This week’s guest is Derek Tsang, an Aussie Born Chinese expat living in London, whose blog about expats finding their feet in London broadened out to provide property resources for those who shared his passion for UK property.
Back in 2017, the Expat Property Guy’s Expat Property Story hits a snag!
Derek’s Social Media Sites
Derek’s favourite book: Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it; By Chris Voss
Rate, review and follow the show at www.expatpropertystory.com
Derek (Teaser) 00:00
People tend to ask questions on property tribes forum that I like to answer because I find that if I answer something, it kind of helps build my knowledge as well. If you know if I say something that's not correct, I get corrected. And then I remember for next time, so I find it helps my development as well.
Expat Property-Guy 00:20
Welcome to Episode 6. That was Derek Tsang talking about Property Tribes, the UK’s leading landlord community, which is where I first came across him. This week, instead of hearing from an expat investing from overseas, I thought it would be interesting to hear from a different kind of expat, an Australian born Chinese investor living in London.
Before we get to Derek, let me give you a quick reminder that in last week’s show, Vicki Wusche offered a free 30 minute mini-wealth strategy session for anyone who leaves an honest review of Expat Property Story on Apple Podcasts. All you need to do is send a copy of the review toVicki@Wusche-Associates.co.uk and she’ll set you on the path to financial resilience.
Hopefully, you’ll remember that Vicki had loads of great advice around the merits of investing in a brick bank for the long term via simple three bed terraced houses. She also advised steering clear of buying new-build high rise flats in cities like London, Liverpool and Manchester, where developers often inflate the value of properties to supplement the rental income for buyers for a fixed period. At the end of the fixed period, rents decrease leading to a variety of problems and ultimately to a deterioration of what she called the culture of the building. This in turn results in unhappy tenants and landlords.
Fortunately, back in June 2017, the flat my wife and I were buying in Manchester was in a smaller development. Subscribers to the podcast will remember that we had arranged a mortgage in principle to buy a one-bedroom flat in the centre of Manchester and had paid a reservation fee to the sourcing agent and set off for our yearly trip to Europe.
While we were in England, I saved some money by taking my proof of ID and address directly to the solicitor rather than paying to have them certified in Hong Kong.
Anyway, we soon returned to Hong Kong and, while recovering from jet lag, I checked my emails only to find that the flat we thought we’d bought had not been bought… At least not by us!
It turned out that they had sold the same flat to two different people. “But don’t worry!” the agent told me. “I’ve got a better deal!”
Now astute listeners will recall that this agent had sold us the Manchester property by saying that we would never get a better deal, and yet here he was just six weeks later with … a better deal! I can tell you dear listener, it wasn’t a better deal!
“There’s a train line at the bottom of the garden,” I pointed out to the agent.
“I see loads of houses out of the windows on both sides of the train on my way to work every day,” he countered.
“Yeah, but there’s loads of houses that you don’t see as well. And they’re better investments,” I answered.
I don't really remember what he said after that, but I declined the deal. Our Expat Property Story was back on the shelf!
Fortunately, the agent came back with another deal and if you stop what you’re doing now and tap subscribe, you can find out what happened next as soon as everyone else does.
Now let’s get back to Derek.
After seeing his helpful contributions on various threads on Property Tribes, I followed a link in his bio to his blog: abcdad.co.uk which stands for Aussie Born Chinese Dad. He set up the blog to help other expats find their feet in London by recording family outings with his daughter. His blog soon broadened out to highlight useful resources to property investors such as a some of his favourite books about property, business and mindset. So as a proud dad, what better place to start than with a dad joke!
Did I tell you that I erected an electric fence around my house last week?
Expat Property-Guy 04:33
You erected an electric fence around your house last week? No.
I did. Yeah. The neighbour’s not too happy. He’s is dead against it!
Expat Property-Guy 04:43
Do you have a favourite strategy for winning at Monopoly?
There are certain properties that you want to buy. So yeah, I try to focus on those ones.
Can you share with us?
I tend to go for the corner ones around the orange and the red ones. Yeah. And then obviously the green ones. The green ones are the ones
Expat Property-Guy 05:03
I'm talking to a monopoly professional! That's exactly my strategy. It's all about the oranges. A reminder of the rules. You have 30 seconds to name as many squares as you can without repeating any. Okay, your 30 seconds starts now.
