It all started in 2009. Back then, I was living with 3 very good friends of mine in a very nice student property, and I was doing my 3rd year at university in Business Management.
Times were great, and all we had to worry about was how we were going to dress for the next night out or which houseparty to go to. Yes, there was the occasional stress of exams or assignment deadlines, but overall, life was easy and fun. And it’s during that time that the idea of become a property manager first appeared, and would later completely change the course of my career.
From Opportunity to Business Idea
Despite all the good times, the same annoying scenario was playing again and again at the end of every month: I had to chase everyone to collect the rent.
And I would always get the same reactions:
“Oh, it’s already the end of the month, I didn’t realise. Give me a few days mate”
On top of that, I’d always be the one making sure that bills are paid on time and that maintenance issues are reported promptly. I would also systematically be the point of contact when contractors needed access to the property.
In a sense, I was already the property manager, but without the title, and the compensation that goes with it.
Anyway, after finally collecting all the money, I would make my way to our letting agency and hand in the money. Late, as always.
Of course, our agent wasn’t too pleased about it, and when came the time, in August 2010, to renew our contract, I had a hard time convincing him to sign us up for another year.
The only way I could make it work was by taking full responsibility for the rent. And, as he was already aware of my management skills, he agreed.
Rent would stay the same, but I was now solely responsible for every aspect of the tenancy.
The house was really nice and the £600 we were paying monthly felt like a bargain.
So, aware of the running around I would, once again, have to do, I felt that increasing the rent would only be a fair compensation for my future efforts.
And that’s exactly what I did-The rent was now £200 for each room, meaning that I was now living rent free.
Collecting the rent every month was still an uphill struggle, but at least it was now worth it.
After about 3 months, one of my flatmates decided to move out. So, I found a replacement and set the rent at £250.
Now, not only was I living rent-free, but I was also making 50 bucks on top of that.
All this seemed so easy that it got me thinking:
Why not do that on a bigger scale?
All I would have to do is convince people I know, and whom I can trust, to take full responsibility for their property and use the same process.
Fortunately, I happened to have just that. A friend I could trust and who was in the process of renewing her tenancy agreement.
After much negotiation with her landlord, we managed to get a good deal. So, once again, I found new tenants, charged them a little extra every month and pocketed the difference.
Of course, I made sure to compensate my friend for her efforts.
And that was it, I was hooked. Managing properties was what I wanted to do.
But for that, I needed a better plan than just relying on friends to find properties to manage, or else I would quickly run out of options.
And that’s when the real hustle began.
From £0 to £10k: Starting and Growing the Business
We were now in 2011, I had just finished writing my dissertation and had a bit more time in my hands, so I decided to go all in.
Every morning, I would wake up and walk the streets of Coventry in the hope of finding property owners to whom I could offer management services. We were in August, so I knew property owners would, at some point, go to their property to inspect and refurbish.
Although It wasn’t easy at first, the tactic finally paid off. I convinced two other landlords to let me manage their properties.
On top of that, my own letting agent went out of business, leaving the landlord with no one to look after his property.
This was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. So, I called him ask him to give me a chance. And, after much negotiations, he agreed.
That was it, I was officially a property manager.
To grow my business, I would create leaflets and distribute them through letter boxes, knock on doors and ask tenants for their landlord’s contact details and cold calling letting agencies in the hope of getting some business from them in form of referral fee (that is, finding tenants for their student properties and earning a fee for each successful let).
After a few weeks, I had secured three more properties.
And the best was still to come.
From 10k to 50k: From one business partner to another
I also used that time to perfect my craft, learning as much as possible about laws and regulations, industry best practices and how to best run a property business
And of course, with more properties to manage came more maintenance issues to deal with. So, I also spent a lot of time shopping around for tradesmen, and I got to meet a lot of them.
My first business partner
By the nature of their job, tradesmen deal with a lot of landlords, and are often landlords themselves.
And it’s through one of them that I met my soon-to-be business partner. A serial entrepreneur running many businesses, who also used to run a letting agency.
At the time, he had just set up an agency for his son and was looking for someone to help him grow the business.
They were already managing a couple of residential properties in and around Coventry, but were looking to step into the student market, where rent prices were starting to increase drastically.
This was the perfect match: I was looking for an office to establish myself as a legitimate property professional, and they were looking for someone who had access to the student market, and with a couple of student properties already under management.
The deal was simple, we would put all our properties together and share the profits.
And the business grew exponentially. In 14 months, we more than doubled our portfolio, going from 14 to around 30 properties (including student properties we were managing for another agencies).
However, despite all the success, I could tell that my business partner’ son was not interested in running the business at all. He was young, had other things in his mind and couldn’t be bothered dealing with all the day-to-day operations.
I didn’t mind at first, because it allowed me to run the business exactly the way I wanted without having to compromise.
But, it quickly became a problem when I realised that I was sharing profits with someone who was doing literally nothing to grow the business.
He was a nice guy and we got along very well, but he just wasn’t interested in business, or at least not the one we were in.
The end of our partnership was looming, and it became inevitable when I met my soon-to-be new partner, whom I met outside one of his houses while visiting a property I was managing.
My second business partner
He and his sister ran a family business which their father had built over many years. They had a portfolio of around 15 large student properties. And most importantly, they owned an office steps away from Coventry University.
Luckily enough, they also happened to be looking for someone to help them find students for their properties.
Surely, the sister, who was living in London, was tired of having to come to Coventry every other day to run the business and was desperate to offload some of her responsibilities onto someone else.
So, when the brother offered me a deal, I couldn’t resist.
And on top of that, their office was way better than the tiny office I had been operating from for more than a year.
