We often hear stories of successful property investors managing dynamic portfolios of properties from overseas. Rarer is it to hear about how exactly they do this. Julie Talbot is a self-described property investor cum portfolio builder cum landlord. She has five properties of her own plus manages six for clients, whilst living between UAE and the UK. Why does she manage her property portfolio from a different continent? And more importantly what are the tools which allow her to do this? Julie explains her approach to managing remotely below.

Moving to the UAE

I had a corporate career in process management and improvement, before quitting my full-time job in 2006 to try out something different. I eventually settled on property.

Dubai
Photo: Y Nakanishi

In 2009, me and my husband took on some mentoring work and bought three houses in quick succession. My husband’s work meant that we also had to relocate to the UAE, where I planned to continue growing our portfolio.

However, it soon became apparent I’d made two big mistakes: neither carrying on with mentoring, nor finding a new mentor who could help me get funding overseas. After significant effort, we managed to secure two further properties. Then we hit a brick wall, unable to obtain funding (in retrospect I realise we weren’t looking in the right places).

First time working remotely

Having put the brakes on growing our property portfolio, I started what seemed like the dream job, working virtually for a company in the UK. I was able to work from home, choose when I completed my work and reduce my hours when needed. During this period, I learnt about cloud systems and apps to help enable remote working. We also started our family and work slotted in perfectly in between looking after twins.

However, thoughts about property were never far away. I knew from speaking to other expats that many people wanted to buy houses in the UK. Yet no one seemed to have the time or contacts, being so far away.

Returning to the UK

In 2017, I unexpectedly found myself back in the UK for my father-in-law’s funeral. After a couple of weeks my husband returned to the UAE, but I and my daughters stayed on for 7 months to support his family.

As my daughters weren’t in school, I could no longer maintain my hours for the virtual job. Suddenly, I had a lot of free time on my hands. It was the perfect opportunity to reignite my interest in property. I was approached by someone who had heard about our property portfolio and wanted us to help them build something similar. All of a sudden we had our first client. I signed up to a sourcing course and started getting involved in property communities.

Setting priorities

To maintain the lifestyle you want, you need to make clear the principles by which your business needs to function. We listed 5 key rules for our business, they are that it should be:

– paperless

– have systems (not superheroes)

– be scaleable

– have no single point of failure

– allow me to be a present parent

Checklist
Photo: Alan Cleaver

We’re still not 100% there, but I use these rules to guide how we set things up. These guidelines ensure that day-by-day, decision-by-decision we’re moving towards the type of business and lifestyle we want.

Tools for managing remotely:

Name Function Cost
Arthur Online (app)
  • Produces landlord remittance statements
  • Stores tenant and property documents
  • Triggers compliance activities for lettings management
£45/month for Receipt Bank, Xero and Arthur Online
Asana
  • Keeps track of tasks
  • Creates permanent record of tasks (e.g. for HMO compliance)
  • Builds checklists for repeatable processes, e.g. HMO compliance, HMO cleaning
  • Stores notes about how to complete a step and links forms/documents to relevant steps
Free
Docusign (app)
  • Gets all tenancy documents signed
  • Allows us to sign contract agreements with clients, accountants etc…
£30/month
Evernote (app)
  • General note making – easily accessible online and offline
Free
Google Docs (app)
  • Keeps records, files and photos easily available
  • Creates forms for collecting information
£3.33 user/mth
Receipt bank (app)
  • Emails all receipts and supplier invoices
  • Categorises them by code, project, client
  • Prepares expense reports
£45/month for Receipt Bank, Xero and Arthur Online
Skype
  • Allow us to make calls to UK mobiles and landlines at a competitive rate
£10.80/month for unlimited mins to UK landline & mobile
Xero
  • Reconciles bank account transactions
  • Raises all invoices
  • Manages accounts
£45/month for Receipt Bank, Xero and Arthur Online

Partners and suppliers for managing remotely:

AllDayPA
  • Receives calls and takes messages from vendors, tenants and agents
  • Diverts emergency calls to our maintenance provider
£21.84/month
Ground crew
  • Attend viewings and complete property and condition assessments
  • Complete HMO compliance checks
  • Property cleaning
Contractors on hourly rates
Viewber (when our ground crew contractors can’t attend)

  • Attend viewings
  • Attend open houses and viewings of properties we are letting
  • Check tenants into properties
Prices vary

£30 +VAT (30 min viewing)

£65 +VAT (two open house viewings to find a tenant)

Keynest
  • Provides a key management service located close to each property
£50 +VAT per key set, annually (covers 10 collections)
Landlord Referencing
  • Conducts referencing and right to rent checks on prospective tenants
£50 per tenant
Mobile Inventory
  • Conducts inventories, mid-term inspections, checkouts
Set up fee w/price varying, depending on property size.

(£55 +VAT for a HMO room, £75+VAT for a 2 bed house)

Virtual Assistant (to shortlist based on criteria)
  • Identifies properties that meet our criteria and presents these in a spreadsheet
$3-4/hour
Virtual Project Manager (via PeoplePerHour)
  • Coordinates tasks and liaises with tenants, suppliers and ground crew.
  • Communicates with all potential tenants via text, telephone and email.
£15/hour
Mother in Law Acts as our ‘superhero:’

  • responds immediately to any situation that our systems and processes can’t handle

 

Allocate a superhero (but don’t rely on them)

A superhero is someone who steps in during an emergency and no matter what the problem sorts it out. Normally that’s the business owner. However, when you manage from far away you’ve got to allocate someone else to do that job. Our superhero is my mother in law Margaret.

Design your business so that it can run using systems and processes, rather than relying on superheroes. Not only are they difficult to recruit, but efficient systems and processes allow your business to cope with increasing volume as it grows. If you rely on superheroes, you’ll come stuck at some point.

Marker pen
Photo: Michael Pedersen

However, even with airtight systems and processes, there are always going to be times when something goes wrong and a superhero is needed. The important thing to remember is that every time your superhero has to come to the rescue, it reveals a shortcoming in your systems and processes.

After they’ve saved the day, you should debrief and figure out if you can adapt your systems and processes to avoid having to rely on them next time.

Contact Julie

Julie@brickbybrickpropertygroup.com – get in touch with Julie via email.

facebook.com/groups/brickbybrickpropertygroup – keep up to date with Julie’s latest projects on Facebook.

linkedin.com/in/julietalbot – connect with Julie via Linkedin.