Should We Pay Reparations for Slavery?

Should We Pay Reparations for Slavery? post image

We live in a rich western democracy; we know that slavery is abhorrent and a crime against humanity; we also know that we as a country profited from the slave trade. Shouldn’t we pay compensation / reparations then? As decent, honest people, isn’t that the right thing to do?

This post is intended to provoke thought and discussion, nothing more. If you disagree, feel free to say so, and why.

There are at least 6 good reasons not to pay reparations for slavery:

1) We, the currently living Britains, didn’t invade or enslave anyone, why should we (through our taxes) be made to pay for someone else’s wrong doing? If your dad was a murderer, are you responsible and should you be made to pay for his crimes? If your grandfather was a rapist and one of his victims had a child, are you financially responsible for that child and their family?

2) If we’re in the business of making people pay for historical aggressions, how far back do you go?

  • The Normans invaded and enslaved Britains, can I have reparations from the French?
  • The Vikings invaded and enslaved Britains, can I have reparations from the Scandinavians?
  • The Saxons invaded and enslaved Britains, can I have reparations from the Germans?
  • The Romans invaded and enslaved Britains, can I have reparations from the Italians?
  • My family are Irish originally, can I have reparations from the English… hold on, that’s me!?!

3) When arguments are fought and won in court, a general legal principle is to put people back into the position they would have been in before they were harmed. Should we then send all people of Jamaican decent back “home” to live the life they would have lived had the British never arrived in Jamaica? I doubt many African-American descendants of the slave trade would want to be shipped back to the Congo!

Also bear in mind that slavery was prevalent in Africa before the Europeans arrived. Most African slaves transported to the New World for example, were enslaved by other Africans, then transported to the ports by Africans and sold by Africans to the Europeans. Check out the history of the Kingdom of Kongo for example:

4) We should focus on solving current slavery issues first, before we worry about slavery from hundreds of years ago. Slavery has never been more prevalent than it is right now, with an estimated 20-40 million slaves currently alive in the world, up to 3x more than all the historic slaves trafficked during the 400 years of the 15th to 19th centuries.

If you’ve been to a hand car wash or had your nails done in a shopping centre, the chances are YOU have directly paid cash for work from a modern day slave! Just because they weren’t in chains picking cotton, doesn’t make them any less a slave.

5) Who would you pay reparations to? How would you calculate it? You couldn’t just pay reparations to 1 country, you’d be setting a precedent and every affected country would want it too. Would you pay it to the govt’s of the countries involved? But many of those countries, particularly in Africa, don’t exist any more. Would you pay it to the descendants of those trafficked by slavery? Do you deduct a proportion if their slave ancestor married a western native, so they are only half descended from a slave, as opposed to a “pure-blood” slave descendant if their ancestors only married other slave descendants?

But doesn’t that mean you’d be paying potentially wealthy western citizens who don’t need the money and are hardly disadvantaged as a result of the slave trade? Don’t the people in the countries they came from need it more? What about the slaves that died, they have no descendants to pay? How do you even prove that a currently living person is descended from a particular slave from 400 years ago?

Because huge sums of money are involved, the whole process would inevitably be tied up in court for decades, as different interested parties sought to increase their slice of the pie by challenging the calculations. Which would no doubt make the lawyers happy if no one else!

6) As a country, we’re broke. Yes we have a lot of money sloshing round the system, but the country is massively in debt and still spending more than we earn each year; isn’t that the definition of insolvency? Our national debt is currently £1.78 trillion, but that doesn’t include the unfunded public sector pension liability of £1.85 trillion, or the PFI debt of £267Bn, making a total of £3,897 Billion, or £3,897,000,000,000 if you like. That’s a colossal £124,000 for every one of the 31.4M tax payers in the country.

There’s absolutely zero hope of us paying off that debt; it took us 100 years to pay the £1.9Bn debt we incurred to pay for World War 1, having paid 3x more in interest (£5.5bn) than we borrowed. By that measure, we’ll have to find not only the £4Tn national debt, but another £12Tn for the interest payments on top! Note that £1.9Bn in 1914 is approx £2Tn in today’s money. So it took 100 years to pay off a debt that was half the size of UK’s current one! And of course it’s going up each year, not down.

If you are a UK taxpayer, YOU PAY approx £1,600 every year towards the £48bn interest the gov’t pays on the UK’s current debt. The current UK gov’t deficit (how much we spend more than we earn) is £32Bn, which means if we had no national debt interest payments, we would be £16Bn in surplus. That’s £16Bn that could be spent each year on social care, hospitals, teachers etc.

THIS is the real source of austerity. We are suffering now for the debt our parents and grandparents ran up! We simply can’t afford to pay £Bn’s in reparations, we would literally need to borrow that money knowing that we will not pay that back in our lifetime. Ethically and morally we can’t saddle our children and grandchildren with having to pay for yet more of our spending, or for a debt neither they nor we incurred.

We are (not so) slowly but inexorably heading the way of Greece. If you’re in your 20’s or 30’s and think you’re going to get a state pension when you retire… think again. Why do you think the gov’t is pushing the pension age up? It knows the current system is just unaffordable.

Anyway, I digress. Solve those 6 problems, then we’ll talk about paying reparations.


