Home Truths: ‘Being a landlord allowed me to pursue my dream to become a gardener’

Home Truths: ‘Being a landlord allowed me to pursue my dream to become a gardener’

By Home Truths Sleuths

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We talk to a landlord whose property in South London enabled her to change her life completely when she was made redundant from her job.

Welcome to Home Truths, the tell-all series where homeowners and renters spill the beans on what really goes on behind the scenes when buying, moving or renting a property.

Moving story at a glance

Age: 54

Job: Gardener

Salary: £10,000 a year approximately

Flat cost: £119,000 in 2005

Income from rental: £1,750 a month

Estate agent management fees: £300 a month

Mortgage payments: £490 a month

Profit: £960 a month (before tax)

Mortgage interest rate: 2%

How easy was it to let your property?

Remarkably easy. It was put on the market on a Thursday and I’d chosen my tenants by the following Tuesday. 

The estate agent said I’d be lucky to get one person interested, but I ended up with two bids and had to choose between them. 

The first couple who wanted it were 25 and 27, and they both worked in internet-based companies and earned eye-watering sums of money for their age, around £40-50K each. 

They offered £1,775 a month, and they were charming, absolutely lovely, I would have loved to have let them have the flat. 

But, another couple viewed it and made an offer of £1,750. He was a doctor and she was a teacher.

Although their salaries were lower than the other two, I think around £60K between them, and their bid was a little bit lower, I weighed it up and let the flat to the doctor and the teacher because I felt their jobs were safest during these strange Covid-19 times.

How did you become a landlord?

The flat is actually my former home. It’s why the estate agent said it was the nicest property they had on their books, because I’ve lived in it and loved it for 15 years. 

A couple of years ago I was suddenly made redundant, having been a senior director at a big organisation. It was a classic case of ‘kick out the woman over 50’. It shocked me to my core, and I went from earning more than £70,000-a-year to being unemployed. 

The job market was brutal. I couldn’t get another job and I went into a downward spiral, eventually deciding that I would give my former professional life up and become a gardener instead. 

To be able to retrain and start a business, I needed to rent the flat out. 

My boyfriend and I managed to buy a place together in Kent, but I earn very little from gardening, around a thousand pounds a month for eight months of the year. Of course it all stops in the winter, so the flat is my main source of income and we need it to cover our mortgage.

What’s the property like?

It's a typical flat in a converted Victorian terraced house. It has two double bedrooms, quite a large kitchen and I've extended downstairs so it's one big living area with doors straight out to the patio and garden. 

Mostly rented flats are cream and white but because I lived in the flat for so long it’s pretty nice really, with lots of colour. 

Lewisham is a great place to live, with loads going on. I really miss it, actually.

How did you make it work financially?

Well, really the flat is what makes the rest of my life work financially. Without it I wouldn’t have been able to become a gardener. 

I have ten more years on the mortgage so that’s not that long really. It was easy enough to switch my mortgage to Buy-to-Let. I suppose the biggest headache is the estate agency fees as I went for the full management package. 

I’m a bit terrified of the tenants not paying their rent and what it would mean for me, so that’s why I went for that.

How does it feel being a landlord?

I feel a great deal of responsibility because there are some very nice young people who are paying a lot of money to live there. 

I need to provide them with a decent place to live and I’m committed to doing that. If something breaks I feel the pressure to get it fixed pronto.

Any regrets?

We hope to be able to go back to live in the flat one day in a few years when we’re both retired and the mortgages are paid off. Even with great tenants it’s quite heart wrenching, because I really want them to look after everything properly.