A podcast for expat UK property investors
March 15, 2022

Saif's European Home

Saif's European Home


Saif, The Expat Property Investor from Dubai not only sources his own properties in Bradford but refurbishes them remotely too. Saif’s inspiring story demonstrates that you don’t need a six-figure salary to build a buy-to-let portfolio with a disciplined attitude towards saving.  

Meanwhile, back in 2017, The Expat Property Guy and his wife decide to release equity from their original home to raise money and turn to Property Tribes for advice on how to spend it…

Lots to take away from this week's show!

Rate, Review, subscribe and give your ideas for the show at www.expatpropertystory.com

To contact Saif on Instagram: @expatpropertyinvestor


Teaser  00:00

I have a distinct advantage. I've got some investors that I purchased property where I'm from, I know the areas very well. I have contacts in the area: local trades, family members, if everything else fails, I've got friends, family I can turn to, whereas for many people investing remotely, they're trying to find their Goldmine location starting from scratch. When I'm looking at properties online, I already know the areas.


Expat Property-Guy  00:25

You're listening to Expat Property Story, a podcast in which I share my story to smooth the way for you to have your own Expat Property Story. That was Saif, who goes by the name of the Expat Property Investor. Saif is a teacher in Dubai who not only buys refurbishes and refinances single buy to lets in Bradford from his home in the Middle East, but does so without either a sourcing agent or a project manager. It's an inspiring story. So listen out for that later in the show. Please keep your emails coming in with your ideas for future episodes. You can leave a message at www.expatproperty story.com telling me what you'd like covered, and I'll find someone who knows more about it than me. In fact, I've had a request from a listener in Germany, asking for an episode on expat mortgages. So if you've got any specific questions on lending, I've got a very experienced mortgage broker lined up. So let me know your questions at www.expatproperty story.com ahead of that episode, which will be in about three weeks’ time. Maybe if my wife and I had had a better mortgage broker back in 2017, our purchase of a new build house on the outskirts of Leeds would not have fallen through after the lender stopped agreeing to loans of less than 100,000 pounds to investors outside the EU. To be fair to our mortgage broker at the time. However, there probably wasn't anything anyone could have done about that. And as I said last week, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because in the intervening six months or so, since we had decided to ditch our pension plan, and invest in UK property as our pension, our education through podcasts, books and forums had led us to a change of strategy. We were no longer targeting property leaning towards capital growth. Nothing wrong with capital growth, of course, but I was starting my property story in my 50s and we needed cash and we needed it now. We also needed more funds to build the necessary momentum to supercharge our story, we decided to remortgage our London property, which we've been slowly but surely paying off fire repayment mortgage since 2003. This was a scary proposition for the relatively green property investors that we were in 2017, but not as scary as actually selling the property which we briefly considered, but dismissed as too risky at the time. So we asked our mortgage broker to release equity from our London property, our original family home. Now on reflection, this was a great move. It really got us on the buy to let ladder and it's definitely something that expats should consider as a way to start their story. We opted to take a conservative 55% of the equity in the flat and given that the property had all but tripled in value since we bought it. This was still a significant sum of money. We had also cashed in about £60,000 of our pension, which gave us a pot of around £250,000 to invest. I continue to plough through podcasts and spent many an evening trawling through property tribes looking for ideas as to the best way to move forward. Eventually, I came across a thread about how to invest £100,000. One suggestion was to divide the £100,000 in for using it as deposits on four properties costing 125,000 pounds each on 80% loan to value interest only mortgages. This was basically a house of multiple occupancy or HMO strategy. This forum member speculated that if you rented out the properties on a room by room basis at 300 pounds per month, with four bedrooms per house, you could achieve a gross rental profit of more than £35,000  per year. Assuming a 5% rate of interest, capital growth of 5% per year would add a further £25,000, giving a yearly profit of just over £60,000, and therefore a return on investment of over 60% for the original £100,000. These figures were very attractive, they still are. I decided to write to the author of this post to see if he stood by this strategy now that several years had passed. Tune in next week to find out the answer. Now back to 2022 and Saif, the Expat Property Investor from Dubai, who has been interested in property since a very young age,


Saif  04:47

I wanted to invest in property anywhere from a young age. It was something that members of my family have been into. for over 25 years we were privileged enough to go and view their properties from a young age as children I was always filled with inspiration and excited I'm seeing these lovely houses where, you know, I didn't think I could ever afford to live, to be honest. And it kind of left me questioning why we were where we were. Because we had a slightly challenged upbringing, I should say, I learned a lot from my dad, because he was a market trader, and he was in business. When I wanted to buy my first property at 16 or 17. He kind of dismayed me away from it, he pushed me towards education. So property was always there. And business has always been there. And I've been to different businesses from a young age, especially online e commerce and that sort of thing. But it was only when I started working, that it became a real possibility.