Yet Another “Cholesterol Not Bad” Study

If you lift your head up from the simple “gov’t guidelines” trotted out everywhere, often by well meaning GP wellness nurses, and take the time to do some of your own research, you will come to the same conclusion: dietary cholesterol does not cause heart disease. That’s the conclusion of a new study I recently became aware of:

A few quotes from that article and the studies it links to:

“There’s a growing consensus among nutrition scientists that cholesterol in food has little effect on the amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream,”

Harvard Medical School

“Dairy consumption was associated with lower risk of mortality and major cardiovascular disease events in a diverse multinational cohort.” – a study reported in The Lancet that followed the eating habits of more than 130,000 people for more than 9 years. It found that folks who consume higher levels of whole fat dairy products actually lowered their overall mortality and cardiovascular disease risks compared to those who consumed lower amounts or none.

The Lancet

“For half a century, a high level of total cholesterol (TC) or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) has been considered to be the major cause of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease (CVD), and statin treatment has been widely promoted for cardiovascular prevention. However, there is an increasing understanding that the mechanisms are more complicated and that statin treatment, in particular when used as primary prevention, is of doubtful benefit.”

That last quote is from the source research for the linked article:

I’ve known this for some time from my own research over the last 10 years, and evidence of my own health, e.g. see here for the results of my own sample of 1 eating a high cholesterol diet for a decade now:

If you want to read 1 very accessible book on this subject, I recommend this excellent book by a British Doctor: The Great Cholesterol Con – Dr Malcolm Kendrick


Should You Feed Bread To Ducks and Swans?

Feeding Bread to Ducks

The country seems to have lost it’s shit over this photo of a poster that appeared on social media this week. Let’s look at the facts:

1) The “Ban the Bread” campaign was originally launched by WildThings, a company that, guess what, sells bird food.

2) Before the Ban the Bread campaign, I don’t recall ever hearing about an overweight duck or swan that had died of malnutrition after eating an excess of bread.

3) Bread of any kind is not a natural diet for ducks or swans.

4) Swans in particular (don’t know about ducks) are now dying of starvation, and some swans today are underweight.

5) The Queen’s own Swan Marker David Barker has weighed in, supporting the occasional feeding of bread to swans.

We have a culture of taking the kids to feed bread to the ducks and swans in this country, and that has likely created a situation where their population is greater than the natural food found in the waterways will support.

Ban the Bread Campaign by WildThings

Now that people are reticent, it seems clear to me that the Ban the Bread campaign, whilst very well intentioned (and I’m sure not at all motivated by a hope for increased sales!) has caused real harm to the swans, and likely ducks too.

Yes in an ideal world, everyone would switch to more appropriate bird food, but realistically that’s not going to happen, and clearly isn’t happening. I myself had an unwanted 1/2 loaf of bread this very week… it went in the bin rather than go to the local swans. I think on only 3 occasions in my daughter’s 18 year upbringing did we ever go to “feed the ducks” with some left over bread, it was hardly a regular thing.

Swan that starved to death

So either we continue to not feed bread, and suffer a population readjustment (read: mass deaths from starvation) until the population of ducks and swans reduces to a level nature can support, or we ditch the Ban the Bread idea, and go back to occasional bread feeding (proper feed preferred of course) and the joy that brings.


Which is better nuclear or solar power

There have been gazillions of column inches written on this debate.  It’s heavily political and very emotive.

So why not listen to a self confessed hippy, christian, pacifist, anti-nuclear activist as he details what he now thinks about nuclear power, in a typically excellent Ted Talk.

Unless you’ve had a particular interest in the data before, his conclusions will surprise you and may just change the way you think:


So what do you reckon? What about that video surprised you? I bet like most you thought loads of people died from the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents?

To discover there were zero radiation deaths, but 1,500 from the evacuation… that beggars belief!  In fact, do you know which energy source is the most deadly?  Go on, have a guess.  Is it: coal, gas, hydro, nuclear, solar or wind (we know by now it’s not nuclear).
Which one has killed more people than any other?

It’s hydro!  Surprised? Here’s why: dams have this nasty habit of occasionally breaking and sending a massive flood downstream that wipes out villages.

To date there have been 193,566 know fatalities due to dam accidents.  But where’s the public outcry?  Where’s the hydro-activist movement demanding dams are decommissioned and and end to hydro-electric power? There isn’t one.

Compare that to the number of verified number of nuclear deaths worldwide, which is just 204, this means hydro is approximately 1,000x more deadly than nuclear!

When you put away your preconceptions and scratch the surface to actually look at the data, the case for nuclear power is overwhelming. What’s more, despite it being the clear winner, I’ve been saying for years that nuclear power is being held back from it’s real, and promised, potential. When nuclear power was first introduced into the UK, the marketing strapline was:

Power too cheap to meter.

Well that clearly never happened, and here’s why: All nuclear waste is very carefully controlled, managed, processed, stored, monitored etc etc.  That sounds like a good idea through right?  Here’s the rub:

Low Level Waste (LLW) comprises some 90% of the volume but only 1% of the radioactivity of all radioactive waste.” (source: the World Nuclear Association).

