, it’s better to know what’s being said about you online, especially if it’s false.
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. And if someone does say false and possibly libellous things about you online take appropriate steps to have the comments removed.
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 when a tenant is up to mischief or is illegally sub-letting your property.
Wily tenants will do their best to prevent you from setting foot inside the door. If you are met with a barrage of increasingly spurious excuses for why the property is unavailable for inspection, start worrying. 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
Sooner or later, a tenant will be late paying their rent. They could have an excellent excuse: perhaps their bank account was raided by Nigerian fraudsters or they were made redundant. How you handle the situation 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. Do not rent to family and friends
There is a well-known saying in show biz – never work with kids and animals. Funnily enough, there is a similar saying in landlord circles – never rent to family and friends.
The biggest problem with letting to family and friends is that they often expect something for nothing. First, they’ll assume it’s a rent-free property, even though they know you have a mortgage to pay. Then they’ll expect you to drop everything to fix minor problems, like spiders in the bath or a tab that drips occasionally. And finally, if they do agree to pay rent, don’t expect it to arrive on time, if at all. Other demands on their cash will probably take priority.
In short, be very wary about letting a property to a family member or friend. Make sure they sign a tenancy agreement. Let them know you are happy to help them out, but this is not an “off the books” transaction.
37. Always buy landlord insurance
Insurance is there to protect you from life’s unexpected problems. Landlord insurance is there to protect you from rogue 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. To be fair, 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. Be prepared for some trolling, as that’s all part of the online environment these days, but at least you won’t feel quite so alone!
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.
The popular press loves to pile on the misery. Every day you’ll spot a headline claiming buy to let is dead and all landlords are selling up in their droves!
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. Simples.
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 and skip off into the sunset. Speak to a professional advisor and see what your options are.
Being a successful landlord is a combination of many factors. You don’t necessarily have to be nice. After all, let’s not forget that there are many successful rogue landlords out there, raking in the money on the back of their tenants’ misery. But 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.
We hope this guide has given you food for thought. But as always, if you have anything to add or want to join the conversation, feel free to leave a comment below or reach out on Facebook or Twitter.
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