Expat Property-Guy  05:34

So the property that you wanted to buy at 17, you didn't buy that?


Saif  05:39

No, I didn't buy that. No, 


Expat Property-Guy  05:40

Right. Okay, 


Saif  05:40

Because my dad said he said the same sort of stuff, really, that we now experience with investors. Oh what happens if they don't pay the rent, what you're going to do if you can't pay the mortgage, and I've got answers for all those questions now, by the way, but then I didn't. So I just, I just veered away from it completely. But clearly, I was destined for it, because I came back to in the end. 


Expat Property-Guy  05:57

So have you gone back to your dad and had that and relived that conversation? And said, Look, Dad, you shouldn't let me buy it?


Saif  06:04

Yeah, I have, I have indeed. And his, I mean, he stands quite firm in his response that he was coming from a good place. 


Expat Property-Guy  06:12

Oh of course, of course, 


Saif  06:14

You know, he just didn't want me to fall into financial hardship by taking on a bit more than perhaps I would, be able to manage and handle. And I guess that, you know, all due respect to my dad is a lovely guy. He's a great guy. You know, but he's, he just wasn't, he just didn't have the knowledge and the education, the property education behind him to be able to approach that situation. And I think like many other people out there, it's always overlooked that over time, property will increase in value, rents go up, cost of living goes up, and all that sort of thing. So he was just here, just doing what he thought was best. And of course, it's all worked out quite well. Yeah. But he's, I think it's fair to say he's extremely proud. 


Expat Property-Guy  06:56

Now, Saif spent four years training to become a teacher. Some of his course mates subsequently found work teaching in Dubai, earning far more than they would in the UK,


Saif  07:05

I was always watching what they were doing on social media, and, you know, it just looked amazing sun, sand beach, you know, the usual stuff online. That's not actually  how it is. But at the time, that's what I thought it looked fantastic. And then when I researched a little bit further into it, and you look at what there is to offer in terms of your salary or package expectations, I just thought it was a really good opportunity to go out there to make a bit of extra cash and do something different with it. Because at this point, I'd been working for a while now, I trained for four years to become a teacher. You know, it's it's quite challenging in the UK, I would say it's a very under-appreciated job for the amount of hours that you do and the amount of commitment that you bring to the role.


Expat Property-Guy  07:45

Saif managed to get his foot on the property ladder in Bradford, and then started saving as soon as he moved to Dubai. I have heard that it's quite easy in Dubai to get sucked into the expat lifestyle and end up spending a lot of money. Is that something that you found?


Saif  07:59

Absolutely, if there was ever a place where you could find ways to spend your money, this would definitely be in the top three, I would say in the world. And as expats, we higher than average salaries when we compare them to the UK. So you have a lot of disposable income. The convenience levels are just like I've never experienced anywhere else, you can press two buttons on your phone, and you've booked to a service to come and pick you up and take you wherever you want to go. You can order food within minutes. And it's not as expensive as you think until you start doing it more regularly. And that's when things can really spiral out of control.


Expat Property-Guy  08:30

Some expats have like very high level jobs, you know, working in banking and finance maybe or their pilots or lawyers, and they are in quite a lot of money compared to teachers. So how have you managed to save money to buy property?


Saif  08:44

To be completely honest, when I first moved here, we would live quite frugally to put it quite simply, I had a target number in my mind that this was to be saved. And this was probably before I had become as educated in property and investing in finance, but it was just something that I'd learned from a very young age due to my father about budgeting and managing money is something that I've been very good at for quite some time. So I had a figure in my mind and you know, we talked about in business, you know, you pay yourself first whereas if you're PAYE you pay the taxman first. So I always had that mentality that once you get paid we pay ourselves first so we take out the savings first and then what's leftover we pay the bills with it. And then what's leftover from that we spend on luxuries and going out and entertainment that sort of thing. So I had to do that for quite a while at the beginning to get some money together. And the other thing was trying to find deals trying to find offers one thing I learned quite a while ago in even in the UK was you can walk into a shop if you're buying a diamond ring for example and the price is seven 8000 pounds. You can negotiate even if it's a high street retailer, I would go and say well look if it's up for seven you know will you take four and a half will you take five? Is it something that wouldn't be the end of the world if I bought a slightly used you know from somewhere like eBay or here in Dubai, we have a service called Dubizzle, you know, say like you're buying a drill, for example, would it be the end of the world if you bought something that somebody had used a few times? Not really, if it's close, of course, prefer to buy those new. But just as an example, it really goes a long way to shop around a little bit and do your research and all the pennies really do other people. They don't think that makes a difference. But I found that it really does. And that's how I did it at the start.


