In the third instalment of the series, Natalie Windsor discusses how the COVID-19 crisis affected her building plans
“So, it’s now June after I’d promised you all an update in April. That’s the coronavirus world we now live in…
“When I last wrote, we’d just completed on our first HMO – back on March 12 in fact, when coronavirus was still threatening rather than devastating. Just 11 days after we completed on the property, we entered lockdown alongside the rest of the UK and, I’ll admit, our levels of anxiety and uncertainty matched those of the rest of the population. I was at a franchise show just 24 hours after we completed, one of the last events that were held, and it was so quiet we really knew what was coming. The following week we went into lockdown and it was an extremely strange feeling.
“We had this property, which we now owned, but uncertainty had really crept in during those early lockdown days and we weren’t sure if turning the house into an HMO was the right way to go. We looked at doing a quick-fire refurbishment and selling it on as a family home, or doing the same refurb and renting it out to a family. But I soon realised that by far the best thing to do was carry on as planned – and that’s where our mentors Mike (buying) and Kim (renovation) really made such a huge difference.
“Mike, in particular, went through the 2008 financial crisis having just joined Platinum as a franchise partner. He reassured me as if I really needed reassuring knowing how well insulated and how well run Platinum is, that everything would be okay and we should press on with our plans. That was all the advice I needed to know that was the right thing to do.”
Time to get down to detail
“The lockdown actually gave me some much-needed time to really look at what we were planning with the property. I think a lot of people have spoken publicly about how being away from the office or furloughed, as worrying as that scenario was, gave them time to reflect.
“It was no different for me, or my husband John, although we had to combine work with home-schooling our daughter and looking after our three-year-old son. That left the evenings to take a deeper look at our floor plan for the property, architectural drawings and quotations, which maybe we wouldn’t have done had we not been forced to stay in!
“We were really able to nail down some of the detail and finer points of the project – things like plug socket positions and a closer look at furnishings. More importantly, we were able to think about future-proofing the property to work for tenants in what’s being dubbed the ‘new normal’ post coronavirus. That is likely to see more people working from home and even potential future lockdowns for further waves of COVID-19.
“So, we’ve been looking at how we can make our HMO as comfortable and functional as possible for the people who will be living in it, from WiFi options to desks and chairs suitable for long-term use. Those things will also be unique selling points for us as a property business, as other similar properties in the area won’t be up to the same post-COVID standards.
“We’re taking all that one step further, too, by looking into potential video tours so housemates can check themselves into the property at the start of their tenancy without having to worry about social distancing should those restrictions continue in some form for longer.”
The true value of a home
“The housing market will be very different once we’re fully out the other side of coronavirus. I know how much I’ve started to value my own home now it’s the centre of everything I do, including work. I think a ‘nice home’ will be even higher on people’s wish-lists after this – the practicalities of location when it comes to property will be replaced by a desire for quality, room and a high-end finish. That’s what our franchise partners produce – quality homes – and we’ll be no different.
“Platinum has been producing a huge amount of content for our landlords advising them on steps they need to take and changes they need to make due to coronavirus, so I’ve also spent some time plugging into that and it’s been hugely beneficial. It’s been a rollercoaster, I’m not going to lie. That’s where people like Kim and Mike have been so key. And we all agree the delay to our project could actually be a good thing.
“We’re looking at a three-month build and, factoring in snagging and any other more minor delays, that would put us in a great place to start advertising the rooms in the autumn. Alongside spring, the autumn is always a good time for the property rental market and although I’m sure there may still be some ongoing uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, I’m confident that kind of timeframe is achievable.
“The other factor in our favour is the fact that our build project is all internal, so if the builders do need to come off-site due to COVID-19, we can simply lock the house up without having to worry about anything being exposed to the elements. The project went out to tender with four builders, who have all been costing the job and dealing with our renovation mentor Kim and we actually appointed our builder yesterday as I write this.
“It’s a huge leap forward, although we were obviously initially hoping to have the builders on-site in April. Now, we expect ground to be broken in around three weeks.”
Positives when things get tough
“The situation with coronavirus has had an effect on everyone in the UK and we’re no different. But I always like to find the positives in any situation and some doors have opened for us that would have remained shut had we not been through what we have over the past few months.
“Builders are sharpening their pencils a little more and are offering reductions on projects as they seek to pin down work after months unable to get on to sites. And, also, we expect demand for high-quality shared living properties to remain high as existing tenants, but also homeowners, revaluate their lives and their budgets post COVID-19.
“We saw that in 2008 when Platinum franchise partners saw huge demand for their rooms and I expect this will happen again. Not only is this great for our property business, but it’s great for the housemates who will live in our property, too, as they will be living in an affordable, quality home and benefiting from everything that comes with that. That’s just as important to us as the business side of what we’re doing.
“When I update you again later in the summer, I’ll hopefully be talking about how our renovation project is going and showing off some pictures of our developing HMO.
“I hope you’re all doing well during what’s been a difficult few months, but continue to look after yourself and others.”