The deal seemed simple and attractive enough at first:
They would charge me a discounted rent for the office, and I would find students for their houses in exchange. And, as a bonus, I would be able to charge application fees to all students. And it was worth a lot of money.
It was a win-win situation, and I accepted without hesitation. I sealed the deal later that week by paying the £500 deposit for the office (which I never got back).
However, I still had to officially end my partnership with my soon-to-be ex business partner.
How to explain that, after growing so rapidly, I wanted out? And, that I felt I should be entitled to keep all the properties we added in the portfolio?
Well, the truth is, it got a bit messy. And long story short, I gave up half the properties I brought while in partnership.
I kept the properties that were mine prior to forming the partnership and they did the same.
Anyway, only a few days after the break-up was made official, I moved into my new office, full of hopes and dreams. And it turned out to be one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made.
From £50K to £260k: The Business is Booming
From the get-go, I realised what a smart move I had made. The office was located in the middle of two of the busiest student halls in the city and located in a zone of passage for a lot of students living in the vicinity.
I had them all. The first year’s students living in halls, and the 2nd years walking past the office every day.
The enquiries started flooding in. Sometimes up to 30 per day.
This was exactly what I needed.
To grow the business, all I had to do now was to make a list of all the applicants and use it to lure landlords in.
I would cold call any landlord’s number I could put my hands on. Browse the web to find their email addresses. Create fake tenant’s account on popular student property portals just so I could email property owners and start a conversation with them.
Oh, and I forgot, I was also organising parties and events for Coventry University students and had a privileged and direct access to many of the decision makers within the student’s union, which helped even more.
Nothing was off limits. I felt invincible, and in a sense, I was.
Between 2013 and 2015, I grew my portfolio from around 13 properties to an all-time high of 53 properties under management, with a turnover of over £260k. I now had two staff and one apprentice.
Times were wonderful, and I was enjoying every bit of it. unfortunately, It didn’t last very long.
From £260k to £0: Losing the Business
Too many competitors
By September 2015, the student property market was starting to get saturated.
Student halls started to emerge all around Coventry. On top of that, the University-owned letting agency was luring landlords away from independent letting agents like myself.
The dream turned into a struggle. A struggle to keep my landlord’s business. A struggle to attract new landlords, spoiled for choice with all the agents that were now operating in Coventry and competing in an ever-ending race to the bottom.
To make matters worse, the deal I made with my business partners was beginning to turn sour. The once easy-to-fill properties were now out of favours. Finding tenants was proving increasingly more difficult.
Students had more choice than ever before and my partners, who were used to charging premium prices for not-so-premium properties refused to face the reality.
So, after many arguments, I stopped trying to find tenants for their properties so they decided to increase my rent.
The period of fat profits was well and truly over.
The wave took everything in its path, me included.
Between 2015 and 2017, I lost more than half of all my clients, and with them, 30 odd properties. I was now managing only a dozen properties, with landlords becoming more and more demanding.
My profits plummeted and I was now earning just enough to cover all my costs, salaries included.
I had no choice but to lay off all my staff, and, couple of weeks later, I found someone to take over the office lease.
I would operate online from now on.
My business was not what it once was, but at least my costs were reduced.
But, by then, my newly grown addiction had already taken over, and It would prove much more damaging than anything I faced before.
My Trading Addiction: The Final Blow
Although I’ve been trading profitably for some time now, it hasn’t always been this way.
I discovered trading in late 2016 after reading a book about investing. Back then, I was looking for a way to diversify my investments as the student property market was starting to attract way too many players.
Trading currency seemed like a sure thing, with stellar earning potential and, if managed responsibility, minimal downside risks.
Plus, I had read about a couple of success stories from regular people and they really made it look easy.
So, after hesitating for a few days, I decided to give it a go.
Oh boy, what a rollercoaster it would turn out to be.
After only a few days, I was up nearly £5, 000 on my account! I couldn’t believe it, and was thinking to myself: how on earth didn’t I start trading before. I would have been a millionaire by now.
As I realised shortly after, the amount of risk I was taking was ridiculous. No wonder why so many people have had their entire life ruined because of trading.
Anyway, after the first shots of adrenaline the winning streak gave me, it was time for the inevitable: the agony of the losing streak.
In the space of just 7 days, I lost everything I had won plus my initial £1000 investment.
And that’s how the cycle of doom started. I would win, then lose, then try to make up for the loss and lose even more.
There would be the occasional months where I would be in profits, but only to lose them all the following month.
The emotional rollercoaster was so intense, that before realising it, I was addicted. I couldn’t think of anything else anymore, I would spend my entire days glued to the screen.
My letting business was now secondary, it didn’t really matter anymore. I started lying to people I care about because I couldn’t dare telling them how much money I was losing.
By 2018, I had already lost most of my savings. And all the profits I was making from the property business were used to fund my account.
I wasn’t paying enough attention to the issues that were raised by tenants or the landlords themselves. And the latter, who had always trusted me, started to doubt my ability to manage their properties efficiently.
Complaints went through the roof, and even though I finally tried to find solutions and get back on track, It was too late.
I had lost the most important competitive advantage of all, my reputation.
And that’s how I started losing all the properties one after the other, until that dreadful day, when my last property was taken away from me.
I had lost it all, and it was all my fault.
REFLECTING ON MY JOURNEY
Although it didn’t end well, I strongly believe this journey was a blessing. I’ve learned so much along the way, from my successes of course, but even more from my failures.
It made me realise what I was capable of, from building a profitable business from scratch to building and maintaining strong working relationships.
It also allowed me to learn from my mistakes, work on my weaknesses, and, most importantly, It made me realise how fragile and vulnerable we can all be.
Of course, there’s so many things I’d do differently today, if given the chance. But, when I think about it, I can’t stop wondering:
Without this experience, would I be the person I am today?