Expat Property-Guy  10:20

So you're quite financially disciplined? Yes, most definitely.


Saif  10:24

My wife will certainly agree to that, ha ha


Expat Property-Guy  10:27

Sign for a discount continued as he expanded his portfolio with his first buy to let purchase as an expat in Dubai.


Saif  10:35

It was worth about 130,000 at the time, and we were negotiating around 100,000 Mark, I didn't even know why I was negotiating 100,000 I just knew that I wanted a discount on it. Anyway we bought this property, things started to spiral from there. As soon as the completion stage happens, all right, well, who's going to collect the keys on when I ask a family member, I'm not going to ask a friend, where we're going to go from here. And then I came across some stuff online where I started researching and finding out that there's other investors out there as well, remote property investors. And this is actually a bit of a thing. This is what people do. Then I started taking some training, started paying for some education, did a few courses joined a few networking events. And that's really where it took off. Because I realised there's this thing called the buy refurbish refinance model. And I can keep using the same money over and over again, I can really scale and build a portfolio quite quickly and property's likely a Uni level topic as well. There's theory to this. There's a lot of methods and strategies and processes behind every little thing. Oh, wait a minute, there's also books on this as well so I also started buying books, became really interested in reading. It just really took off from there.


Expat Property-Guy  11:38

As a teacher, it's perhaps no surprise that Saif puts a high value on property education.


Saif  11:43

For me, it was absolutely invaluable, because I was able to learn from other people who are further ahead in their journey and really copy their strategies and just put in the work and be consistent with it. That's how it started really


Expat Property-Guy  11:53

Saif's financial discipline, together with his thirst for knowledge and can do attitude led him to source his own properties, rather than paying agents. So you're not actually paying a sourcing agent to find properties for you. At the moment,


Saif  12:05

I've not had to do that. That is a strategy I would definitely explore if I was beginning to struggle to find properties. But I've not had to do that yet. I have the distinct advantage I think over some investors that I purchased property in the city that where I'm from, so I know the areas very well I have contacts in the area, local trades, family members, if everything else fails, I've got friends family, who I can turn to whereas for many people are investing remotely, they are trying to find their Goldmine location starting from scratch. When I'm looking at properties online, I already know the areas and I know this is what we're going to achieve in this area. This is what we could achieve in this area so have not had to purchase also just yet because you're from Bradford, right? Because I'm from Bradford and because I'm very familiar with the area and I have quite a few contacts in the area already.


Expat Property-Guy  12:51

He finds his deals not only on Rightmove, but also via word of mouth through the relationships he has built with local estate agents over the last few years. But what's even more impressive is how he handles refurbs How are you finding your main contractors do you use a project manager or


Saif  13:08

Initially I was using trades that I'd used in the past. So just to give you a little backstory when I was living my parents and working I kind of took upon myself to use their property as like a guinea pig shall we say, you know starting from scratch going through Checkatrade, going through the online portals, word of mouth. I built up a pretty good bank of trades because we did all sorts of work to my parents house my brother and I we both used to chip in and help with the work, we'd do the labouring and that sort of thing because we genuinely enjoyed it. We did the kitchen we put a new bathroom in, did some work outside, but put a new wall on, had the gardening done, fencing, roof work, we had a bit of plastering done. So pretty much all the trades and all the work that we do as investors. So not only did I build up a group of contacts through that, but I got the experience of when it comes to pricing when it comes to negotiating little things that don't sound like a big deal. But rather than going for a turnkey service, where you employ the contractor and they do everything, I would say right, give me a price as a turnkey, where you do everything and give me just the labour price. And I'll get the materials myself. So what used to go to SELCO I had a trade account with SELCO because I was buying lots of material from them. And I'd negotiate prices with them as well. A lot of people who are not in the property space, don't know but you can go to a builder's merchant and you can negotiate 10, 20 30% of the price of the products depending on the markup that they make on them especially SELCO. That's one of my favourite places, but it works with a few different merchants where they go to WIX, when you go to B&Q there is room for negotiation. So then from that, when it came to investing from a distance, I would employ the same strategies I would jump online, post the jobs on Checkatrade. Compare the quotes by this point I was also referring to friends of the family who are also in the building trade and when all of that didn't work because I did lose a builder during one of the refurbs I turned to one of my lettings agents they always have a contact of builders and trades on their books. And he ended up actually project money One of the refurbs on my behalf, we had some hiccups and things went wrong, I suppose that's a story maybe for later, but it's I think it all comes down to leveraging, you can leverage absolutely every single aspect of property, you can leverage people's personal experience, you can leverage their contacts, you can leverage their time, it just depends on how creative you want to be, and how far you willing to go with it, there's always a trade-off. So I'm gonna say there's always a trade off investing from a distance, I find that it usually costs a little bit more something we've talked about in other episodes as well, it does cost more. However, when you weigh up, would I rather pay a little bit more on the front end, to acquire the asset and to refurbish it, and to have it cash flowing over there rather forego that just because it's going to cost a little bit more and not have the asset at all, and miss out on 25, 30 years of cash flow, and 25, 30 years of capital appreciation. So when I look at it from that point of view, I don't mind paying a little bit more on the front end to ensure that I'm still going to benefit from the income of the long term. So that's really how I look at it. And that's how I saw the trades and builders, 


