BBC landlord life-swap show makes for surprisingly touching telly
The BBC’s new landlord life-swap series - The Week the Landlords Moved In - aired yesterday on BBC One, and turned out to be unexpectedly ‘feel-good’ TV.
The premise is that landlords move into one of their own properties for a week, to see how the other half live - complete with their tenant’s budget. At the end of the week, they meet their tenant to discuss how they got on - and can choose to implement any changes before the tenant moves back in.
This week the cameras followed Paul, who moved into tenant Hayley’s room in an HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) he runs in Milton Keynes.
Paul learned that he needed to start thinking about his house-shares as home-shares, and spend more time investing in communal areas, introducing residents, and facilitating house-mate relationships. He says: “It was really informative. Overall my biggest take-away was that historically we’ve been looking at the functionality of houses, what works and what doesn’t. But I’m learning that we should be focussing on these properties as homes rather than just houses to live in.”
It’s a lesson close to the heart of landlord and Simple Landlords Insurance customer Libby Pritchard, who runs several HMOs in Reading. She says: “I interview everyone carefully, and conduct all of the viewings myself so I can get to know someone. I’m scrupulous about doing referencing and background checks, too. If I’m not happy with them or I’m not sure they’ll fit in with existing housemates, I won’t rent them the room.
“It’s in my best interests to keep everyone in the house happy. If I look after my tenants and make sure they’re in the right house, in the right room, in the right property - they’re always good back to me.”
The show also followed father and son team Peter and Mark with a property empire worth over 7 million pounds, as they spend an eye-opening week in Linda’s 2 bedroom flat on the London/Essex border. Both were humbled by the experience.
Starting from a ‘let it and forget it’ mentality, Mark ended up in tears when it became clear to him that he was in fact responsible for someone else’s living conditions.
Linda, 66, was working three jobs, on housing benefits, and still struggling to make her rent payments. She was living with damp and mould as she couldn’t afford the heating or electric bills, and with broken taps and hobs she didn’t want to report in case improvements put her rent up yet again - or she was denied a tenancy agreement.
Mark and Peter were appalled at her budget and the conditions she was living in. Mark said: “I don’t want anybody living in these conditions. It was an eye-opener - brutal all the way through.” “We can’t allow properties to get in that state,” adds Peter who hadn’t been to the property in person in more than 18 months. “We can’t go on the happy assumption that people will call us when something goes wrong.”
“There is absolutely no substitute for inspecting a property yourself,” agrees Alex Huntley, Head of Operations at Simple Landlords Insurance. “You don’t know what’s going on in your property unless you go and see it. There’s an opportunity to catch issues early, before they become bigger and potentially more expensive problems.
“We know from our own research that a quarter of landlords inspect their properties once a year or less, and as Mark and Peter found out, that can be costly.”
Mark and Peter ended up completely renovating the flat, with damp proofing, a new kitchen and bathroom. They also offered a fixed-rate tenancy agreement for two years - giving Linda some peace of mind. Mark even offered to help with the electricity payments, as long as she keeps using the heating to keep the mould at bay.
Both Peter and Mark are happy with their decision. “It does make business sense,” insists Peter. “We’ve added value to the property and we’re still making a profit, but less of a profit than we could do.”
Having a reliable tenant invested in a property as their home, and working to keep it well for you, could be valuable investment strategy. Bindar Dosanjh is multi-million pound investor, property mentor, and founder of the Female Property Alliance, and she wholeheartedly agrees.
“Don’t underestimate the value of a good tenant,” says Bindar. “Especially if your strategy is about long term capital growth and you want to be hands off. If you look after your tenants, they’ll look after your property, and they are worth their weight in gold.
“I’ve had the same family in one of my properties for several years - and the result is they treat it like a home. That’s absolutely great for me as a landlord, and it means I’m prepared to bend over backwards to keep them happy.”
At the end of the episode, there pretty much wasn’t a dry eye in the house. “I’ve had my head in the clouds,” admits Mark, “This has been an experience for me. I’ve really learned what responsibilities I have as a landlord and what it’s like for some people.” “These are real people with real lives and real feelings,” added Peter.
But what does it all mean for people like Linda who aren’t lucky enough to have their own BBC facilitated landlord-swap? Private landlords are currently plugging the social housing gap, but as they’re squeezed by new taxes and legislation, and hit by the roll-out of Universal credit, more and more are set to sell-up, or to put up rents.
It’s something that worries landlords and property experts alike. Sue Sims, a Birmingham-based landlord, says: “If a lot of landlords across the board are going to exit the private rented sector, it's going to hit social housing really hard. These are the people that need all the support they can get, and they're just not going to get it from the private rented sector. I don't know where they are going to go.”