Okay, Mayfair, Park Lane, Regent Street, Oxford Street, Bond Street, Leicester Square, Coventry, Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square Fleet Street, Strand, Malborough Street, I believe, Bow, Vine Street, Northumberland, Pall Mall, Whitehall, Islington.
Expat Property-Guy 05:50
That’s not bad. very good.
Derek scored 18, which puts him in second place behind Ivan from Episode Two.
Derek represents a nice link between Samuel Chan from Episode Four who bought a new build apartment next to Canary Wharf and Vicki Wusche from last week who favours three bed vanilla buy to lets in the north west. Derek has done both.
Currently I've got one flat in London, East London which used to be our principal residence. So we used to live there for a few years before we had a family outgrew that one and turn that into a kind of buy to let. So that was kind of what caught the bug back in 2017. And then from then on I bought an extra two standard vanilla buy to lets up in Crewe. So north east England, sorry, north west England. They're just standard three bedroom terraces. Your stock standard working families that are rented out and then obviously trying to grow and develop that.
Expat Property-Guy 06:51
Derek’s East London flat was not originally bought as an investment, and was no longer off plan.
By the time we bought it, it was considered a new build. It was totally finished. But it was one of the last ones left. So we were able to kind of haggle them down a bit. But we liked it. It had lots of views of Canary Wharf and you can see parts of London City. And it was very close to where we worked around Canary Wharf way. So that's how we bought the first one. There have been issues with off plan properties. Especially, you might hear stories up in Liverpool where they promised the world that they'll build nice fancy developments, and then it ends up not happening. The developer runs off with the money. And you always have to be a bit worried. But as long as you do due diligence to investigate who the developer is, who's selling the property, why are they doing it? I think you'll be okay. But you just have to make sure you do your research.
Expat Property-Guy 07:39
I don't know if you know Vicki, Wusche? But she was telling some horror stories about some new build developments in Liverpool and talking about how the culture of a building can change over time. And then, you know, because prices have been over egged and guaranteed rents have been over egged and then when the guarantee period is finished, there's problems.
Yeah, I mean, the developers need to make their money, don't they? A lot of them fund it through investor finance rather than development, finance. So a lot of the developments in Liverpool, or even in London, they tend to get sold internationally first, because they know that's where the money is because people have deeper pockets compared to people in the UK. So they find it's easier to sell overseas than it is to local folks. People in Dubai, China, Hong Kong, go out with a nice fancy marketing suite. Nice brochures, yes. And it's hard for the people there to kind of investigate further. They don't know what the current land is like, they can't view the area. Unless you know, you walk around on Google Maps, it's a lot different. And it's a lot harder to do your research. So people tend to get… not sucked in, but they tend to believe what they're given in those brochures without having to do their own research. So yeah, it is tough. I've seen on Property Tribes that you know, quite a few people have sunk in a fair chunk of deposit that they’ll probably never get back because the developer is just not there anymore, and you can't get your money back.
Expat Property-Guy 08:57
So do you think that there is an alternative for overseas investors? Is it possible for them to maybe not go for new build developments? What advice would you give to them?
I can understand the attraction on new builds, you know, everything's nice and new, you kind of know what you're getting yourself into, but you tend to get into more problems in terms of delays if they can't fund it on time, especially with COVID now and all the building restrictions and limited building suppliers there's ongoing delays for construction so I tend to steer clear from new builds unless that you know already been built in already you can kind of physically see it rather than just having been a piece of land so I tend to go with existing stock because terraced houses here they've been around since the 1900s built pretty solid. You might get the odd one that needs a new roof or whatever but as long as you factor those costs in then I think they're a lot more solid than the ones that they can build with all prefab stuff which you know, you can punch a hole in the plaster wall and you know you can hear neighbours through the flat next door so I tend to suggest to go for or you know, your stock standard two or three bedroom house, it's a solid investment where a family can just move in without having to worry, it is more difficult to source those because obviously, you need the connection either locally via an agent, but at least they're not pushing guaranteed rents or anything like that to try and sell it, but they just give you the figures, the asking price and what the expected rent is. And that's kind of it. And you can work out your own figures rather than relying on someone else's marketing brochure to say what you can get.
