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Property

We’re all in lockdown, the economy is in freefall, now what?

Like many businesses, every aspect of the property industry has been severely impacted by this unprecedented time. By late 2019 I was, in all honestly, a little battle weary by the sector. I’d ridden the wave of 2010 until 2017 and then the perfect storm of landlord tax changes, stamp duty increases and the Brexit vote had taken its toll on my property strategy. Of course I was also suffering a loss on some of my earlier gains, on paper anyway. 

I run a boutique property developer building out 105 homes across nine sites in central, east and west London. Following the election in December house prices were experiencing something of a “Boris-bounce” and I’d started to feel optimistic about securing some much-needed property sales. And then the coronavirus spread and brought the whole industry to a screeching halt. In my view the COVID19 pandemic provided a neat bookend to what was a challenging economic period for the property industry.

There isn’t a single part of the property sector that hasn’t been hit hard by the lockdown. Whole estate agencies, law firms, construction companies and more have furloughed whole teams. People can’t move home, bank valuations can’t be undertaken and construction sites remain closed.

Like most people, the first two weeks of lockdown were spent coming to grips with this new normal. Much like the process of grieving, I was stuck in the denial stage unsure what was required from me and, more importantly, what was acceptable. Many were blasted publicly for their insensitivity in continuing to market their businesses-as-usual at a time when it was anything but. 

The new normal and new winners 

As I reflected on what was going on and how businesses were reacting to the economic meltdown there were clear winners shining through the wreckage – those with a viable online offering. We all heard about the big companies booming like Netflix and Zoom, but individuals like Joe Wicks (PE classes for school children), Cat Meffan (online yoga and meditation), Sháá Wasmund, MBE (entrepreneur training and support) – those who already had solid online video training offerings are also winning. It’s no fluke that ads for online training are flashing up on your phone, these often solo-preneurs are winning right now too. 

The big question was how could I apply these strategies to what I was doing? A couple of days of auditing my business, my goals and, most importantly, my passions allowed me to work out some areas I could work on to add a viable online offering to my business. I also reflected on my longer term goals. While I am passionate about building beautiful homes in London and the south east, it doesn’t fit with my five year goal of living aboard a yacht with my partner and sailing the south Pacific. 

Pivoting

While some are calling time on the era of the influencer what the influencer economy has taught us is that it’s no longer enough to be just an accountant, or just an estate agent or just a makeup artist. Those who really won over the last decade are those who build their personal brand. I’m not talking about the Kardashians here but regular people like Antony Slumbers (commercial real estate consultant), Henry Pryor (home buying agent) and Katie Smith (award winning bricklayer). 

I’ve been banging the personal branding drum since 2016 and thankfully have built up somewhat of a following across social media; nearly 46,000 followers on Instagram, 34,000 on LinkedIn, 13,000 on Twitter and just under 8,000 on Facebook. However my strategy for posting on these platforms had been haphazard and lacking intent and purpose – two factors I need to add if I too am going to be relevant in the new economy.

One of the good things to come out of this lockdown is that we’re all realising something I’ve known for a long time – we have too many meetings! I despise (most) meetings and find them inefficient. I have to do my hair and makeup and leave the house for a start. Now I’ve moved to the countryside (which is fantastic during a lockdown) it takes me at least an hour and half to get anywhere. Video meetings are also quicker and more succinct. We get through all we want to get through in at least half the time of a face to face. Another efficiency saving! Now we’re not meeting, commuting (or putting on our makeup and doing our hair) we have time to be productive. 

The next thing I did was look at the parts of my business that I enjoy the most. They include writing, podcasting and speaking. Writing is an easy one to do remotely, it can be done from anywhere with space and power for my laptop. Podcasting just requires a good WiFi signal (which might prove a problem on a boat but not for the next few years). The public speaking conundrum was interesting to consider. 

I’d interviewed public speaker, sports psychologist and corporate trainer Jamil Qureshi in late March. Prior to February he was boarding a plane a couple of times a week for destinations across the globe to deliver training for large multinationals. Overnight planes were grounded and his business dried up. Jamil was quick to contact his clients and offer them video content which they paid for once and were free to repurpose as often as they pleased. While it did impact his revenues, it has now opened up a whole new business for him where one previously didn’t exist. One he can continue alongside his “in-person” speaking when it is again possible. 

I’ve also been working on my speaking business over the last month and have secured speaking opportunities in Dubai and Toronto later this year. What’s needed to secure these often lucrative gigs is a clear message of what you will be delivering to the attendees and what they will get from your talk. Previously my talks had all been on property and my property journey. Now that I am moving away from the built environment to something more virtual my topic or theme also needs to evolve. That’s where #reboundfromsetback came about. 

#Reboundfromsetback

I’ve had the trifecta of problems over the last few years, personally with divorce and a big city move, and then professionally with big loss resulting from fraudulent activity in my investment portfolio combined with dwindling asset values. 

