Glass half empty?



I am a glass half empty kind of guy. I have everything in the world to be grateful for. I’m not rich but I don’t go without much. I have a wonderful wife and family and I live 500 yards from the sea in West Sussex, one of the nicest parts of the U.K. So, why am I usually such a bloody miserable old git?
Perhaps it was because I spent the most part of my working life in the police force, dealing with the dregs of society but shouldn’t that make me more thankful? There’s no doubt about it, I have my own personal black cloud, which follows me around, just waiting for the right moment to piss on me. My wife thinks I’m slightly bi-polar, my kids just think I’m a sad, miserable individual.
O.K. Let’s take an example of how the glass half empty principle works:
In an effort to better myself, I went on a weekend seminar about personal branding. It was interesting and inspiring but as it turned out, not very relevant to what I am currently doing. However, I was struck by one phrase which was used by the guy running the course. He said (and I quote) “The universe is not there to conspire against you”. ‘Brilliant’ I thought…whenever I am feeling that things are not going my way, I should think about that phrase and give myself a positive shot in the arm. So, as soon as I got home, I booted up my replacement computer (see last blog) and in beautifully coloured ‘Lucinda bright’ 60 point font, changed my screensaver to my new mantra. THE UNIVERSE IS NOT THERE TO CONSPIRE AGAINST YOU.
I pressed ‘enter’ and watched those magic, uplifting words drift slowly across the screen. That lasted about 20 seconds before my screen went grey, filled with Japanese writing, followed by a message that I needed to reboot my computer. I did so and the screen remained blank, whilst the cooling fans did another passable impression of an F1-11 jet fighter passing by your left ear at a distance of 3 feet.
Mother board fried (again), R.I.P. Computer. I’m sorry personal branding guru, but not only is the universe conspiring against me, it’s kicking me in the nuts and costing me a fortune. With what I spent on the course, I could have bought a nice new working computer, on which my screen saver will say, ‘you’re buggered….make the most of it’.


A nice simple sale

It’s been a while since my last blog. There are several reasons for that and some are more genuine than others. I love Apple products…they do what they say on the tin and without having to have a degree in computer science to operate. My desktop Mac however, has seen better days. It’s one of those ancient, steam driven, pre-intel money boxes. I call it a money box because it’s a large silver tower with slots in and every time you want to do anything with it, you find you need a different piece of software, which costs you money. Increasingly, when I have tried to load the software, my computer tells me that my hardware isn’t up to it. For the last few months, the normally quiet cooling fans have sounded like a jet taking off from an aircraft carrier. The last time I tried to put a DVD in the drive, my helpful computer told me that my disk drive wasn’t recognised. I don’t know why, because it looks exactly the same and hasn’t had a makeover.
However, things have come to a head. I turned my trusty computer on yesterday and the screen greyed out, to be replaced by a message in English and Japanese, telling me I had to restart. After trying this several times with the same message being displayed, it confirmed my worst fears..the main board has fried. Luckily, I back up my information relatively regularly. The only problem is, if you don’t have a new computer to back up to, it’s not much use. I could really do with a nice, new shiny 27″ I-Mac but my bank manager doesn’t agree. For some strange reason, he thinks we should be banking with him instead of the other way around.
When I tell people I am a property investor, the natural assumption is that you have more money than you know what to do with and that you only have to step off the yacht when the Ferrari needs filling with fuel and it’s the chauffeur’s day off. Unfortunately, it’s not quite like that. Whilst it’s true that the house in the photo above ( you remember the refurbishment project?) sold last Friday at a reasonable profit, no sooner had the money hit my bank account, it was electronically whisked off to pay back a bridging loan on another pile of bricks. Oh by the way, if you are surprised that the house has only just sold, I don’t blame you. This sale went through 7 months after an offer was made and accepted. Did we have a long and complicated chain? No…just a motivated seller and a motivated buyer who was in rented accommodation and with a pre-approved mortgage. So, how the hell can it have taken 7 months? Let me give you just one, tiny example of the kind of nonsense that can delay a house sale….
At the rear of the house is a small kitchen, which is set back into the garden. It was built with the house in the 1900s. When the buyer’s surveyor and valuer came ’round to see the property, he described the kitchen as an extension. Quite reasonable, one would have thought. Oh no…the buyer’s solicitor sees the word ‘extension’ and wants to see the planning and building certificates which of course, don’t exist because it was built with the house. This is made even more ridiculous because the buyers intend to knock it down and build a REAL extension across the whole of the rear of the property. So, I have to take out an indemnity insurance at my own cost, to cover there not being planning or building consent for an extension that doesn’t exist.
Of course, if I charged what the solicitor charged to think up that one, I could afford a nice new 27″ I-Mac.