And the management of that waste costs a LOT of money. Now when we’re talking about low level nuclear waste we’re talking about:

  • protective shoe covers and clothing,
  • wiping rags,
  • mops,
  • filters,
  • equipments and tools,
  • luminous dials,
  • medical tubes,
  • swabs,
  • injection needles,
  • syringes etc

As you can see, nothing that anyone would reasonable consider radioactive.  In fact, it’s been said to me (I know several nuclear engineers) that if you took an old fashioned dial watch with luminous paint on the numbers and tossed it into a cubic meter of dirt, that would be classified as low level nuclear waster to be controlled, managed, processed, stored, monitored= £££££.

What if we allowed nuclear power to be as safe as coal power for example? I’ve never heard anyone object to how safe coal power is. Would you be ok if nuclear was as safe as coal?

Did you know that coal power kills about 12,000 people per year?  How do you feel knowing that the electricity that boiled your kettle, that is lighting your room, or that is powering your device right now, came (probably) from coal power that someone died to bring you?  I’m sure you’d feel bad for a moment… then move on, because you don’t know anyone who died from coal power. But then, you probably don’t know anyone that died from nuclear either, right?

So what if we allowed nuclear to be as safe as coal, which most people seem to be pretty happy with? What if we slashed the safety cost of nuclear by 90%? It’s really hard to put a figure on this, as health and safety is baked into every step of the nuclear process. But speak to those who work in the industry and they’ll tell you a vast proportion of everything they do is around safety.

I think it’s very reasonable to assume we could probably cut the cost of nuclear power by at least two thirds, probably more. It’s very likely nuclear power would be cheap enough that we could afford to build a ring of nuclear power plants around Africa, each next to its own desalination plant (for making fresh water from sea water).

Not only could we end water shortages in Africa within a generation, but we could irrigate Africa and turn Africa into the garden of the world. What benefits would this bring us:

  • Improved child survival rates
    • Which leads to reduced birth rates
  • Smaller families reduces population growth to sustainable levels
  • Jobs for Africans, lifting millions more out of poverty
  • No more droughts killing thousands
  • Plentiful local African food
  • Food exports improves the balance of payments (money flowing into) for African countries, improving their economies
  • Natural carbon capture as more plants suck CO2 out of the air, like the rain forests do, reduces global warming

I could go on, but you get the gist. The fact is, nuclear power health and safety policy in the west is responsible for keeping Africa on its knees.

We could end the suffering of a billion people at the stroke of a pen, if only we can get over our completely irrational fear of nuclear accidents, which have been shown over and over again, to hardly kill anyone. But it won’t happen as long as there’s a vocal ideological anti-nuclear lobby (greenpeace eta), and political parties are afraid of losing votes in the next election if they’re too bold.

In summary, African poverty and suffering is a political policy decision that could be halted with today’s technology through the sensible use of nuclear power.

How many African children are going to die, today, because of our collective fear that a nuclear meltdown might… well, might what?  Chernobyl was the worst possible disaster a nuclear accident could possibly be, and it killed a couple of hundred people, the same number as die on our roads in a month!

Vastly more people died in the stampede to get away from Fukushima, than in the accident itself.  The fact is, nuclear is incredibly safe, even when it’s a disaster!  But children are dying today, right now, in the time it’s taken you to read this post.

Think about it, we can save them, if we have the political will to do so.


Is There Mercury in Vaccines?

Mercury in Vaccines

I decided to post this here so I don’t have to repeat the research I’ve spent the last 2 hours doing, after talking to a vaccine worried friend about mercury in vaccines.

There are several points related to the questions of vaccines and mercury and whether you should be worried or not about whether vaccines contain mercury:

1) The mercury used in vaccines (ethylmercury) and the mercury you’re probably thinking of (methylmercury) are very different. Ethylmercury can be easily removed by the body, and is. Methylmercury is much harder and hangs around in the body for much longer.…/vacsafe-thimerosal-color-office.pdf

2) Ethylmercury isn’t actual in the vaccines, it’s thimerosal that’s used in vaccines and your body breaks that down into ethylmercury.

3) Ethylmercury is found in a wide variety of products you’ve probably used and stuck in/on your body on a regular basis, including (this is a small example list):

  • makeup removers
  • mascara
  • eye moisturizers
  • desensitizing solutions
  • ear, eye, and nose drops
  • eye ointments
  • topical antiseptics
  • soap-free cleaners
  • some contact lens solutions etc.

4) I haven’t been able to find the data to support this, but I was told by a career chemist friend of mine that there’s more “mercury” in a wild ocean caught salmon, than there is in a vaccination injection.

5) From that linked pdf: “Today, no childhood vaccine used in the U.S.—except some formulations of flu vaccine in multi-dose vials—use thimerosal [the source of ethylmercury] as a preservative.” So actually you’re worrying about nothing anyway.

In summary, I’d pay no attention to “Oh noes, there’s a drop of mercury metal in every vaccine don’t you know?  Why won’t they think of the ‘ickle children!” scaremongering, spread by people who have no idea what they’re talking about, and can’t be bothered to educate themselves.


I’ve Bought an Industrial Estate (kind of)!

