A side step from commercial property investment to residential buy-to-let

Olaf Fetter and Jacqueline Standen are no strangers to property investment.

After leaving Germany in 1996, where Olaf was originally from and working as a heating and air conditioning engineer, the couple decided to move to France. There they renovated an old farmhouse and started a bed and breakfast business.

It was a business that flourished and one that Olaf and Jacqueline enjoyed. But unfortunately, the French tax system made it uneconomical to continue. So, they decided to move back to Jacqueline's home city of Nottingham in 2003. In 2004 they inherited half of a commercial property portfolio.

"The commercial units were leased to blue chip companies. However, they were all offices and all on leases that would expire around the same time," said Olaf. "We realised that we had a ticking time bomb and needed to find a solution and reinvent ourselves."

Jacqueline and Olaf decided to approach the tenants and ask if they would like to surrender their leases early. They agreed and the couple used the rent, which was mostly paid upfront, and the dilapidation money to refurbish the properties to a high standard, giving them an increased chance of being able to sell them quickly in a declining market.

Olaf added: "The strategy was a success, and it meant that we could start looking for an alternative business that would provide a secure and long-term income stream."

Leaving no stone unturned or door unopened, Jacqueline and Olaf started to research alternative property investment strategies by scouring the internet and reading as many books at possible. This was when they came across 'Successful Property Investing' by Steve Bolton, Founder and Chairman of Platinum Property Partners (PPP).

Jacqueline added: "I stumbled across Steve's book on Amazon and the investment principles that he discussed sounded great. However, we weren't actually looking for a franchise and to a point, it put us off a little. But the property angle intrigued us - it was something we knew and an industry we wanted to remain in. So, I gave the book to Olaf to read and then we decided to sign up for a PPP Discovery Day."

Many people would ask why a couple with quite extensive property investment experience would join a franchise. For Olaf, it was the security of having multiple tenants in one property that appealed to him. With their commercial properties, there was always a danger of having a vacant property once a lease came to an end. That meant no income and empty business rates to pay.

And Jacqueline felt as if joining PPP provided a level of protection: "There was always going to be someone there at the end of the telephone if we had a problem and it suddenly wasn't so daunting. We'd also own the properties and therefore it was our business - we were taking control of our own destiny."

Using the funds from the sale of some of their commercial properties, Olaf and Jacqueline joined PPP in May 2011 and started to build their portfolio of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) for young professionals.

Their current HMO portfolio comprises 27 bedrooms across three properties in Nottingham. This is not including their latest project, which has the potential to give them another 18+ en-suite rooms. This will take them very close to their current goal of 50 PPP rooms.

But their property business has expanded far beyond the PPP model.

Jacqueline explains: "We already had a very large commercial property (co owned with my sister) that was lying vacant and we decided to take the plunge and convert it into 35 apartments. It took two years and was nerve-wracking to say the least. But, it was PPP that gave us the confidence to do it."

During this time, Jacqueline and Olaf developed their third HMO - an 11 bedroom property - and just two doors down, discovered a hotel that they converted into 15 apartments.

In total, the couple have three HMOs and a fourth in development and 50 apartments. The apartments are run by managing agents. "We are, in many ways, hands-off with the apartments but fully hands-on with developing our HMO business," added Olaf. "Even though we do find it difficult to leave the agents to it, so this might change in the future."

The speed at which they were developing their property businesses led them to set up their own building company, which now employs five full-time staff. They manage all of the development, refurbishment and maintenance of all properties.

Olaf and Jacqueline credit PPP for giving them the motivation and expertise to not only build their HMO portfolio, but take on other property projects too.

"Without having joined PPP, I personally would not have had the confidence to tackle projects of that size," added Olaf. "The added beauty with PPP is that we went from a very lonely world into a very open and like-minded world with other people. There is this 'get up and go' mentality and a positive mind-set that I didn't have before joining."

Jacqueline concluded: "I think we could have done it on our own but it would have taken a lot longer and we would have made a lot more mistakes and it would have been far more expensive. We did come from a property background so we did wonder whether we actually needed to pay someone to help us upfront. In hindsight, without PPP, we wouldn't be where we are today."

The couple can relax in the knowledge that there is an end in sight and for them, which is taking a year off to drive to Capetown and back. So far, they haven't wanted to take a break when they've been 'on a roll', but Jacqueline and Olaf hope to be setting off soon.

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Whether you’re keen to find out more about Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), or want information on the latest lettings legislation, you’ll find it here on the blog.