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‘The first time I realised I loved property I was 9 years old,’ Leeds based property investor Jo Fox says. Her parents had bought their first house, an old Victorian 4 bedroom property, which she describes as ‘a wreck, almost derelict.’ Her Dad, who worked in the building trade, set about fully refurbishing the property whilst they were living in it. ‘It probably took eight years to do it up completely,’ she adds. ‘Seeing how he kept the original features but modernised it really interested me.’
Since then, Jo Fox has built up an impressive portfolio of single-lets around Leeds. Here she talks about her passion for sourcing, why everyone should have multiple exit strategies and living with spina bifida.
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Breaking into property
Before buying her first property, Jo taught school leavers and children with special needs. ‘It was quite demanding work, physically and mentally,’ she recalls. ‘It was long hours and a lot of preparation for a very intensive job.’
Seeking an alternative, she decided to return to her long term love of property. ‘I kind of realised you don’t make money by buying a bigger house. You make money by buying a lot of smaller houses and renting them off,’ she says.
Whilst pregnant with her son, she picked up her first property at auction. She spent £8,000 on refurbishing it in eight weeks and had a buyer lined up. She couldn’t have asked for a better start. Then, another house in the chain flooded and the sale fell through. Her property dream has turned into a disaster. She was out of pocket and without a buyer.
Jo changed strategy. She refinanced the house and rented it out. It’s now clearing £500 per month. ‘Have more than one exit plan,’ she says. ‘Ideally have three, so if it does go wrong you’ve got a backup.’
Spina bifida and going full-time
As Jo’s portfolio grew, she reduced her hours in the teaching job. Soon after, the management at her job changed. They weren’t supportive of her additional physical and neurological needs as a sufferer of Spina bifida. ‘I’d had four surgeries in six months,’ she explains. ‘My whole back is wired up. It looks like a patchwork quilt.’
She began questioning why she was sticking with her job when property was providing a reasonable income for far less stress and much greater flexibility. ‘I thought: why am I doing this? At this point I had a portfolio of properties. Some of them were mortgaged and I was getting rent money. Some of them were flips.’
Nonetheless, leaving her job entirely was a hard decision. ‘I was kind of pushed out for health reasons,’ she adds.
Jo’s portfolio: making single-lets work
Jo’s portfolio is composed entirely of single-lets. Her priority is yields, as opposed to capital appreciation. Only 50% of the properties in her portfolio are leveraged. She admits this initially made obtaining finance challenging. Now, she uses lender CS Mortgage Solutions, who have helped her secure a broker for her most recent purchase.
To find below market value deals, she relies heavily on word of mouth through building up relationships. However, she warns against prioritising below market value (BMV) above other factors such as knowing an area. ‘Sometimes you can buy at market value and it’s still a good deal,’ she says. ‘I think too many people focus on: is it BMV? I’d rather get a property on this street, in this area, on market value rather than getting BMV in another part of town.’
Sticking to specific areas allows Jo to manage all her properties herself. She attributes the long length of her tenants’ tenancies to her personalised approach. ‘My longest tenant has been with me ten years now,’ she says.
Property sourcing: stick to three strategies max
Jo says it’s easy to get carried away when property sourcing. ‘If you’re planning to source just pick two or three ways to find these properties and do them really well.’ She relies on networking, direct mail and leafleting.
Networking involves building relationships with estate agents. She admits that there’s no quick route to getting them to take you seriously, but it says it pays off when they start coming to you with deals. She recommends going to property events to meet landlords and other investors. ’It’s a myth that you need a distressed vendor,’ she says. ‘What you actually need is a motivated vendor.’
Making the most of her geographical knowledge of Leeds, Jo targets specific streets on maps and sends out direct mail informing the occupants she is seeking properties to buy. Using the responses she has received, she has built up a database of properties, which she regularly updates.
Her property sourcing methods have been such a success, she has established a business sourcing properties for other investors. ‘[It has] built organically through networking and people I’ve worked with,’ she says.
If juggling a property portfolio and her sourcing and renovation business, all while living with Spina bifida wasn’t enough, Jo also finds time to volunteer as a trustee for The Pendsey Trust, a charity which funds children in India with type one diabetes.
She became involved in the charity after her son was born and began researching diabetes. He suffers from type one diabetes and sometimes has to inject as many as eleven times a day. Many children in India with the condition die because their families can’t afford sufficient insulin.
Jo admits the work can be ‘emotionally draining,’ but says it gives her focus. ‘I feel like if I’m having a down day with property and offers are not being accepted…I can focus on the charity for a while.’
Next steps: reclaiming time
Having moved into offices this summer, Jo is enjoying the fresh definition she has achieved between her family and work life. ‘I think family time had improved, because when i’m at home i’m at home,’ she says. ‘Before I’d be physically sat there but I’d have the laptop on my knee. I’d be taking calls. I find it easier to switch off now.’
For now, she’s looking forward to growing steadily and reclaiming her time through delegating to her staff. ‘I think running a business keeps my mind active,’ she says. ‘My body is not brilliant, but it keeps my mind going.’
Investleeds.co.uk – for details about Jo’s property sourcing service.
Jo Fox – contact Jo via Facebook.
Jo Fox – or connect with her via LinkedIn.
thependseytrust.org – find out more about The Pendsey Trust’s work and how you can support them.