Ascroft Court

In this now roughly quarterly property update I’ll cover:

  • Commercial to Residential – Ascroft Court
  • The Bristol flat flip that didn’t
  • The Telford flip that brings balance to the Force
  • Universal Credit nightmares increasing prisoners
  • I’ve been told to stop these updates

Commercial to Residential – Ascroft Court

We completed, finally! If you’ve not seen the 1 min video on facebook of me and my JV partner Clive in front of the buildings, do go and take a quick look (you may need to be my facebook friend to see this, so ping me a friend’s request if that link doesn’t work).

Whilst the sign says it’s an industrial estate, as you can see it’s really a small business park of 10 office units across 4 discrete buildings. The address is Ascroft Court, Peter St, Oldham, OL1 1HP and comprises all the 2 storey buildings you can see on this Google Streetview link.

It’s been a roller coaster of a purchase. The final offer was accepted in July 2016, and we’ve just completed some 7 months later in Feb 2017. Several times the vendors were threatening to withdraw due to delays and issues like: restrictive covenants; asbestos reports; mains drains issues; funding delays; building control certification problems; builder issues; squatters; etc etc.

If it could go wrong, it did go wrong. It seemed that every week for months on end there was a new problem to resolve. The clichéd phrase: “If property was easy, everyone would be doing it.” was never far from my lips for months. But that’s when you just have to dig in and just keep swimming: 🙂

Here’s the breakdown of the units:

  • Unit 1 & 2: leased to Oldham Citizens’ Advice Bureau
  • Unit 3: leased to a dentist and private medical practice
  • Unit 4 – 8: currently vacant, to be converted to residential
  • Unit 9 & 10: previously sold on 999 year leases, so effectively ignored.

The basic plan is to retain the current commercial tenants, and convert the empty units to residential, for which we already have the necessary planning permission.

Here are the figures:

  • Last sold in 2004 for: £1,100,000 (£1.55M in today’s money)
  • Purchase price: £390,000 – yes you read that right
  • Current rent: £34,400
  • Refurb inc all finance fees: approx £322,000
  • Expected new rent total: £160,000
  • Expected post works valuation: £1,300,000
  • Expected equity created: approx £600,000
  • Expected monthly net profit: approx £4,500

The Gross Yield, including refurb and all other costs etc will be £160,000 / (£390,000 + £322,000) = 22.5% yield, which is a very healthy figure I think you’ll agree. And whilst it looks good on paper I’ll never see any of the equity of course as it will be locked away in the property, and it’s cash flow that is all important.

The monthly profit is after interest, but before capital repayment, i.e. it assumes an Interest Only remortgage. In reality it’s unlikely we’d get an interest only commercial mortgage, but I used the IO figure to show the profitability compared to a typical Buy To Let property, so the real net income will probably be around £3,000 pcm after capital repayments are factored in. Additionally I’m sharing that income with others, so my own slice will be rather less.

However you can see why this deal has been a main focus of mine over the last 6 months. More details next time as the refurb progresses.

Bristol Title Split

Previously I reported that the last of 4 flats was left to complete. After a protracted and frustrating conveyancing process lasting several months, we finally dealt with every one of the very pedantic issues raised (none of which had been an issue for the previous 3 flats that sold smoothly), and agreed to exchange on the Monday.

Note when I say we agreed to exchange, we were in direct email and phone contact with the purchaser (something I’d recommend anyone buying or selling does, most of the time it ensures a smooth and swift transaction) and were managing the conveyancing issues with her directly. She agreed she had no more issues and was happy to exchange on the Monday.

Monday came and went with no exchange. Chasing, Tuesday came and went. Chasing again and Wednesday went. Then on Thursday we get a 1 line email from the buyer’s solicitor, completely out of the blue:

“I have been advised by our client they are no longer proceeding with the purchase.”

And that was that; 4 months of conveyancing wasted.  The upside is that since the price was set, Bristol has been going up in price, so we’ve put the flat back on for more than before… and we’ve sold it in just 7 days. 🙂

Telford Flip

Back in August I agreed to sell the Telford flip to my JV partner. Unfortunately this sale has also dragged on with various ups and downs, and having thought it was finally sorted a few weeks ago, it has fallen through too. Why will have to be a story for another day. Both this one and the Bristol flat sale fell through within a week of completing on Ascroft Court… That I believe is the universe’s sense of balance being restored!

You know some people talk about balance as if it’s a good thing. Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars) said of Anakin Skywalker that he would “bring balance to the Force”. But it’s always occured to me that given at the time the Jedi were dominant, that balance could only mean the rise of the Dark Side to balance the Good. So basically, in that case, balance was a very bad thing! 😀

Which is why I can only laugh at the irony of having 2 sales fall through, within a week of a great deal completing.

My First Court Eviction

Venmore’s and I have finally had enough of our errant tenant in Liverpool who has now given up all pretence of paying any rent and refuses all attempts to communicate. Lawyers have been appointed and court papers submitted, we’re just awaiting a court date now, but we’ve been waiting an awfully long time already.

I personally see this a failure to manage the tenant, both on Venmore’s part and my own. It should never have got this far, but the tenant has done a sublime job of manipulating the situation. It’s a tricky one as the tenant has been in the property for 11 years, and I really wanted to save the tenancy as I believed she could continue to be a good tenant for many years to come. Obviously I was wrong. Sometimes you get a bad egg, and sometimes good eggs turn bad.

