Five Golden Rules of Investing

1. Always buy from motivated sellers
Instead of looking for a property you’ll like and then negotiating with the seller, a smarter strategy is to look for motivated sellers who will be flexible on the price and / or the terms of the sale, and then decide if you want to buy that particular property.

If they are prepared to sell at a discount for a quick sale, the amount of discount will vary depending on the motivation of the seller and the general market conditions.

In a rising market you may be happy with a 15% to 20% discount. In a falling market you would want a bigger discount of 25% to 40% to give you more of a safety buffer in case prices come down further.

Just to be clear here, this is not saying that you always need to get a discount off the sales price. Sometimes property is already a great buy at the full asking price because it may already have been lowered for a quick sale. This is where knowing the values in your local market is really important so that you can spot a good deal when you see it.

Many investors get fixated about buying below market value, which means they are likely to miss out on potentially profitable deals because they don’t think they should pay the full asking price. If it is a good deal, investors may sometimes pay the full asking price and more, especially if they can add value to the property. We also need to recognise that some sellers may not be able to offer you a discount because there is no equity in their property. However, if they are motivated, they may be more flexible on the terms of the sale, for example, when you actually pay for the property.

Price is not the only factor in negotiation. This means you may be able to use strategies such as ‘Exchange Delayed with a Completion’, or ‘Purchase Lease Option’. These strategies only really work if the seller is motivated.

2. Buy in an area with strong rental demand
This is a very important rule. As a property investor your aim should be to buy an investment which will not only pay for itself, but also make a cash profit (positive cash flow) each month. There are running costs associated with owning a property, but the basic concept is that the rent you receive from your tenants more than covers all of the costs. If you have no tenants, you have no income, which means you have to cover the costs yourself. Your investment then becomes a liability, rather than an asset.

You need to accept that as a landlord you may occasionally have void periods on your property, which means no tenants, and so you need to meet the costs. You can dramatically reduce potential void periods by only ever buying property in an area with strong rental demand. You want to ensure that if your current tenants decide to leave the property you can quickly and easily rent it to new tenants at the full market rent.

A general rule of thumb is to buy properties in areas with strong local employment and good transport links with local facilities and amenities. When you know how to do it, you can easily assess the true rental demand in any area by using the internet to find like comparisons, speaking to local letting agents, and even placing dummy adverts to test rental demand. If you are not sure about the rental demand in an area, then don’t buy the property to avoid longer than expected void periods, which will cost you money. Due diligence is very important before you make any investment decisions.

3. Buy for cash flow
As already mentioned in Rule No 2, your property should create a monthly positive cash flow for you, so that it is an asset rather than a liability. As prices shot up towards the end of the last property boom, it became increasingly difficult to find properties that stacked up to give a positive cash flow. Many investors were buying properties which would only just “wash their face”, where the rent just about covered the monthly costs. Even worse, in the hope that prices would keep going up, some investors were buying properties that had negative cash flow, whereby the rent was not enough to cover the monthly costs. This meant that the owners had to subsidise the property each month, not a good position to be in, especially if you have a lot of properties like this.

When the property market crash came in 2008, many investors, both amateurs and professionals, owned properties that were worth less than they had purchased them for and were costing money each month just to hold them. In this situation, if you can afford to hold the property, you just need to sit back and wait for the market to recover. But if you can’t afford to continue subsidising it, and you are forced to sell, then that’s one of the ways you could lose money in property. Fortunately, the good news is that, with the benefit of hindsight, you can learn from other people’s past mistakes, so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes yourself.

You should only ever buy property where each month there is a profit from the rental income you receive after paying all of the expenses, including mortgage payments, insurance, repairs and management fees. Positive cash flow is king. Although we expect property prices to rise in the long-term, if you buy your investments ‘as if prices will never go up again’, you will be forced to buy only properties which give you great cash flow now. Extra cash flow will help you to build up a safety buffer, and help you cover potential rises in interest rates in the future.

4. Invest for the long-term buy and hold
Some investors like to buy and sell property to make a profit. This is a good strategy (in a rising market), however, each time you sell a property you will crystallise your profit and you will never make any more money from that particular property. Whereas, if you buy and hold, you can make money from the rental profit each month, as well as long-term capital growth. This way you work once and get paid forever by that property. The real profit in property is in buying and holding for the long-term to benefit from significant capital growth. The key here is being able to afford to hold it and this is why a positive cash flow is so important, so that you don’t have to subsidise ownership of the property. If you plan to hold for the long-term and your property is rented out creating a positive cash flow, you needn’t be concerned by short-term fluctuations in price.

If you do sell a property investors may suggest you reinvest some of the proceeds into another property that will give you a better return. To conclude, many believe it is best to hold property for the long-term. That is how you can become very wealthy and pass wealth on to future generations.

5. Have a cash buffer
Often you meet investors who had to sell their properties because they could not afford to hold them. A problem investors sometimes hear about is of properties occasionally getting damaged or just enduring wear and tear, making them difficult to rent. The landlord may not have the spare cash to make the necessary repairs and improvements and so the property remains void, which ends up costing the owner even more money. This becomes a vicious circle whereby the landlord can’t afford to make the improvements because he has no rent coming in, and can’t get any tenants because he can’t afford to make the improvements. These landlords often become motivated sellers.

The way to avoid this potential problem is to make sure you always have a cash buffer set aside to cover unexpected expenses. In reality, you can get insurance to cover most of the potential issues, including a tenant not paying the rent. However, the more insurance policies you have, the higher your costs and so the less cash flow you will have each month. Investors may recommend you have a cash buffer in place, which you can use if need be. This could be cash in your bank, a clear credit card, or some cash in someone else’s bank that you have agreed you can borrow if necessary. The size of this buffer depends on your personal level of risk. A few thousand pounds per property might be a good idea. This will help you avoid becoming a motivated seller yourself.