The good thing about telling the stories of setback is that they are followed by stories of success. It became clear to me over recent weeks is that this was the topic and theme I was qualified and passionate about sharing. It doesn’t have to define me forever, but it accurately sums up where I am now. It also rings true for so many others right now. Our world is going through a huge economic setback but, we will rebound! Just look at any investment chart of stock market indices or property cycles – they recover. 

Implementation

Now I had homed in on my goals, explored my passions and found my theme I needed to know how to implement it. That’s where I am now. I am using this period of time while my children are busy attending school via remote learning to do the same. I’m exploring developing online courses, hosting webinars, membership groups, email lists and growing my social media followings. I’ve even used this time to learn how to edit videos for a (near) professional finish and launched a new YouTube channel, SailingSavvy, following my family’s sailing adventures aboard my partner’s boat, Savvy of London. 

After a six month hiatus I’ve relaunched my podcast as the #ReboundFromSetback podcast and am exploring new collaborations with other top podcasters (Look out for Two Women and a Mic with me and Sháá Wasmund soon). Now I’ve experienced also property fraud and misappropriation of funds within my companies I’m well qualified to launch an  exciting new podcast warning others on all the ways you can lose money in property at the hands of those less scrupulous. 

On the writing side I have regular columns with Modern Woman and Development Finance Today magazines. Following the success of my first book in 2017, Bricking It, I have at least two more books in me and one nearly completed manuscript ready for publication later this year. 

All this is a lot of work, granted, and I’m not sure what is going to gain traction and what will fail spectacularly. What I do know is that they’re all areas I’m deeply passionate about so I’ll have a great time working on them alongside my traditional property business. The important thing here is that I believe it will go a long way towards futureproofing my career. Once I have proven what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t, I hope I can work with others to help them implement these futureproofing strategies into their own careers. 

Futureproofing  

This will be the fourth time I’ve pivoted in my career. I started out in banking as an associate analyst, a role I was completely unsuited for. I then tried my hand at online fashion before stopping to have children and briefly returning to banking. It was between children that the idea of property development came to the fore. This now is my next iteration and one that I’m incredibly excited about. Not only does it allow me to grow a business around times that suit, it gives me the flexibility to grow it as big or small as I want it to be. And hopefully from aboard a yacht somewhere very warm and very blue. 

My point here is that yes, change can be a frightening prospect. But if you remain open minded and flexible and listen to what you really want, there is an online business in us all. I’m looking forward to hearing from you what you have decided to pursue and what lessons you have learned from what really are unprecedented times. 

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Property

Are you a victim of fraud in property?

Have you been a victim of fraud in the property industry? Unfortunately I have, hence the reason for my silence over the past months. But I’m not going to remain silent any more. 

The property industry is rife with charlatans. Every day I am contacted by people asking for help on how to invest their money into property. And I’m concerned for them. Many chancers will take their money and people are too eager to give it to them to manage on the promises of strong returns. Premeditated or not, too often things go wrong. 

I’m launching a new podcast series “How To Lose Millions In Property” which gives and in-depth look into one large scale, systematic programme of deceit with the goal of warning others what not to do. 

If you too have been a victim and wish to tell your story as a warning to others please get in touch. It can be anonymously if you’d prefer. Be prepared to have evidence of the wrongdoing and not just a grievance. I hope no one ever experiences what I have been through.

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Property

The Job v. Entrepreneur Conundrum

I find myself in something at a pivot point, as the Americans say. It’s a position that many entrepreneurs find themselves but are almost ashamed to admit it. Admission is viewed as failure. It’s the yearning for a job.

The solid, security of the 9-5. A paycheque at the end of each month, health insurance, paid holidays, a pension plan. To go further it’s an HR department, IT department and offices you don’t have to worry about paying for. It’s colleagues and a role you can switch off from at the end of the day and not keep you up in the wee hours of the morning.

The problem is having left employment 15 years ago to set out on my own and raise children, I’m unemployable. I like working my own hours, I’m not great at water-cooler chit chat, I see inefficiencies everywhere and crave the autonomy to press ahead with my own ideas without committee. On reflection I was like that from the beginning of my working career – I constantly saw ways of doing things better. Something my bosses didn’t like hearing from a 20 year old early graduate with only McDonalds, Pizza Hut and a haberdashery factory on her CV.

So where does that leave me now? Probably still unemployable. But burning with ideas, energy and ambition. The only question mark is over the where, what and who. And exciting place to be. Honestly, how many of you self-employed people feel the same?

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Property

Beginning of the end or new beginning?

In early September I received a call which changed the course of my property journey.