Expat Property-Guy 10:30
So you would say that those standard vanilla buy to letter less risky than the fancy new build developments?
I would say so .I mean, unless it's a kind of like a seasoned developer that you know, of, you know, like your larger ones, like Berkley homes, or even Persimmon homes or whatever, they probably have less, I mean, we say less chance of failure, but you look at Evergrande, you never know, you know. So as long as the developer’s solid, then you can go for new builds, I can see the attraction of it, where you can get the potential capital growth between you buying an early, you get the initial off plan discounts, and then by the time it's built, hopefully the value is going up. But as we saw back in 2008, people bought around Woolwich way, so not too far, again, from where we live. They bought, I think, a house for about £400,000 off plan. And then by the time it was built, obviously then the recession happened. And the crash came and it was valued a lot lower than that £400,000. So they either had to forego that deposit or try to arrange for additional finances, I think was valued at about £300K or something. So they had to find that extra gap, which is significant amount of money to make sure they could either continue on with the mortgage and pay for the rest of it, or they just had to forego the deposit. So it is again, based on risk and reward, you're taking that risk that it gets finished, you get rewarded with the end product. But yeah, the the other side of it is they might not even start digging holes in the ground before they're out of money. So it's ironic,
Expat Property-Guy 11:55
isn't it? Because I think a lot of people here think of buying a terraced house as being risky, you know, it's old and things like this. But actually, it's even more risky, based on just what you said there that you might buy a new build development, and then by the time it's built, it's worth significantly less than what was projected.
Yeah, totally agree. And yeah, I mean, going back to the houses, you're not just buying the house. Over here, you have leasehold and freehold. So, if you're buying a flat, you're buying a lot of times a leasehold of it, which means you don't really own the land it sits on, you're just renting it from the landowner. Whereas if you're buying a house, a lot of the times they tend to be freehold. So not only do you own the structure of the house, you own the land underneath it. So, you know, worst case scenario, the house burns down, you've got insurance that just gets rebuilt. Whereas, you know, unfortunately, if a flat burns down, it's kind of out of your hands, you're in the building management's. You're waiting for them to organise everything, you're in less control. Hopefully, the service charges that you've been paying can cover all that with the building insurance, but I think you tend to have more control with nice stock standard house that you can knock on the walls and it's solid brick. Yeah, that's just my personal thoughts.
Expat Property-Guy 13:04
I asked Derek why he chose to invest in Crewe.
Crewe’s about an hour and a half away by train from where we are. Because obviously London, house prices are ridiculous, almost as ridiculous as Hong Kong prices. So we thought, you know, how can we better use the capital that we do have and get maybe some better returns and capital growth in the future as well? So there's all this talk about HS 2, which is one of the new projects, railway projects, which is you know, going from London to Birmingham, and then up north and one of the major stops along the way is Crewe so Crewe’s a major rail hub. At the moment, they've got fairly decent trains in and out of London anyway, I believe with HS 2 it will be under an hour to get back and forth from London. So that opens up quite a few opportunities in terms of people working there and living there, they can travel back and forth. So that's kind of what caught my eye in terms of investing in Crewe did a bit more research went up there to visit a few times before actually purchasing anything, just having a chat with agents just walking every street possible just to see what things were like up there. You know, just monitoring what was available. And then after a few months, I found something and then that was kind of it went in there made the offer try to negotiate low as possible. And yeah, it's been kind of ticking over for the last four or five years haven't really had any issues with tenants, even during the COVID lockdown period, or the rental payments were fine. So yeah,
Expat Property-Guy 14:33
So you didn't use a sourcing agent. You just went direct to estate agents did you?
I thought you know, I've got the time and I've got the capacity to do my own research. Why not just give it a go using the education that I was gaining from you know, the likes of Property Hub and other forums, just reading books as well. You know, getting your hands dirty, I found it. I learned a lot more and you get that confidence. So when you you know walk into an agent, by the time you walk into your third one you kind of know what you're saying, what you want to ask I found the agents up there very helpful. They're telling you, you know, perhaps, steer clear of this street or this area for buy to lets. And I think you kind of get that extra information from people that are doing this day in, day out that live up there. So I found that quite helpful.
