All the property “gurus” (and I’ve really started to despise that word) advocate buying BMV property – “you make your money when you buy the property not when you sell it” as Robert Kiyosaki (the guru’s guru) says.
One of the best ways of doing that is buying repossessed property at below market value. Given the state of the economy, you can find plenty of these deals through estate agents and auctions and, if you are buying large numbers direct through the asset management companies. It helps enormously if you are a cash buyer and at the very least you need to have funding already in place as the seller will always want to see proof of funds before even considering an offer.
So, in theory at least, buying repossessions (or “corporate sales” as the agents euphemistically now call them) can be a lucrative property investment strategy enabling you to buy at a bargain price, renovate it and sell to the open market at a decent profit or rent it out and obtain a very decent yield.
But you need to be fully prepared for what’s in store. Here are a few examples of the issues we have encountered in the last few months which are (apart from the last one) fairly typical of what you will experience if you start buying repossessions.
Ask Yourself: Is it really a bargain?
Just because it’s a repo (ccmph, sorry… corporate sale) does not automatically mean it is a bargain. Doing your due diligence on the internet/ telephone is one thing to establish previous property sale prices and comparables, but you absolutely must do a site visit to establish whether it is truly a bargain. Repos, by their nature, tend to be in a fairly appalling condition. You need to calculate what you will have to spend to bring the property up to scratch. It may well be that whilst the 2 bed terrace for sale at £35,000 looks like it is a great deal at £15,000 below comparable properties, it may actually need £20k spending on it and there is little margin for profit. Many estate agents won’t tell you that over the phone, even if you ask them, as they like to get as many viewings as possible even if it should be obvious from what you’ve told them that it won’t be suitable for you – I think it gives them something to show their client as evidence they have been doing some work!
A more unusual example (but one that is becoming increasingly common) is Japanese Knotweed. In quick succession, we found two properties that looked like great deals until we realised the gardens were riddled with Japanese Knotweed. This is a notoriously invasive weed, which can cause serious damage to property. It also makes the property un-mortgageable and can be an expensive problem to clear up, taking many months. All of which can of course represent an opportunity, if the buyer will reduce the price accordingly. But many sellers, even in this market, are extremely stubborn and in neither of our cases would they reduce the price, so we had to walk away. Presumably, some unsuspecting person with an incompetent surveyor bought them in the end, as they are no longer on the market.
Tip: You must do a personal viewing and work out your refurb budget allowing a 15-20% contingency before making an offer.
It is the duty of the bank in possession to obtain the highest price possible. They will never agree to take a property off the market. This means even if they accept your offer, you can be gazumped at any time up to exchange of contracts, losing survey fees, structural engineer fees, search fees and legal fees in the process. Quite an expensive business, and if it happens a few times it will eat up a high proportion of any profit you hope to make, especially if you are dealing at the low end of the market. It’s especially galling when the other side has caused the delays and allowed time for a rival purchaser to make an offer.
Whilst being a cash buyer has its advantages, as an investor you are looking to make a profit. There is a ceiling to what you can pay and still retain a realistic chance of achieving this and, as you may well be competing against potential owner occupiers who are not so like minded, and likely to be prepared to pay more, expect to be gazumped – frequently.
Tip: Speed is of the essence. Emphasise to the seller (if true) that you are a cash buyer and will pull out the stops to complete quickly. Make sure you use a solicitor who will proactively push things forward as quickly as possible.
The fact is people are not going to be happy about being kicked out of their home. It’s common for people to blame someone else for their troubles and likely that people being repossessed will become vindictive. They not only frequently leave the place in a dreadful mess, but will often actively vandalise the property and steal anything they can. Examples we have experienced include taking all bathroom fittings, removing boilers, copper piping, cutting and sabotaging the copper wiring (labour costs to replace £1200!), sabotaging the water tank – which meant the newly re-plastered walls despite using all manner of industrial heaters and dehumidifiers took over 2 months to dry, massively delaying what should have been a 4 week refurb.
Tip: Do not expect a survey to reveal all the potential damage. Build in a generous contingency fund to your budget.
Chances are the gas and electric bills will not have been paid and the supply will have been cut off. It may even have been de-energised from the main street power source. The seller will have no information about who the suppliers are and you will need to set aside a good few hours to indulge in Kafka-esque dealings with utility companies to find out who supplies it and how you are going to get it reconnected. Not anyone’s idea of fun.
Tip: You have two choices to deal with this and retain your sanity. 1. Outsource it to a person who you don’t know (as they will probably never speak to you again after 6 excruciating hours of banging their head against a wall) or 2. Order a large supply of Valium and try not to smash your phone into tiny pieces – not that I have ever done that of course. Maybe once… Or twice. Definitely no more than thrice.
Block Management Issues
There are apartment blocks up and down the country that have been sold to investors at the height of the market. Many investors’ motivation, I suspect –given the ridiculous prices recorded at the Land Registry, was some sort of dodgy cash back incentive rather than a long term rental income. These investors showed no commitment to paying their mortgages and as they bought whole blocks of flats with 100% finance to maximise the cash they could immediately get their mitts on, when they defaulted on their mortgages, whole blocks have been repossessed. They also in may cases have avoided paying their service charges which means the block management companies (which subsequently gone bust) stop maintaining the communal areas and they are often in a state of disrepair.
No mortgage company will finance the purchase of a flat where there is no block management contract in place. It can therefore represent a great opportunity for an investor who can buy for cash and wait for all the flats to be resold so that a new management company can be appointed to sort out the mess. But it can be a complex situation to establish whether the purchaser will be responsible for unpaid service charges and it can even be an issue as to working out who has the right to receive that service charge. It is definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Tip: It is essential to ensure you have a very good and experienced lawyer. It may well be the difference between getting the deal done or not and also ensuring you are not held liable for thousands of pounds worth of accumulated charges.
Solicitor’s Not Completing –
In 18 years of property investing, I had never heard of this happening – until it happened to us. Essentially, our solicitor left a junior in charge of the completion whilst he was on holiday. He informed us that we had completed on the property – a fantastic bargain where we acquired a 5 bed house in Bolton and a 2 bed flat on the same title for £50,000. Open market value was well over £100,000. We collected the keys and sent the builders in. Two weeks later, after racking up over £20,000 of building costs, I received a call from the solicitor telling us there was a problem and they hadn’t actually completed on the property (despite having transferred the money to the seller) and the seller now wanted to sell to someone else. I can feel my blood beginning to boil just thinking about this again, so I won’t go in to any more details. Suffice to say after protracted negotiations to try and rectify the situation, we had to concede and are now suing our (ex) lawyers for the losses incurred.
This last problem is highly unlikely to ever happen to you, but the point is totally unpredictable things can and will happen at some stage.
Tip: “hope for the best prepare for the worst” (thanks, Grandma).
So, in conclusion, the truth about buying repossessions is things are never as easy as the gurus make out in their seminars – if they were everybody would be doing them. When investing in repossessions, the maxim “caveat emptor” (I knew 3 years of Latin would come in useful one day) should always be borne in mind – buyer beware.