True value?

Time was, when there were a number of ways to assess the true value of a property. I know that there are a gazillion web sites which give you ‘current values’ but in reality, they are only an approximation. Not so many years ago, one of the more traditional ways was to ask an estate agent (realtor in the U.S.) Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) there are fewer estate agents chasing fewer fees these days. So, if you ask an agent to come and give you a valuation, you will either be charged a fee (unheard of only 5 years ago) or you will get an inflated value, based on how many £ or $ signs appear in the eyes of the agent as they work out what they might get away with as a sales price. One of the ‘sure fire’ ways to get an accurate valuation, used to be to ask a chartered surveyor. I have discovered to my cost this week, that they are no longer reliable or independent.
Having owned one of my houses for 6 months, I decided to get it revalued and remortgaged so that I could pull some money back out. Having heard that valuers working on behalf of some mortgage companies, were being told to ‘down value’, I arranged to drive the 250 miles from my home to the house in question, to meet the valuer and present him with a schedule of work that had been carried out, as well as a list of recently sold houses of a similar type, within 0.5 miles of the property to be valued. The valuer wasn’t sure of the exact time he would be free but agreed to call me on my mobile when half an hour from the property. Having waited 2 hours beyond the given estimated time, I phoned the tenant at the house to apologies for him having to wait in and to let him know that I still hadn’t heard anything from the valuer. My tenant informed me that the valuer had already been and completed the valuation earlier that morning. I may have said something like, ‘oh dear, that’s a shame’, although the translation may be slightly toned down. Not only did I have a 500 mile round trip for nothing but imagine how pleased I was when the valuation came back at £20,000 less than the current market price.
So, in summary, there is only one true way to assess the value of a property….put it on the market and see what someone is prepared to offer you for it. In the end, that’s what ‘market value’ is….what someone is prepared to pay. On the upside of things, someone was walking past a newly completed refurbishment of mine as the builders were leaving, asked for the owners number and made me a substantial offer over the phone. At least I know what THAT one is worth.
Oh the joys of property investment….

Perhaps I’m wired another way..

Whilst I’m not a course or seminar junkie, I do like to go and listen to inspiring speakers on a range of subjects (usually with a common them of making money). I also like to continue my self development by reading books (usually with a common theme of making money). It gives me a warm feeling to know that I have helped all those speakers and authors fill their bank accounts with my ticket and book sale contributions.
One thing which both Intrigues and puzzles me about nearly all these rich guys (and girls) is how much store they put by Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and positive mind set. Clearly, they must be doing something right or they wouldn’t be so rich and happy (the people who say money can’t buy happiness are usually the ones who don’t have either). I consider myself quite a practical person and all this, ‘happy clappy, Tony Robbins, give your partner a high five and shout “I love you man” to the person next to you’ stuff leaves me dazed and confused.
So, my dilemma is this: in the vain hope that it actually does somehow affect the outcome of the universe, do I look in the mirror every day (who IS that wrinkly old man?) and chant the mantra, “I am a wealth magnet and today I’m going to kick some fiscal arse”, in the hope that the karma I create will make it so. Or, do I just carry on being a ‘cup half empty’ individual and hope that things turn out better than my low expectations?
NLP and the power of positive thinking make me ponder about the big questions in life and in particular, the daddy of them all, Nissan Micras (sorry Nissan and Micras drivers but this has to be said). Does buying and driving a Nissan Micra make you a crap driver or do only crap drivers buy Nissan Micras? Will positive thinking make people millionaires or do the kind of people who attract money do so because they exude a positive aura? I tend to think it is the latter, so I’m probably wasting my time giving myself a good talking to in the mirror. I’d probably be better off practicing my smile and projecting my enthusiasm.
The other common denominator with many rich and successful people I have met is even more ‘out there’. They are slightly more reluctant to admit this one but many of them go to see psychics for one reason or another. Those that go to get problems ‘unblocked’, I can relate to. These individuals obviously have a gift for finding the root of a problem and finding ways around it. Those who go to find out whether they are taking a right or wrong decision over something, just leave me baffled.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not poo pooing psychics, mediums and the like. I have seen some very convincing demonstrations and having been an investigator for quite a few years, I am fully aware of just how easy it is to research someone’s life and history, cold read people and influence them by the power of suggestion. But some of the things some of them come out with are just so random, personal and specific that you can’t help but wonder how the hell they did that. However, if you have amassed a fortune using your own skills, wit and brain, why would someone be so insecure as to go to a psychic to get a decision confirmed?
Well, I have decided that my cup is half empty and I’m going to hit the coffee machine again…