Expat Property-Guy 15:16
So how many times would you say that you visited, one particular state agent?
I sort of went up there a few times before I actually purchased something. And it was probably even just a couple of visits. I think if you’re just open and honest with what you're looking for, they're a bit more receptive. I'm sure they see 10s and hundreds of people each year trying to come in, you know, saying they're looking for places, but people really never follow up on it. So I think it's more being consistent about your approach being open in Austin, and what you're looking for, but then also following up on it. So there was, you know, a couple agents where they would send some deals and say, you know, Does this suit your requirements, and I guess, providing that feedback to say, you know, I don't think it's right for me, or this one doesn't work with my, my specs on my budget, giving them that feedback, so that they can kind of know what you're looking for. Yeah, I've found that open conversation led to better arrangements, when you do pop in, they know what you're looking for. And then when you do finally see something that you like, they know, you're serious, because you've taken that time to provide feedback on the previous ones. So when I didn't make the offer on the first one up there, the agent, you know, was more than willing to put it forward, you outline your reasons why you think you want to pay that much. I mean, there was a bit of haggling, but it wasn't a lot in terms of, you know, back and forth, back and forth. It was just this much. They didn't accept that at first and then resubmitted a follow up offer and it was accepted after that. And then I guess, to build on that relationship, I kind of used that same agent to manage the property. And I've been using them ever since. So they've been great. And yeah, I send them the occasional Christmas chocolates, just to say thanks. And every time I do go up I’ll just pop in and just, you know, see how things are just for a chat.
Expat Property-Guy 17:02
Do you mind sharing how much you paid for it?
Yeah, so the first one up in Crewe, I believe it was £93,000 for a standard three bedder. On that street, I believe now, prices have gone up a bit. It's probably about £110,000 at the moment, I think, based on the ones that I've seen. It didn't require much work, it's just maybe just a quick tie up, I think I changed the carpets on that one. So the actual capital outlay to get before tenants came in was fairly minimal. And then the second one I purchased two years after, back in 2019. That one was for £103,000. And that's probably about £120,000 ish. Now, that one needed a bit more work done, I spent probably about £8,000 or so just on tightening it up making it look a bit more modern. But yeah, it's, as I said, we've rented out with minimal, void periods. So there's still a strong demand up there, as long as it's priced correctly and looks someone where you would want to live yourself.
Expat Property-Guy 18:03
So you said that you bought that first property for £93,000 in Crewe, and that it's worth a bit more now, would you subscribe to the view that you shouldn't refinance to take the equity out? And you'd rather kind of let the equity increase through time? Or are you have the view that you would rather pull the money out so that you can keep on investing?
Yeah, I've been thinking about this, because obviously, one of the mortgages, the five-year fixed term is almost coming up. So I've been starting to think about, you know, whether or not I should pull out some equity. I mean, it's not a huge deal of equity to pull out if I was to refinance. So I thought, if I continue to save hard through my normal nine to five role, I should be able to afford another deposit based on the income I've been saving from the current investments. So the rental, they’re currently held within a limited company. So the income that gets generated from those properties just kept building up in that savings account. So I think with some extra deposit, using the savings, personal savings, I think, you know, I can muster up another deposit for a new property without having to refinance and draw down. Obviously, I can speed things up by taking that extra equity and maybe getting two properties. But again, I'm just thinking, you know, are going to repay these one day, potentially, unless I hand them down to my daughter or something, but I don't think I'm in that position where I need to do the equity release. So yeah, I'm still tossing up between whether or not I should.
Expat Property-Guy 19:26
So I'm guessing these are bought within limited companies, since you're, you know, working in the UK,
The two up in Crewe are in a limited company, the London flat is in the personal name, because that was just what we purchased at the time for our principal residence. But yeah, any new purchases because I'm currently in the higher tax bracket in the UK. It makes more sense if I want to continue to build the portfolio to continue investing under the Limited Company. Given the tax relief.
Expat Property-Guy 19:52
Is it not worth moving the first property that you bought in Canary Wharf into the limited company? Is that something you've thought about?
