Back in 2008 Sarah and Andrew purchased their first property in Sydney, Australia. At the time they both had other jobs; Sarah as a graduate accountant and Andrew an apprentice electrician.
They were ‘weekend warriors’, and loved putting in the hard work around their day jobs to improve their property. In 2011 they purchased their first buy-to-let, in Alt Street…and this marked the beginning of their property portfolio. Sarah's career grew from her and Andrew's shared love of renovation and fast-forward to 2022, the Alt Street Property Group now boasts a portfolio of 4 HMOs, with 22 tenants in Northampton, as well as buy-to-lets in Milton Keynes and Sydney, Australia.
Sarah now fully commits her working time to Alt Street properties after deciding not to return to employed work after the birth of her second child. Her priorities had changed and the business had grown to the point that it required her undivided attention. Alt street properties are all about providing safe, secure accommodation, with ample floor space (the largest having a communal living space of a whopping 500 sq.ft.) and easy parking.
For this reason they have targeted new-build houses to add to their portfolio, all of which are within walking distance of each other. Interestingly they also had an exit strategy in mind when choosing these properties as if they didn't prove profitable as HMOs they would also lend themselves well to single lets or to be easily sold. The area is now an article 4 area (the legal requirement for property owners to obtain planning permission to convert a house into an HMO.), which means there is added risk in the event that planning consent is declined.
Building a brand in the property business
All of the Alt Street HMOs are professional lets, with tenants working in care, nursing, engineering (handy for maintenance!), banking and a whole range of professional industries. Sarah's properties are selected to meet the local demand for good quality shared accommodation, without her needing to undertake major structural reconfiguration to make the change to an HMO. She puts her efforts into updating kitchens, bathrooms, redecorating and interior design to produce beautiful living spaces.
Sarah talked openly about how she has developed her interior design brand for Alt Street properties. It has been a learning process for her as she grows her presence in the sector. The feedback she has received from tenants has helped her pinpoint what works and what doesn't. With a bit of instagram inspiration, and input from a mentor, Sarah now has a ‘cookie cutter’ design strategy that is consistent, beautifully branded and easy to reproduce across her properties by the trades people she employs. They know what she wants and how to produce it, which saves time and ultimately money.
It's having that really good brand sense so people know exactly what type of product they are coming in to.
Refining her branding has given Sarah's business an edge in a competitive market. She has sculpted a brand for Alt Street that meets the needs and wants of a particular client group; this consistency encourages tenants to return, or move to different properties within her portfolio because they are familiar and comfortable with the Alt Street brand. They will also recommend her to friends who might be looking for similar accommodation, which means she is never short of tenants to fill empty rooms.
Operational effectiveness in property business
The different skills that Sarah and her husband, Andrew bring to the business compliment each other to create a top-notch team. Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management and operational side and Andrew handles the strategy/business planning side of things and brings his badass trouble-shooting skills when problems arise. They also have a VA based in the Philippines, who has become invaluable by taking on a lot of the administrative tasks.
She deals with things like deposit protection, AST creation, compliance documentation, etc. Alt Street Properties also employs someone who is trained in completing the check ins/ check outs, maintenance checks and inventories as well as her routine cleans, on a weekly, rotational basis. This allows Sarah to work remotely. She visits the properties in the portfolio quarterly to make sure everything is ticking along nicely, then she will visit intermittently to oversee upgrade work, and quality check before paying trades bills. She also likes to visit from time to time in her roles as Santa and the Easter Bunny to deliver goodies to her tenants, and organising co-living events.
Alt Street properties take advantage of the close proximity of their properties by encouraging tenants from different houses to socialise together and Sarah arranges events to make this happen. She has hosted end of summer parties for all the housemates to get together, as well as a pumpkin carving competition where she pitched the houses against each other to come up with the best design, awarding a food basket to the winning house.
The community feel Sarah has been able to cultivate adds value to the package she offers, which is confirmed by her tenancy lengths generally extending longer than average, at around 15 months. In the UK 54% of tenants will stay in their HMO for 12 months, with a steep drop to only 22% who stay for 2 years. The clean, modern feel, and generous room sizes of Sarah's properties has meant that people don't want to leave. She has seven tenants who have been with her from the beginning, and generally people only move on when they have work commitments that require them to do so.
The delegation of tasks is key to being able to grow any business. It is impossible as a business owner to stay on top of everything that needs doing as well as planning for growth.
Sarah has now made the next step towards future growth by systemising her admin with COHO. She particularly benefits from the compliance features where she can easily set renewal reminders to help her stay compliant.
Sarah appreciates that everything is in one place with COHO; stored in an easy to access format that allows her and her VA to work unitedly to achieve the level of organisation her business needs.
The importance of a network in property industry
Sarah is very proactive in the property industry and tries to attend networking events where her family commitments allow. She has joined Partners in Property, which has been instrumental for her to develop a network. The property market is ever-changing and keeping abreast of all the goings-on is the responsibility of owners and managers; a task that can be made so much easier with a supportive network.
Sarah accesses the network to get the inside news on what's going on with mortgage rates, council tax rebanding, white paper legislation and generally sharing knowledge and contacts. In a fast-paced industry, being isolated, and left in the dark regarding changes is risky business, and is a heavy burden to carry. Making the time to connect with others, and building a community of like-minded people helps with staying in the loop and creating lasting bonds.
If you want to connect with Alt Street Property you can visit them at www.altstreetproperty.com