193: Qualified chartered accountant and owner of Comfort Lettings, Phil Ashford, talks HMOs, the student market, and diversifying your portfolio

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Phil Ashford Comfort LettingsI was delighted to be joined on the podcast by Phil Ashford, a chartered accountant who developed an interest in HMOs while living in one as a student in Nottingham. While renting, he calculated how much his landlord was likely making, and decided that he needed to get in on the action.

So, with a couple of friends at JB partners, he bought, renovated and refinanced his first student house share, and the rest is history.

He’s now operating one of the top student letting agencies in the city, and as well as continuing to grow his own portfolio, he’s found a great niche helping other landlords to enter the Nottingham student market as well.

During this podcast, Phil discussed how Comfort Lettings sets itself apart from other companies catering to students, and how being aware of external factors has helped him become a property success.

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Making the Move Into Property

Phil’s experience renting when he was a student isn’t dissimilar to many other’s – a damp and dark house, where the landlords seemed to be doing very well for themselves, but were disorganised enough to overlook the fact that one of Phil’s housemates wasn’t paying the rent.

When Phil had qualified as a chartered accountant, and having been employed by Deloitte and JB Partners, he realised that he already had the organisational and financial skills necessary to out-perform his old landlords.

With two friends from university, they poured their money into the purchase and renovation of their first student house, undertaking a daunting project that would turn a 2 bed bungalow, into a 6 bed HMO.

Factoring in External Forces

The two key lessons Phil and his partners learnt during this first project, however, was that it’s not always safe to pour every last penny of your own money in at that start; and that remaining aware of external factors can be the difference between success, and failure.

For Phil, the external factor that almost tripped them up, was a change in legislation that was pushed through during the changeover of the outgoing Labour government. During this time, Parliament brought in new rules which meant that owners now needed planning permission to turn a C3 single-let house, into a C4 HMO.

This change in law happened in the middle of Phil’s first HMO development, but because he had been consistent in reading property forums and keeping up with the latest news, he noticed the shake-up the day it came out. As a result, he was able to speed up their renovation, and have their tenants already settled into the property 2 days before the deadline, meaning that they received automatic status as a C4 HMO

Finding a Niche in the Market

Since that first development, Phil’s created an enviable niche for Comfort Lettings, by offering high-standard student accommodation in the top 25% of the market, so the students that rent from them don’t have the same living experience he did.

This has been achieved by staying on top of the developing market. Whereas 5 years ago, high-end student accommodation meant nothing more than matching furniture and great photos, now their properties offer integrated Bluetooth sound systems in the lounge as standard, and include bills in the cost of the monthly rent.

Phil Ashford’s Links & Resources

Phil’s accountancy training means he’s aware that a diversified portfolio is a good portfolio, so a mix of student and professional HMOs is the way he sees a good investment. Over the next five years, Comfort Lettings are hoping to expand into other cities across the Midlands, and are always happy to meet potential investors and business people in the industry.

For more details on the business, you can visit www.comfortlettings.co.uk/news.

To contact Phil for help and advice, you can visit the website, or email him directly at phil@comfortlettings.co.uk. He and the company also regularly post blogs and advice on their Twitter account, at @ComfortLettings.

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