Two hats (or is it three?)


One of my blog followers (thank you both) asked why, as a property investor, my photograph on LinkedIn showed me holding a guitar. Well, it’s true, I do wear two metaphorical hats. Although I earn my daily crust through property, My passion is music and in particular, classical and flamenco guitar.

Growing up, I was always fascinated by the instrument and the people who could play it. Folk music was at the height of popularity and the local folk club would let you in free if you sang a song. Clearly I was fiscally tight, even in those early days and I learnt to play a few chords so I could go and watch the likes of Ralph McTell up close (he borrowed my plectrum once…that’s as close as I ever came to fame)
Luckily, I had a really pushy music teacher at school, who ‘encouraged’ me to take classical guitar lessons. I had a series of very inspirational teachers and ended up winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, where I studied with a marvelous teacher and concert artist, Carlos Bonell. It was during those college years that I got bitten by the flamenco bug and went to study with Juan Martin in London and Pepe Martinez in Seville.

Pepe was an interesting character…never seen without a cigar in his mouth and an ex butcher. That may seem like a random statement but it was so hot during the summer, that I had my lessons at 2 a.m. followed by a steak sandwich for breakfast, sitting on his balcony, watching the sun come up.

Some people hate it but as well as playing, I just love teaching, it’s something that gives me a real kick. At this point, I want to make a plea to parents, thinking of buying their offspring a guitar; Please DON’T. I am not trying to discourage you from buying, just don’t do it until you have asked a teacher’s advice. I used to be head of guitar teaching for West Sussex Music Service and start of every term following Christmas, my heart used to sink as each new instrument was pulled from its case. A bright pink, ‘my little pony’ guitar might look cool (unless you are a boy) but it sounded like a bag of spanners and was as easy on the fingers as a cheese grater.

When it was time to move up to a better instrument, the choices were even worse. Two makes dominate the market and therefore, don’t really have to be competitive in terms of quality and price.
I got so fed up with looking for decent instruments, that I started importing Abanico Guitars from China. Don’t laugh….there are a couple of really good Chinese makes out there (although most of the samples I imported were burnt for firewood). So now I suppose, I actually wear three hats; My property investing is my living, my guitar playing is my passion and my guitar import business keeps me sane after Christmas. Now, where did I put that pink paint and pony transfer?

Running on the fumes..