While I’d had some concerns about the time delays on projects, lack of accounts and the communications I had (and had not) been receiving, I was so caught up in untangling a 19 year relationship along with supporting my three young children that I’d pushed these niggling feelings aside. However the lack of transparency in the situation was completely at odds with my values. During that call the penny dropped for both of us that things were not as they seemed. Something was awry and we had a lot of work to do if we wanted to rescue the situation and engineer an exit for investors in the nine properties within the portfolio.

The situation took a personal toll. I went through the seven stages of grief simultaneously over three areas of my life – career, divorce and the complete upheaval of my family life. It was unfortunate that the time that my property investments needed me my family needed me more.

– Shock and denial
– Pain and guilt
– Anger and bargaining
– Depression
– The upward turn
– Reconstruction and working through
– Acceptance and hope

Now I flip between depression through to acceptance on a daily basis. But definitely with a lean towards the “reconstruction and working through” stage. I’ve set aside everything else, apart from family, just to focus on exits for investors.

If you are a stakeholder reading this please don’t be alarmed. A lot of work has been carried out at a high level since that fateful day in September. We are in a good place now but there is some mess left to clean up. Those in charge of the clearing up are more than capable and progress has been made.

For those hiding behind fake accounts and WhatsApp groups I pity you. It’s a shame that you are so frustrated in your own shortcomings and failings that you have to dwell on and even fabricate mine. Time will tell.

Thank you for the immense support I’ve received from so many places. When I’ve felt like quitting your messages and calls have kept me focussed. It’s amazing the support often comes not from those you expect but those you don’t. Thank you to the unexpected supporters 💙

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Property

Will it be the roaring 20s? My property outlook for 2020.

“The property market has been especially hard-hit by Brexit-led procrastination over recent years. Transaction volumes are down dramatically since the 2016 referendum, so to are property prices and the number of properties listed for sale.

While the election result and Brexit is now agreed, many of us naïvely believe, or hope, the extended period of limbo will be over. However, much like an acrimonious divorce, we’re likely to have years of negotiations over the financial settlement. We entered the EU, or EC (European Communities) as it was known, in 1973, so leaving isn’t as simple as setting a date and agreeing terms with our friends across the Irish Sea and English Channel. What is the likely impact of these continued negotiations on property as we enter the next decade?

Rental growth in London since the Brexit referendum vote has stagnated. Across the whole of the UK, excluding London, rental growth is at its lowest since February 2013 according to data from the LandBay rental index. Year-on-year rents have increased in UK ex the capital by just over 1%, some seven times that of London.

While the capital’s stagnation has masked the relatively strong growth in the rest of the UK, the impact has now rippled out. It’s unlikely to change as we enter into this period of negotiation. We are still suffering the hangover of tax changes impacting landlords as the government try to push out the ‘Mum and Dad’ buy to let landlord in favour of built for purpose rental accommodation. And with fairly little regulation in the industry, there are arguments to support this view.

London has also dragged down national average property prices and the outlook remains mixed. In the lead up to a final decision on Brexit we had an insufficient supply of property with homeowners anxiously holding on to properties. There should be somewhat of a reprieve with homeowners feeling more confident about selling into a thawed market.

While renewed confidence may provide some support to housing prices nationwide we can’t escape the charts which show that we remain in an inflated property market. Thirty years of falling interest rates and people taking out larger mortgages has led some pundits to believe we’re more likely to see continued slow growth with further declines in prime central London.

Taking into consideration the potentially acrimonious negotiations on the finer details of Brexit and affordability of housing on one hand and renewed confidence in the thawing property market on the other, my view is that we’re not going to see much more than a slight increase in prices as we enter into the 2020s.

If you plot back long enough the last couple of years will be nothing but a blip. While I believe that the long term trend in property will be growth, I don’t expect that the next decade will reflect the rapid growth of the next. Divorce of any kind will always leave an irreparable dent.”

This outlook was included with many more on Property Solvers. Have a read and let’s see how accurate they are at the end of 2020. Will it be the roaring 20s?

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Property

Tour my Rochester home decorated on a £15k budget

I’ve finally got around to posting my new home redecoration. In October 2019 I moved to Rochester, Kent, from Hackney. I’ve rented a tired but cozy house a short walk from the historic centre, and importantly, a short roll out of bed to the children’s school. I left with little more than our clothes and have completely started from scratch

 Given that this is a rental until I can find my dream home, I just wanted to make it homely and comfortable for me and my three children. I set myself the task of spending just £15,000 on everything (including TVs, fridge etc) and all (except the aforementioned items) from IKEA. It took five IKEA deliveries and three trips to the Greenwich store, including £1,100 in returns for things that didn’t fit. The result, in my opinion, is a warm, serene (when the kids aren’t here) home I’m proud of and comfortable in. Even if this house is home for a few years rather than months, I’m happy with that. What do you think? Curious if you can see the value in how I’ve apportioned the funds and if you think it’s good, bad or about right for £15,000.

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