I think it’s important to point out here that I’ve been a landlord for coming up on 4 years with each year increasing the number of tenants I manage, and this is the first time I’ve had to actually go to court to evict a tenant. It’s annoying, it’s a waste of money, it’s a waste of time, it’s a waste of effort, but it is inevitable. This was going to happen eventually, and I’m actually pretty happy with my record on that front.

This is where small landlords can come unstuck.  The law of averages says eventually you’re going to get a bad tenant who doesn’t pay. Whilst always awful, if you have many properties, it’s not a disaster. But if you only have a couple, it has much more of an impact.

Universal Credit

UC has become a dirty word for me. I can’t begin to explain how badly it’s been implemented. I can only assume that it’s been deliberately designed to be hard to use, difficult to engage with, and punishing in its application. You know I had a tenant who’s served 15 of the last 20 years in jail say to me:

“I might as well go back to prison, it would be easier than dealing with Universal Credit!”

Let’s take direct payment to landlords for example: I filled the correct form for 1 tenant back in November. I sent off the correct corroboratory evidence immediately after. 2 weeks later I’d heard nothing so chased. I got a “We haven’t got your information yet” stock email reply.

Every 2 weeks since I’ve chased again, and all 5 subsequent emails have been simply ignored and not responded to. Only this last week have I finally got a real person dealing with my case to sort it out, who is actually capable of having an email conversation, hurrah, though some 3 months later! Yet despite even her involvement, I still haven’t had a single direct payment. We’ll see if it actually works out in the end.

I’ve been told to stop these updates

Well that’s it for another update. You know I’ve been told by several people that I shouldn’t publish updates like this. I’ve been told that when asked how things are going, the answer should always be: “Fantastic! Couldn’t be better!” Maybe from a marketing / salesy perspective that’s good advice. There’s just one problem: I’m an Engineer by trade; I deal in facts, not fluff. 

When it comes to property, it’s not a matter of “if” something’s gone wrong, but “when”. Things go wrong all the time, it’s inevitable; what matters is how you deal with the problems, your attitude, and your problem solving skills. If property’s problems keep you awake at night, you need to have a think about whether what you’re doing is right for you.

The truth is that if someone says the sun always shines on their property portfolio, the grass is always green, and everything always goes smoothly, they’re lying to you. I believe in making relationships and really talking to people, and every single property investor I’ve had an open and honest conversation with, eventually owns up to the property nightmares they’ve had or are continuing to have, but 90% of the time they don’t advertise it openly.

So I tell it how it is, warts and all, because that’s the reality. I believe I can best serve you by telling it like it is. If you want to invest in someone, and you fall for the shiny sales patter, and get taken in by the glossy presentations and allow the smoke & mirrors to hide the reality that property is not a smooth ride, then you need to have a long hard look in the mirror and have a think about your judgement about who you trust.

Having said that, what probably does not make good reading is what’s going well.  I could mention the family I’ve been renting to for 4 years, who’ve never missed a rent payment, who never complain, who I never hear from until it’s time for an inspection or rent rise, and who’s property has gone up in value about 15% over that time. And there’s not just 1, I have several properties like that, that just tick over quietly making me both monthly cashflow, and (mostly) quietly growing in value.

But who wants to read about that! So what’s the lesson of all this: Just keep swimming! 🙂


It is Impossible to Live Without Failing

This is an awesome speech by J K Rowling on Failure in which she says:

> “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously, that you might as well have not lived at all, in which case you fail by default.”

It’s a myth that the road to success is a smooth straight line. Almost every successful person you know, will also be the biggest failures you know and have in reality failed over and over again. As the saying goes, it takes some people 10 years to become an over-night success! 😉

I publish a bit of property diary on this very blog (scroll down!), in which I not only detail my successes, but unusually in these days of the internet, also my failures and cock ups.

I have been told that I shouldn’t do that; that I shouldn’t come across as negative, as it will put some people off. I appreciate that advice and respectfully will decline to follow it. I think that we shouldn’t shy away from admitting our failures and do as most do, which is to pretend we’re perfect and fart rainbows.

I believe we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes, and I don’t think we should shun those who make mistakes. E.g. I’ve just engaged an architect to do a HMO, despite the fact that he failed to get planning permission for his last HMO project! Do you think he knows more or less about where the limit of acceptable planning is than another architect who was successful at his first attempt say?

Formula 1 drivers are some of the best drivers in the world, driving some of the best cars in the world, yet every Grand Prix some of them crash. Why? Because they are testing the limit of their car’s ability until traction fails. Only when they hit the point of failure (and in most cases instantly recover) do they know how hard and how fast they can go.

If you’d like to get my property updates by email, comment here (no one else will see your email address) it, I send it out about once a quarter now.


How Property Cost Me a 10 Year Friend

How Property Cost Me a 10 Year Friend post image

It’s time for my newly quarterly update on how things are progressing property wise. In this update:

  • How property cost me a 10 year friend.
  • The Bristol title split is nearly done
  • The Telford flip has sold
  • My first court eviction, possibly
  • Universal Credit cock up
  • Commercial to residential teaser
  • A property investor’s Dear Santa letter

Losing a Friend

You may remember that last update I mentioned that we’d had to evict the 2 tenants from the Bristol flats. Posting up about that has cost me a 10 year friend, who decided that he could no longer be friends with someone who boasted about evicting pensioners from their home. He made this declaration on his Facebook page and promptly defriended me.