Yeah, it was something we thought about, especially when they had the stamp duty holiday in the UK last year, we had the, I guess, potential to save quite a bit on the stamp duty for the company to buy that out. The only thing that we're waryof is the capital gains because we bought that property back in 2014. If we were to purchase it, it'll trigger the capital gains, which is would have been quite substantial because it's gone up quite a bit. The other thought was because that flat has kind of cladding issues, which is currently being rectified, we're thinking perhaps we just get rid of that altogether and use any capital that's been liquidated from that one, we could use that and maybe purchase more properties with it. So that's another thinking that we're tossing up between whether or not to keep that flat at the moment. Because it's the leasehold, it's kind of a bit of a pain just to continue managing and paying the service charges for it. So yeah, we're still tossing up between whether it's keep that or not. And then that might release some extra funds to deposit into the Limited Company.
Expat Property-Guy 20:58
Derek thinks he will continue to build his portfolio in Crewe, because he knows the area. He knows the builders, he knows the agents. But he also has his eyes on other parts of England.
I still continue to look at Crewe but also places like Liverpool, Stockport, where I think there's still quite a bit of growth left in those areas as well, mainly just due to their location and transport and employment opportunities. I still think the north west than the north east still has a lot going for a lot of job opportunities up there. A lot of the businesses especially during lockdown, have moved away from London and have either gone to the Midlands or north. So there's definitely a lot more happening up there, then probably down south where we are. So yeah, I'm still positive with the outlook up there. Also I kind of keep an eye out on south east of England. So although property prices are still quite high in there, it’s cheaper than what you would get within Greater London. So places like Gravesend and Dartford way. I've been kind of keeping an eye on just to see how property prices in Yeah
Kent way, yeah, I think there's a good opportunity down there because obviously they've got a theme park coming down to Gravesend which is meant to be like the new Disneyland, type style so they’ll need quite a few people have built at first and then after that to work there. And we've got good transport links and other employment opportunities in case that feedback doesn't go ahead. But yeah, I became aware on that area.
Expat Property-Guy 22:19
Everyone is talking about in property that the market is particularly hot at the moment, what's your view?
I would agree with them. So even scouting around Right Move, I've noticed that there's not much stock out there. So when I set my alerts for the crew area, I'm only getting about 13 live properties being advertised, whereas before, they'll be like 30, 40. So the ones that do get listed don't last very long either, right? They might appear for one week, and they've been marked as sold subject to contract the week after. So
Expat Property-Guy 22:50
As I record this in February 2022, house price affordability has recently risen to such an extent the buyers would need more than eight times their annual income to buy the average the price property, which has only happened once before in the last century, just before the financial crisis of 2008. There it subscribes to the 18 year property cycle and believes that we may be in the boom phase
Having a read of the headlines that get listed in newspaper, you know, you see people suggesting property prices have gone up 10% this month or it’s record levels. So it is a bit concerning to hear some of the numbers that get spat out by the media. And that's kind of part of the alarm bells when they start focusing on house prices. And every week when there's a new high. I agree that we're due for a correction. The last recession we had was back in 2008. So you know, if you add on 18 years to that we're looking at 2026. But I think with COVID, and the stamp duty holidays, that's kind of supercharged things. Everyone thought that that might put a damper on things. But when government said, you know, you can have this stamp duty cut, with people having a lot of savings available by not having or not being able to travel and let's put some money aside and invest in property. And that's kind of supercharged the whole market. So I think everyone in a way doesn't want to miss out. And because everyone's trying to scramble over the same properties, then we'll get to a stage where it can't be like he said affordable for most people, and then prices will start to tumble so my guess was about 2024 we'll start seeing things happen. So that's my kind of finger in the air guess but yeah, we won't know until we know exactly anything could happen. They might change policies, they might pump up some more money, and the whole China Evergrande a scheme might collapse and affects everyone else. So it's really out of our control, isn't it we can only keep an eye on things and make sure we're covered enough. We've got enough money squirrelled away to meet the bad times in case they do come
Expat Property-Guy 24:46
if you were an expat investor, would you be holding off buying now or would you be going ahead?
