Why bother with a property goal?
Have you defined your property goal? Long before you pick up the phone to any agents to start letting out your rental property, you need to ask yourself some big questions: what is my dream lifestyle? How much money do I need from my property to get there? And by when do I want to achieve it? One rental property won’t be enough to fund life in a hammock, but it can become a big step towards your goal if you act wisely.
At this point, you may be saying, ‘I didn’t choose to be a landlord; it sort of chose me. Should I really bother with these airy-fairy questions? I’m more worried about having my home looked after – what if my garden dies or squatters move in? And where on earth do I find a decent agent?’
Thinking about the bigger picture first will open your eyes to new lifestyle possibilities. It will also help you make better decisions on the smaller stuff, such as which tenants to accept or whether you should revamp the kitchen. Without a goal, you may end up not only wasting money on unnecessary works but also wasting the opportunity to build the life you desire.
Income spinner traded for growth giver
Our ex-council flat near Wimbledon’s tennis courts was the scene of the first (and only) candlelit dinner that I cooked when dating my wife, Martina. Once we were married and renting it out, it brought in more than £1,000 a month in profit – paying our bills as I launched Swift property and funding our adventures from Patagonian glaciers to private islands in the Med. Yet 10 years on, despite the fond memories and tidy income, we sold it. Why? It didn’t meet our goal anymore.
With a second baby on the way, we needed a plan to afford a bigger London house by the time the kids outgrew their shared bedroom. A rental property poised for capital growth – not income – would help fund the leap up the ladder. After a lot of research, we reinvested our Wimbledon gains in a period flat in Maida Hill, an undervalued pocket on the northwestern fringe of central London. The figures still stacked up: it yielded £400 a month in profit. But, crucially for our goal, its value also rose by nearly £100,000 in a year – an annual growth rate of 16%, compared to 6.7% for the ex-council flat.
Define your property goal
A clear goal has three elements. It is:
1. Meaningful. To motivate you to action, your goal should state your big ‘why’. For example, you might want to build up a nest egg for retirement far into the future, or you’re starting a business and you need some money in the bank every month. Our ‘why’ was to buy a London house big enough to swing two kids in.
2. Specific. If your goal is too vague, you won’t know when you’ve achieved it – this is where ‘I want to live comfortably’ falls short. You need to quantify how much you want to earn.
3. Timed. Deadlines make all the difference. Are you saving to help your children on to the property ladder in a decade’s time, or to pay their school fees from next year? Your approach for each will be poles apart.
In short, ‘I want a family house’ is a dream; ‘I want £100,000 in equity from my rental flat to buy a bigger family house in three years’ time’ is a goal.
Do you need an income or growth target?
Your property goal will determine whether you need to focus on rental income (for money in the bank every month) or long-term price growth (for a lump sum one day).
If you are buying your first property, you can choose one suited to your goals. But if you are an accidental landlord, you already have a property – and it might not give you what you really want. Going through the goal exercise will help you work out your next moves: should you keep it, sell it, improve it or remortgage to buy another just like it?
We want you to start thinking how you can use it as a first step to set your course in any number of ways. Here are a few examples to inspire you:
‘I want to pay my children’s school fees and/or boost my income while I build up my new business.’
Income or growth? Income – enough monthly rental profit to cover the school fees and/or shortfall in the family budget.
Ideal property. High cash flow with tenancy management outsourced, such as an ex-council flat or older new build in outer London, or small houses within a mile’s commute of city centres like Liverpool or Leeds.
Next steps. Renting out what used to be your starter home? This might be a good fit as your target tenant will be yourself a few years younger. A minor spruce-up might be all that’s needed, but if those school fees are high, you could consider remortgaging down the line to buy another income spinner.
‘I’m retired and want to add to my pension income.’
Income or growth? Mainly rental income, but it should be secure with low maintenance to limit stress. To work out your profit target, calculate your average monthly spend, add a 30% buffer and then deduct your current income.
Ideal property. A high-quality, low-maintenance home with strong rental demand, for example, city-centre flats in Birmingham or Manchester.
Next steps. If you’ve downsized and are now letting out your former family home, you might want to sell this and buy something that would let more easily and require less maintenance. Also, consider longer tenancies for extra security.
‘I want to create a nest egg for my children and/or build up extra income to maintain my lifestyle when I retire one day.’
Income or growth? Long-term price growth, but with enough income to cover your costs. Your growth target is whichever big lump sum you want to cash in on far into the future. Time is on your side, so you can afford to take more risks.
Ideal property. A wow property in an established area that will rise in value, such as central London, Cambridge or Solihull.
Next steps. Make sure the rent covers your costs in the meantime and set aside cash reserves. Avoid having too much debt on the property, which would push up your monthly costs. If the place then sits empty, you could be forced to sell your nest egg.
‘I can’t yet afford my forever home, so need a leg up.’
Income or growth? Growth – and capital preservation. To calculate your growth target, deduct the deposit that you’ll need for your dream home from your current savings and equity. You can’t afford to lose any money, so avoid risk.
Ideal property. A period property (older than 100 years) on the edge of an attractive area, where prices are likely to rise because of gentrification. Forthcoming transport links or big regeneration projects nearby will have the same effect.
Next steps. Rather than just relying on market growth, work out if you can add value with a makeover or extension. You could also try solving a legal problem such as extending a short lease or getting planning permission for works.
Fear not, I won’t tell you to now silently recite your vision until the universe comes into alignment. I won’t even ask you to stick it on your bathroom mirror. But think about your goal and write it down, so you can use it to guide your decisions about your property.
Free emigration guide
Home, work, family, lifestyle, money… 33 things you must know before moving abroad — with advice from cross-border experts and Londoners living overseas
Rental advice + book
How much rent can you get? Should you repaint? Which furniture should stay? We answer all your questions at your home — and give you our bestselling book