THE BLOG

Changing Tables at Casino Royale...

12/04/2016 13:37 | Updated 15 April 2016

It's been a while since I lasted posted anything, but in my defence I haven't been lazy. I've been busy. Gambling.

I don't mean tapping on those tragic casino-branded apps you see advertised on late night TV. Y'know, where glamour models try to convince lagered up blokes just in from the kebab queue that they could look like / live like / love like James Bond if only they'd bet a fiver on an online one-armed bandit. Not for me, ta. I mean I've been gambling for real, playing monopoly with real buildings. I thoroughly recommend it.

Having been a London-based landlord for around a decade, an epiphany occurred over the past year or so, when I realised that landlording wasn't really me. In truth, I've never once enjoyed it. Don't get me wrong, I'll remain one to a diminishing degree for a while yet, since even a basic grasp of economics suggests that nice people paying you shiny money in return for living in your flats is always better than having no one pay you anything for empty flats. And luckily, I've managed to just about scrape together a basic grasp of economics during my various property (mis)adventures.

Nope, I realised that whilst creating a nice little portfolio of rental properties in Central and East London was fine and dandy, and that I could theoretically 'retired' to spend the rest of my days watching old Bond movies on my sofa with my soul mate, a Jack Russell called Indy, life is just more fun with some risk.

Ok, a lot of risk. To which end I've been taking my chips off the London table, walking across the casino floor, and placing them instead... on the Belfast table.

Did I mention I'd re-acquired a hell of an appetite for risk?

So what prompts someone with a useful collection of apartments in the likes of Chelsea, Notting Hill, Shoreditch, Kensington (ok, West Kensington, but it's still pretty nice) to have a mid-life property crisis? I can't even claim my epiphany has had anything to do with the government's recent declaration of war upon the buy-to-let sector. I mean c'mon, the writing was surely on the wall for that one. No exchequer has ever been able to resist the urge to clobber unpopular industries with the self-righteous tax stick, so the establishment's post-election campaign to swell its greasy coffers by ransacking the property sector hasn't been much of a surprise - landlords have for several years occupied a stratum somewhere between granny muggers and donkey molesters on the scum-o-meter, and that's before you even factor in the Guardian's opinion of people who do what I do for a living...

So no, fear of what might come next from those pulling the levers of power hasn't persuaded me to gradually abandon HMS Buy-to-Let. I've simply gotten bored of being a passive property owner. Bored of being someone whose only property-related creativity in years had been deciding which shade of white to redecorate a flat between tenancies. Bored of no longer feeling stressed and scared by the very real risk of getting the next move wrong and losing it all. And, most of all, very bored of only owning flats, when deep down I mean to own buildings.

I decided therefore that it was time to cash my chips, roll the dice (any more tortuous gambling analogies out there?) and scale up. In a big way. The thrill of being 'in property' had only ever lain in sweating, straining and stressing between 2003-2008 to parlay an initial meagre savings pot of £12k into a bunch of London flats worth several million. But that box had been firmly ticked by the time the wheels fell off the Lehmans wagon, and a man can become indolent and jaded if his buccaneering spirit is permitted to fall dormant. So to paraphrase Breaking Bad's immortal Walter White, if you asked me whether I was in the property business or the money business, I'd say neither. I'm now in the empire business.

In future posts I'll articulate the method in my madness, if selling blue chip prime Central London apartments to fund the acquisition of the sort of distressed assets that 'experts' reckon you should run a mile from is madness. (Clue: they're semi-derelict pubs, churches and banks. In Belfast, a city whose property market vaporised after the Credit Crunch. So... madness.)

For now though, if you're into buying, renovating, developing or even just daydreaming about property, a handy lesson is this: don't be afraid to take some risks. Sometimes it's worth the gamble.

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