I’ve known this guy for about a decade and we’ve sporadically visited each other as families, and whilst we do have wildly differing political and life views (he’s on the anarchist end of the socialist spectrum) we’ve always maintain a mutual respect and acceptance that different people think differently and that that’s ok. So his actions upset me on several levels:

First off, I was horrified that he’d got the impression I’d “boasted” about evicting pensioners. I’ve re-read my update and whilst I was pleased to get a resolution that worked for everyone and avoided the nastiness and stress (for all involved) of court action, I didn’t think I was boasting. That certainly wasn’t my intention, but I apologise if that’s the way it came across.

Secondly, we’ve done everything we could to help these people stay in their homes. Because we didn’t take a hard nosed approach and ask them to leave the day we bought the flats, we are literally out of pocket by £7,000 for that effort, broken down like this:

  • Extra bridging loan interest payments: 2 x £750 x 3 months = £4,500
  • Deposits returned (that we didn’t have to): 2 x £500 = £1,000
  • Voluntary assistance offered with moving costs: 2 x £500 = £1,000
  • Rent arrears not chased: £500
  • Total = £7,000

When was the last time you spent £7,000 trying to keep someone in their home?

On top of these direct costs, we tried as hard as we could to find an investor to buy these 2 tenanted flats. One of the key problems was that the rent they were paying was 25% below the market rent for those flats, as the previous landlord hadn’t kept them up-to-date with current market rents, and that scared investors off. However the tenants weren’t prepared to entertain the idea of such a massive rent increase, which was understandable. As a result, when the previous landlord decided to sell, he made their eviction inevitable.

The only investor offer we had for the flats, which came with no guarantee that the tenants would be allowed to stay, was so low that the deal would have made no profit at all. As a self employed property investor, my profit = my salary and I’m afraid I have to feed my family and keep the lights on just like everyone else, so that wasn’t an option.

My conscience is clear that we went above and beyond what most reasonable people would do to help these tenants, and as I said, are £7,000 out of pocket as a result. That’s a decent second hand car, or a cruise round the Caribbean kind of money we’re talking about, so no small investment in good will.

Thirdly, was the way he handled the situation. If I had a long term friend that appeared to write something that offended me so much I felt I didn’t want to speak to him any more, I’d pick up the phone and bloody well speak to him about it! Facebook is not real life. Defriending someone on Facebook whilst you’re in a huff is a meaningless act. Honestly I didn’t even notice it had happened, I only found out when some weeks later a mutual friend mentioned he’d seen his rant about it and guessed he was talking about me. Of course the way he span it, all his friends think I’m evil incarnate (I won’t repeat here the names I was called) so I do appreciate the fact that he didn’t name me directly.

I’ve had my phone in my hands many times whilst pondering whether to call him to discuss it, but then, if he didn’t think we were friends enough to bother picking up the phone and talking it over, perhaps I’ve completely misjudged this “friendship” all these years…? Maybe this irrevocable difference of opinion was inevitable…? Or perhaps now I’m just being the crap friend…?

Bristol Title Split

Anyway, on the subject of the Bristol flats; all 4 have been sold and we’ve sold the freehold too. 3 of the flats have completed so we’ve been able to pay off Shawbrook’s bridging loan, with the last 1 going through conveyancing and we’re all aiming to complete by Xmas, so the freehold should complete then too. Inevitably everyone gets paid before the property investor does, so I’m still to see any actual profit out of this deal. I’ll give full figures for the deal when everything’s completed.

I must remember to tell you next time about a really important freehold Gotcha that I very nearly stumbled over regarding the selling of the freehold, and why you definitely want to exchange on it before you’ve sold the majority of the flats it relates to. If you’re selling a freehold in the mean time, get in touch ASAP!

Telford Flip

This house has also sold now, but again is going through conveyancing, so I’ll return to this subject once that completes, which finger’s crossed, will be in a week or 2.

My First Court Eviction, Possibly

As I write this a section 8 eviction notice period expires tomorrow. This particular tenant has been a nightmare all year, honestly it’s embarrassing how I’ve managed to get myself into the situation where she owes me about £4,000 in rent. Considering the house only makes about £100 per month profit, that’s 3.5 years profit lost already, and that’s before the court and bailiff costs, and the inevitable refurb that will be required when she leaves.

On the upside, her rent is way below market rent anyway, so when re-let, it’ll go up by about £1,500 pa.

This is another example of how I’ve tried my hardest to help this woman, giving her chance after chance to avoid eviction. It’s no wonder that older landlords are often cynical and jaded individuals, every time someone takes advantage of your trust and breaks their word, you become a little less likely to give the next person the benefit of the doubt.

When I speak to non-property people about things like this, they get very worried, but there’s really little to be concerned about. This is 1 (plus the 1 below) tenant out of many who do a fine job of paying their rent on time, in full, every month. In total my arrears rate over the last 3.5 ish years, is measured in a few % of overall rent. Of course that number could always be better until it’s perfect, but as long as you bake it into your figures that there’ll inevitably be some rent arrears, and the numbers still work, then there’s no drama, albeit it’s very annoying.

