My first real step into investing, like many was a house, a straight forward 3 bed semi-detached in Cowplain, Hampshire. I bought it in 1999 as somewhere for me to live and not as an investment or with any plan to buy more. A solid family home in a pleasant neighbourhood with good local schools, qualities I didn’t seek out at the time but have since proved valuable. My mortgage was interest only plus an endowment policy, both with Abbey National, now Santander.
Renovating mums house
Two years later in 2001 I bought my mums house in Birmingham, it was a council house at a great price. Mum was very happy living there, mainly because she had spent years on her garden, a good-sized plot that had matured beautifully, she would often refer to it as her tonic, especially during Spring. We were talking about doing some work on the house which felt emotive not owning the property so I decided to buy it. At such a good price I was able to buy it with a personal loan, the interest payments were higher than a mortgage but I didn’t see it as long-term repayment, I wanted to pay it off within 5yrs. With it being a personal loan I didn’t need a deposit or have to jump through any hoops to get a second mortgage. This house remains my happiest buy, I had a wonderful time with mum turning her little old council house into something special. She would often hold church meetings in her newly extended open-plan state-of-the-art kitchen-diner looking out to her fabulous garden. Her showing off always made me feel great, she was very happy there.
Gunwharf Quays apartment being built
The property market was doing well and by 2004 I had gained real equity in both properties. There was a local development at the seafront in Portsmouth called Gunwharf Quays. I used to go there most weekends to browse and shop, go to Starbucks, visit the cinema and often eat at one of the many restaurants. I liked the idea of owning one of the stylish apartments being built. This was the time that I started to think investment, I already had a couple of properties both of which had equity, I was feeling confident. I went to a mortgage broker and found a buy-to-let mortgage with Mortgage Express, I needed a £23k deposit so I remortgaged my first house. I had my third property, a very stylish seafront apartment (or flat, if like me you’re from a council house). Someone told me if you are buying to let, buy somewhere near a hospital, a university or a station, Gunwharf Quays is right next to Portsmouth University and a train station, I have yet to experience a problem finding tenants.
Meanwhile, business was growing and we soon moved from a small rented office to something a little bigger, along with my two business partners we set up a separate company to buy a commercial unit in Luton that we rented to ourselves. Business continued to grow and we bought the unit next door and soon after a larger unit within the same business park, spreading our company across the three properties. We sold the business in 2008, we still own the properties which we now lease.
I was working in Luton and living over 100 miles away in Cowplain, although I have always been able to work from pretty much anywhere, I decided to buy a small place closer to the office where I could stay during the week. With the idea that I may rent it out in the future I bought a small cottage in a village called Harlington, a few minutes walk from the train station with a direct line to London. This was in 2008 just before the financial crisis, within 6months I was down some £25k on the price I had paid for it. This property was bought cash and since moved to a buy-to-let mortgage with The Mortgage Works.
In 2010 mum died. Unable to take care of himself my brother was living with her at the time, I moved back to Birmingham. The prospect of living with my brother long-term wasn’t practical for me although I needed to keep a close eye on him for a time. I put in an offer on the house next door to me which was accepted. It was a cash buy and the sale went through very quickly, I was able to move my brother into his own little place right next door to me. He has since moved on from the property and I now have tenants.
I noted someone say “buy what you can, sell nothing”, something that pops up in my head when considering what to do about a house. Even though I do look forward to having a lovely big home (I call it the end house), the idea of building a property portfolio has been more interesting to me than selling and upgrading. Although my last two properties were bought cash, I had enough equity to raise the deposit required for buy-to-let mortgages. The only deposit I had to find out of my savings was £5000 for the first house I bought in Cowplain, the rest came from equity gained in a buoyant property market between 1999 and 2008. Today the portfolio, including share of the commercial property business, is worth more than £1 Million with over 60% equity.
I have a soft spot for property, it’s an asset you can see and feel. A house can bring income from rent as well as capital growth. It’s an investment that’s easy to understand, I have always felt secure with bricks and mortar, the investment term ‘safe as houses’ has proved true to me. I feel that now is a good time to buy again.