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Keeping your property let through the winter lull

Now that the schools have gone back, the countdown to Christmas will inevitably begin. But alongs...

Now that the schools have gone back, the countdown to Christmas will inevitably begin. But alongside this as a Buy-to-Let landlord you need to be mindful that the last couple of months of the year can be pretty quiet on the tenant front.

While there is still a little activity, most people prefer to be settled by November and not have to think about moving until mid-January at the earliest, so do all you can to ensure your property remains let through the winter months.

An empty property is bad for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is the financial issue that in addition to not receiving the rental profit you may be used to, you will still have to make any mortgage payments due, so could be hit with the double cost of reduced income and increased expenditure.

Secondly, properties that sit empty for extended periods of time, particularly when the temperature is low, can begin to suffer from damp through a lack of heat and ventilation. There is also the danger that any leaks or other structural issues might not be picked up for some time if nobody is living in the property and thirdly, as a consequence, the property can start to feel unappealing - cold, musty and damp. Likely to put off any quality prospective tenants altogether.

So what can you do to avoid this situation? The first step is to try to work with your agent to ensure your tenancy agreement does not come up for renewal during this time, so if your agreement usually includes a 6-month break clause and that would fall between November and January, you might want to consider a 12-month fixed-term AST which is something your local Belvoir office can help with.

The second thing, which you should already be doing as a matter of good practice, is making sure there’s no property-related reason why your tenant should want to leave. For the most part, this comes down to maintenance, so fix any problems as soon as you are made aware of them, renew furnishings and décor before they’re on their last legs and, even if you don’t think there are any issues, carry out periodical checks. Not only will that ensure you pick up any potential problems before they occur, but it also shows your tenant that you’re keen to keep their home in good condition.

If there are any complaints from your tenants, address them promptly and always keep the tenants updated on what’s happening and when. At Belvoir, they carry out checks typically every three months and have a database of expert contractors that they can call on to deal with any issues quickly and effectively. Having a reliable team on hand will give you peace of mind that repairs will be carried out properly and your tenants remain happy and safe.

If it’s unavoidable that your property becomes vacant during this quiet period, the first thing to do is make sure it is – and remains – in excellent condition. A short break between tenancies is the perfect time to refresh paintwork and repair or replace items that are starting to look tired. Keep the heating on low and visit the property regularly to ventilate it; that way you should avoid any surface mould, keep the atmosphere fresh and the fabric of the building in good condition. Check around windows for condensation and wipe up any pools of water that might have collected on sills. And if it is especially cold, remember to turn off the water to avoid burst pipes.

The other thing to consider is reducing your rent. We keep a close eye on the market and understand that rents sometimes need to be adjusted, depending on supply and demand. If there are lots of properties available and only a few people looking for accommodation, it’s well worth talking to your Belvoir office about dropping the rent to a level that quickly secures a tenant, rather than have potentially several weeks with no income and a vacant property.

You could also be a little more flexible about what kind of tenancy you’re prepared to accept, for example, agree to a six-month minimum period, rather than 12 months, or include window cleaning or gardening services. The drop in your profits over the course of the rental period is still likely to be far less than if the property were lying empty for a couple of weeks.

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