Universal Credit Cock Up

Which brings me nicely to my next cock up. Last update I mentioned my first tenant was going onto Universal Credit (UC) and I was helping him. Well I ended up sitting next to him 3 times in the Job Centre, literally telling him where to click and what to type as he had no idea what to do and the staff their we’re unable to give him the one 2 one help he needed.

The problem is as soon as I stopped holding his hand, he stopped going to his appointments so he got sanctioned, and for reasons I haven’t quite worked out and he can’t/won’t help with, he’s not getting any housing element in his UC either. As a result I’ve had next to no rent from him for several months either, and he’s currently over £2,000 in arrears. I’m afraid that no rent = no roof, so I’ve had to ask him to leave too. Despite promising to go by last week, he hasn’t left, so that’s my next headache. UPDATE: He’s surrendered his tenancy and given me the key back, marvellous. I always offer my tenants £20 if they return the key to me, as it saves me a headache of changing locks etc, and so far that’s only failed to work once, last year.

To top it all off, I’ve been told that he’s made a complaint to the council about me! Though I have no idea what that could be for. Even the council’s Housing Solutions officer told me that she’d told him that I’d gone well above the call of duty in helping this guy, far more so than most other landlords would have. UPDATE: It appears that came to nothing as I spoke to the council and they’ve not received any complaint.

Commercial to Residential Teaser

Like last time I’ll end on some good news. Whilst I had expected to have completed on the com2resi project by now (things always take longer than you’d like) so I could tell you all about it, we haven’t, but it’s very close. Last week a favourable valuation came in and this week the bank to OK’d the funds, and the remaining minor conveyancing snags were ironed out (utility bills, updated service charge accounts, and the like), so hopefully exchanging and completing on that is imminent.

I’ll put a note here to remind me to tell you next time about something really interesting I found out about restrictive covenants, that can make them unenforceable.

Dear Santa

For Xmas please can I have:

  1. Completed on the last Bristol flat and the freehold.
  2. Completed on the Telford flip.
  3. Tenants who pay their rent!
  4. Completed on the com2resi project.

Thank you please.

That would be nice! 🙂


3rd Quarter 2016 Property Update: Good News & Bad News

House stating to sell

These monthly updates have definitely become less frequent, so perhaps a Quarterly Update is in order. It’s been a busy few months, some good, some bad. Let’s start with some good news:

4 Bristol Flats

I’ve previously written about the 4 Bristol flats I bought in March, 2 were vacant and 2 were tenanted. The 2 vacant flats were spruced up with pot of paint and some new carpets and both sold within 2 weeks for full asking price and we’re due to exchange imminently. (I’ll list all the figures once everything is done.)

The 2 tenanted flats were a different matter. We tried to find investors who would buy the 2 tenanted flats, which both had 9+ year tenants in, and offered a 10% discount. Sadly after several months we were unable to, which I confess surprised both myself and my business partner. The best offer we had was 30% below what we’d sold the vacant flats for, which was obviously unacceptable.

We had no choice by to evict the tenants (thanks to Jim “HMO Daddy” Haliburton for his DIY Eviction tips) and sell the flats with vacant possession. Not surprisingly, the tenants were not happy! This is definitely the worst part of being a property investor, asking people to leave their homes is an unpleasant business. Fortunately for me, my business partner was point man for the discussions with the tenants. Both tenants left within the 2 months’ notice after we preemptively returned their deposits and offered to pay £500 each towards their moving costs.

Both of the newly vacant flats have been sold, again for asking price, although 1 has since fallen out of bed. It was in line with the typical average that 1 out of the 4 flats’ sales would fall over, so this one went back on the market last week. Fingers crossed, it’ll all be done and dusted by Xmas.

Telford Flip

The refurb on the Telford flip has been done, although it ran over budget slightly due to builder issues, the results were fantastic. Take a look at the RightMove Ad. It’s a lovely looking property that’s been well staged, there’s just one problem: 2 months later we’ve not had a single offer!

It’s easy to say that the reason is it’s a quirky property etc etc, but the truth is, if a property isn’t selling the reality is, the price is wrong. As an investor here, there’s a balance between how long you wait for the price you want, against the monthly loss of finance interest charges, and possibly more importantly, the opportunity cost of having the investment money locked away.

It is inevitable that some property deals don’t go quite as planned, and in property you have to take the rough with the smooth and mitigate the downside wherever possible. In this case having a great relationship with your business partner is vital, and we’ve decided we’re going down the Plan B route, which is to refinance the property and rent it out. It’s not ideal, but it’s an acceptable second option, and it releases much of the investment cash for another deal.

Tenant Issues – Non payment of rent

It’s a landlord’s worst nightmare, when a tenant doesn’t pay the rent. One of my tenants being managed by Venmores in Liverpool, has managed to not pay any rent for far too long, and is several £thousand in arrears! It’s a long and complicated sorry story (buy me a coffee and I’ll tell you about it sometime) that I trusted Venmores to resolve, after all, isn’t that what we pay letting agents for? Well as Susannah Cole is fond of saying: it’s their fault, but it’s my responsibility.