I mean property is a long term game unless you're into the whole flipping business. But if you're looking to just buy and hold for long term purposes, then there shouldn't be anything stopping you to look at property. Now, there's always a saying that it's not timing the markets it’s time in the market, over the long term, you're still going to see price appreciation based on the property lifecycle, the start of the new cycle is always above the lowest dip. So you're always going to start out ahead, no matter if you hold out for the long term. So I guess it depends on why you're investing and how long you're looking to invest. If it's long term, then yeah, I say crack on, you know, you might not get the best deal, you might be paying a bit more than you might in a couple of years. But if you can, you know, hold out on that, and you're still going to be receiving income by rent, don't see what the issue is, as long as you as long as the numbers stack up now. And you can kind of stress test to make sure that you can continue to afford covering the cost in case interest rates go up or the price depreciates a bit, then I think you'll be alright.
Derek’s blog, which he started to help other expats arriving in London, has also had a positive impact on his own self-development.
Being a expat Australian expert, you know that there's people over here that might not know where to go, or they might not have family here to support them. So I thought, you know, if I set something up to show what I've been doing, it might help him out a bit. And that kind of grew into, you know, what else can I help him with? And I thought, well, I'm interested in property, and people tend to ask questions on Property Tribes forum that I like to answer, because I find that if I answer something, it kind of helps build my knowledge as well. If you know if I say something that's not correct, I get corrected, and then I remember it for next time. So I find it helps my development as well. So there's a bit about the property life cycle, where I think we're and then there's a bit about books, the books, I tend to read about property about mindset, and even entrepreneurial leadership type ones.
Expat Property-Guy 26:42
There is a quote on there by someone called Jim Rohn. The book that you don't read won't help. So I was wondering, if you had to pick one book from your website? Which book would it be?
I think one book that stands out is negotiation one, which is never split the difference by Chris Voss Previous hostage negotiator.
yeah, I've read that, it’s great.
And I thought, you know, if he if he doesn't know what negotiation is the no one will. So I thought that was good to build up knowledge about how to negotiate and and as a property investor, that's, you know, one of the key aspects of it,
Expat Property-Guy 27:13
Had you read it before you went to Crewe and negotiated?
I think if I’d read it I could have got some extra tips and maybe knocked off an extra couple of grand from it.
Expat Property-Guy 27:23
I did use some of it when we had to renegotiate with our landlord for our rent. There's a bit in there talking about the figure, you make it really specific. And then it makes it look like “Oh this guy's not going to go above it because he's really worked out his budget”. And you know, he was being quite difficult, our landlord at the time, and I didn't think it would work. But it did. It worked. He just he went “all right.” And the other thing that I saw on your website, “I have my goals vision board printed out and stuck up on my cupboard door, so I have to see it every morning, if I want to get dressed.” I was wondering what, Derek what does it say?
It's mainly just quotes. I mean, there's a Richard Branson quote that says, if your dreams don't scare you, enough, they're too small. So you have to dream big and then you can achieve big and I try to change it up every year, just so you know, you're not constantly looking at the same stuff. And then you tend to ignore it. It's more of an activity to get yourself into to that mindset. And I think it does come from reading all those mindset books. Initially, I was a bit you know, I thought it's bit airy fairy, this stuff doesn't really work. But I found that you know, if you continue to tell yourself positive thoughts, it puts that mindset ahead of you and you tend to go towards that direction don’t you so I find it's helpful for me.
Expat Property-Guy 28:37
It's been great talking to you, Derek. I really thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing about your property story as it carries on.
Okay, thank you.
This week’s episode has shown us that you don’t need a sourcing agent or a deal packager to get your hands on property. Derek was able to buy vanilla buy to lets with repeated visits to his chosen investment area to build relations with local estate agents and by giving them feedback about each property they offered him until they found one he was happy to buy.
But what if you can't get back to the UK and you have no boots on the ground so to speak? What can you do then?
Next week’s guest, Helen Godbold-Eade from a company called Like Clockwork not only provides solutions to sourcing property but also helps distressed investors who have run into difficulties with their investments.
Please keep your emails coming in to ExpatPropertyGuy@Gmail.com, as it lets me know what you need help with.
Follow me on Instagram by searching for Expat_Property_Guy. Or on Twitter where I’m @ExpatPropGuy
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