My bugbear about buy-to-let

31 July 2013
Buy-to-let mortgage applications have soared by 26% annually, according to recent analysis by Sequence, a national chain of estate agents, and have risen by 11% since March alone.
So it seems that attractive rates have tempted more people to jump on the buy-to-let bandwagon. If you're considering it for the first time, it's worth remembering there's more to buy-to-let than simply applying for a mortgage, buying a property and raking in the rent.
It is a time-consuming 'business' with many surprises along the way that can seriously eat into your profits. And you need to take particular care if you have an ex-council property, as I've found to my cost.
I had quite an eventful time sorting out initial teething problems on the buy-to-let studio flat I bought in north London a few years ago. 
When the surveyor found evidence of rising damp along two walls in the living area, it did set alarm bells ringing – but then it was no surprise, given that it was the basement of a Victorian house. I did the sensible thing and asked for three quotes from damp-proofing specialists, decided it would be worth the hassle and went ahead with the work.
I hadn't banked on the fact that the freeholder was the local council, which has its own way of dealing with remedial work. I was told I had to use the council's designated specialist. Providing an estimate of £5,300 – more than three times the cost that the private companies had quoted – the company claimed that the bathroom fittings and tiles would also have to be removed and I'd need to have the whole bathroom damp-proofed.
After weeks of wrangling with the council's chief surveyor, the 'specialist' finally admitted that the bathroom didn't need any remedial work (it was just damp from the shower!) and reduced the bill. 
Meanwhile, fed up with waiting, I let the flat out to two students, who agreed to move out for a fortnight over Christmas (rent-free) while the damp-proof work was carried out.  
A few months later, when the council started work refurbishing the ground floor flat, which had been very run down, my tenants rang to complain that they'd been bitten by bed bugs. The couple could actually see them dropping down from the ceiling light just hours after workmen had finished sanding the floor above.
The council refused to accept responsibility, insisting that one of the students had brought bed bugs back from a trip to Europe. It said the building work was coincidental and I had to pay £123 for its pest control service to fumigate the flat. It took three treatments – and my tenant had to actually take a sample of a bed bug in a jar to the council offices – before we were rid of the bugs.
I was lucky in having two very laidback tenants, but my experience goes to show that being a private landlord does have its drawbacks – and I'd think twice now about buying a property where the council is the freeholder.
If you have experiences – good or bad – of buy-to-let or any tips to share, please email then to