By getting involved directly and meeting with the tenant (who’s been in the property with her family for 7 years) we’ve agreed a settlement which has her paying the full rent again (even though it’s somewhat below what the going rent should be) and a contribution towards her arrears each month. It’ll take some time to clear her debt, but the tenancy is back on track, and we’re rebuilding the landlord-tenant relationship.

Storm Damage Unreported

Whilst attending a Gas Safety inspection at one of my properties I noticed that there was ridge tile on the roof missing. The tenant claimed to have no knowledge of it, despite the fact it would have made quite a mess when it hit the ground. I thought I’d try using again, so posted up the job at 8am in the morning. By 10am I’d had 4 quotes for: £220, £120, £90 and £60.

Whilst I don’t necessarily always go for the cheapest quote, the £60 one was from a lifetime roofer with some 40 years experience, who had a spare morning. I said I’d meet him at the property at 11am. When I arrived he was already on the roof and half through the job! From posting the job to have it done, for £60, took 4 hours, now that’s good service.

Retired Romanian Police Colonel

I’m very pleased to have moved a new family into one of my properties, they’re a lovely Romanian family headed by a retired Romanian police Colonel who was a prison Governor back in Romania. I’ve known some landlords who’ve had a torrid time with Romanian tenants, but I have faith that this family are decent honest people who will make excellent tenants.

First Significant Water Leak

I’ve had my first significant water leak in my LHA HMO. One of the tenants found 1/4 of his room under an inch of water. The carpet is probably ruined but the bigger issue is, where is it coming from? The primary suspect is the shower on the floor above, so I’ve got a plumber resealing it today.

First Tenant on Universal Credit

I’ve been quite busy in the last 2 weeks dealing with my first Universal Credit application by one of my tenants. I’ve been supporting him partially because he needs it, and partially because I’m interested to learn all I can about what it entails for future claims. For those that don’t know, it’s almost completely done online, which sounds great except when you have DSS tenants who’ve never even had an email address before, let alone have access to a computer or smart phone. Universal Credit has a terrible reputation amongst landlords, so we’ll see how things go.

A Commercial to Residential Project

I’ll finish with some good news, I’ve agreed a significant commercial to residential deal, which is by far my biggest property deal to date. I’ll provide more details in the next update.


My heart scan results – Perfect Score!

arteriosclerotic calcium plaques

For reasons I won’t bore you with, I was in Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital today for a CT Cardiac / Coronary Artery Calcium scan (panic not, as you’ll see, there’s nothing to worry about).

Basically this uses a CT scanner to scan the heart and its arteries to look for calcium deposits. Calcium deposits in the arteries are a significant indicator of Coronary Heart Disease, Atheroclerosis and a major predictor of Heart Attacks. Eek!

Getting a bad calcium score would lead to an angiogram to determine the full extent of narrowing of the arteries due to atherosclerotic plaques, which are the things that kill you when they break off in your blood stream and find somewhere nice and narrow to get lodged in, like a key heart artery (heart attack) or your brain (stroke).

At this point I possibly should remind you that for about 8 years I’ve been following a very high cholesterol diet: I eat red meat every day; have 15+ whole eggs a week; drink full fat milk every day; have full fat cheese 5 times a week at least; use butter to fry things, like bacon… oh the cholesterol horror! 😉

Oddly as some may think it though, my cholesterol is fine. In fact it’s better than fine, it’s fantastic:

My Results After 4 Years on a High Cholesterol Diet

So it was with some trepidation and some morbid curiosity, I was kind of looking forward to this test. Here are what the coronary calcium scores mean:

  • 400+: Extensive atherosclerotic plaque. High likelihood of at least one significant coronary narrowing.
  • 101-400: Definite, at least moderate atherosclerotic plaque. Mild coronary artery disease highly likely. Significant narrowings possible.
  • 11-100: Definite, at least mild atherosclerotic plaque. Mild or minimal coronary narrowings likely.
  • 1-10: Mild identifiable plaque. Risk of coronary artery disease low (<10%)
  • 0: No identifiable plaque. Risk of coronary artery disease very low (<5%)

I don’t really know what I was expecting. I’d kind of girded myself against bad news and decided that I’d be ok with anything less than 50. Anything more than that, and I’d really have to have a long cold think about whether my diet was really such a good choice after all.

And what would that mean for my family, who at my encouragement, have similar diets to my own? Getting 100+ for example would definitely have rocked my dietary world.

So there I was, lying on the CT scanner bed, when the Doctor came back in with my results: “What was my score Doc?”

“You scored zero.” He said with a smile. “You can go, there’s nothing to see here.”

ZERO?!? WOOT!!! I hopped off the bed and skipped out of there. I confess in a small dreamlike moment, I had thought it would have been cool to get zero, but didn’t really give it much credence as a real possibility. I am a realist after all.

So there you have it. First the cholesterol and now the calcium tests have shown in my own completely unscientific sample of 1 solitary Colin, a high cholesterol diet DOES NOT cause high blood cholesterol and DOES NOT cause heart disease (when coupled with a low carbohydrate diet of course, as I believe it’s carbs that are the real cause of heart disease).

Happy days. 😀