I have an excellent team of builders, electricians, plumbers and carpenters, who all pull together to refurbish my investment properties. They are all good at what they do and make a very nice job..oh, apart from one particular painter and decorator who followed the Stevie Wonder school of painting. I always thought it was basic painting common sense, to remove handles and hooks before painting a door but apparently, that isn’t the professional way of doing it. It seems it’s much better to paint over expensive brass work to get it to match the rest of the door. I don’t use that one any more.
The trouble is, no matter how careful you are, how we’ll you plan, the cost is always going to be higher than you anticipated.
There are always three prices involved in property refurbishment. The first is the one you have in your head as you first view a property. I know pretty much what a full house rewire will cost, what a new central heating system will set me back and what a standard kitchen will cost. So, at the end of the first viewing, I have a list of things which need to be done and a costing. When I say ‘costing’, what I really mean is ‘stab in the dark’. This becomes clear when I get my project manager in to take a look at the job. After he has been round the property, made notes, shaken his head, sucked air in through his teeth and tutted quite a bit, he presents me with a figure which is almost the same as mine but he seems to have added a ‘0’ on the end. The third price comes when you get the final bill. This one includes all the things that the team discovered while they were doing the job…..the wet rot, dry rot, rising damp, falling damp, death watch beetle, illegal drug factory in the basement.
I rolled up at one of the properties this morning, expecting to take some nice internal and external photos, ready to start marketing it for resale (As a general rule, I keep and rent them but this one will hopefully make a nice lump sum). The first clue to it not being entirely finished, was that the new front door I had to pay for the previous week, looked remarkably similar to the old one, including the rot at the bottom and the peeling paint work. However, stepping inside, the new paintwork on the re skimmed walls looked very smart. Looking through to the rear of the house, I could see the newly fitted kitchen, complete with very skillfully sealed travertine floor tiles and splashback (see previous blog) However, the rear reception room, which was supposed to have had all the old floor tiles removed, ash taken up, filled and finished with smooth concrete, at first glance looked like a new basement had been dug. Unfortunately, on second glance, it looked exactly the same. There was a cavernous hole where a floor should have been.
The excuse for it not having been done was a master stroke. “Health and safety executive shut the cement company down when something went tits up”. For those not versed in the finer points of builder speak, ‘tits up’ means, ‘not quite according to plan’.
The long and short of it is, it’s going to cost more…it always does. So, the bank account is running on empty and we are living on bread and dripping until one of the houses gets remortgaged to pull some cash out.
Normally, things don’t get this tight but we went a bit mad on one shopping trip and bought 3 houses at once, so they all needed refurbishing at the same time.
The moral of this story then (if you haven’t lost the will to live since I started it) is….please use the following formula for calculating refurbishments:
C= G + (E x 2) + acoiagtu
Where C = cost
G = guess
E = Builder’s estimate
Acoiagtu = additional cost of it all going tits up.

I’ll be the judge of that….


O.K. I’m not usually moved to do two blogs in one day (previous blogs showing the same date were actually written at different times but imported on the same day) but I feel the need to purge myself…
This isn’t directly to do with property or investment but it is about me as a person. I like to think that I have some reasonable personal qualities. I’m honest, straight forward, trustworthy and like to help people. Unfortunately, I also have some, let’s call them, ‘areas for development’. I am not very good at listening because my mind is always elsewhere. As you can imagine, that particular trait drives my wife nuts. One of the faults I am least proud of is my tendency to judge people (or more often than not, misjudge people). I try not to do it, reprimand myself when I find myself doing it but my years as a policeman, dealing with some not very nice people, have tended to cloud my judgement. This was brought home to me only a few minutes ago, which is why it’s niggling away at me to a point where I have to write it down.
So, I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of my car, parked waiting for Jan to return from the shop. A man of about 35 staggers in front of the car, can of beer sticking out of both jacket pockets. Bearing in mind it’s only 11.00a.m he’s either started drinking early or hasn’t yet gone to bed from a heavy session the previous night. His clothes and hands are dirty and he’s having trouble walking past the car. My immediate thoughts are, ‘don’t scratch my car’. As I watch him in my rear view mirror, I see him approach a young lady with two small children. Again, my first though is that he’s going to ask them for money. I see the young woman put up both hands in the defensive position and shakes her head. The drunk goes for one of the cans in his pocket. I turn my head to get a better view in case she needs rescuing. From the small part of the scenario I could see in my mirror, I thought the worst. Having turned around, I saw the bigger picture (there’s an irony) and saw the drunk doing his best to reach the sweets in his pocket and offer them to the children. Shame on me.
It also reminded me of a house I went to once, to check on the welfare of an elderly female recluse who hadn’t been seen for some time. Police had attended there a few days earlier but found nothing. I got in through a rotten window and the stench was immediate (If you are eating at this point, I suggest you stop)
The place was floor to ceiling in newspapers, trash, clothing, animal faeces, boxes. If you’ve seen those ‘hoarders’ programs, you get the idea. I eventually found the poor woman, laying under a fallen pile of newspapers. She had clearly been dead for several days. The house was in such a state that the first officer had missed her. How can someone get so poverty stricken that they have to spend their old age like that? As is usual in such cases, I went through her desk (once I’d cleared it) to find details of next of kin, doctors etc. What I did find was a building society book, showing a current saving total of £110,000. In every drawer was a thick roll of £10 notes. In all, we found over £5,000 in cash, hidden (badly) all over the house.
Once again, I had misjudged someone. The moral for this particular property investor is clear……I work with investors who have a lot of money but they don’t wear Armani suits or drive a Ferrari. You never know where your next investor is going to come from or what they are going to look like. Note to self….remember those moments and think the best of people until they prove otherwise.