Expat Property-Guy  15:58

All Saif's properties are single buy to let but while he prefers the buy refurbish refinance model, he is not tied to it, if an opportunity to add to his portfolio presents itself, 


Saif  16:08

We have bought turnkey property investments as well, that's just a case of the price was fine. The opportunity was there, the number stacked up, and we've just gone through it because as an expat, you tend to build up deposits quite quickly. So it's not as necessary, as it might be for somebody who's on a lower income to need to recycle the money out every single time. And with the situation that we've had over the last couple of years as well, there's been a significant increase in equity due to the capital appreciation in the properties as well. So it's like a mixture of strategies depending on whatever's there. Because ultimately, if you try and focus on one strategy alone, you might be sat there waiting, just because the right project doesn't come along. So rather than waiting, just invest in anything that looks like it's going to provide a good return, and then continue from then onwards with whatever becomes available.


Expat Property-Guy  16:55

So you're sourcing remotely. Your project managing mostly remotely, although with a little bit of help sometimes. Surely, you're not managing the properties from abroad as well. Knowing you now, you must have thought about it?


Saif  17:09

You're absolutely right. And it's funny, because I don't think I was educated enough to make the right decision. The way I was looking at it at the time was when I'm paying five, six, seven hundred pounds a month in management fees. What if I take the agents away, that's five, six, seven hundred pounds of money back in my pocket. But what I wasn't thinking of which now I am, is, well, agents are experts in their fields for a reason. The amount of legislation there is when it comes to lettings is way beyond what I could read and brush up on. You know, in the space of a few months. If you want to scale you have to outsource, you can't do everything yourself. And you can't be a jack of all trades, it's worth paying the money for them to do their part, you focus on the high-income generating tasks. And ultimately, they are buying property. You don't want to be involved in the day to day admin side of things, because you can outsource all of that relatively cost effectively. You want to be involved in purchasing property, hiring more staff, networking with other people, raising funds, generating deposits, getting better deals, better discounts, that's where the money is. So that's the area that I'm starting to focus on more since I've thought about a different income while educated in that area.


Expat Property-Guy  17:54

Saif took every opportunity to get back to Bradford to oversee his portfolio until the pandemic forced to rethink.


Saif  18:22

Before the pandemic I was going every three or four months, school holidays, every school holiday basically summer, Christmas, Easter. But things were really put to the test when the pandemic kicked in. Because I don't think I've travelled for maybe a year and a half, maybe a little bit longer than that, I didn't travel. But I bought, I think four properties in that amount of time. 


Expat Property-Guy  18:42

So you were able to hone your remote skills. 


Saif  18:45

I think it's fair to say yeah, because it's only when you have limited resources that you're forced to become more resourceful. It's like the whole stabilise the thing on a bike when they're on there. You just you take it for granted. It's only when you take them off that you have to make a go of it without the stabilisers if there's if there's a dog chasing you, and you've got a bike you've got to find a way to make it work without the stabilisers on. So yeah, I'd agree with that I was forced to make it work in the pandemic.


Expat Property-Guy  19:09

Is there are a network of expat UK property investors in Dubai,


Saif  19:13

There is indeed Yeah, it's in its infancy a little bit. There's a few online groups full of expat investors. But I've not really met anybody who's quite as serious as I am. I don't want to put any judgments out there. But it might just be because I haven't met anybody quite who's on the same page. There's one person I know who was beyond the stage where I am, and she's actually left Dubai. Now. She's gone to Malaysia, I think she's in but apart from her, there's very few who are serious investors. There's lots of what I would call aspiring investors. And I think there's lots of online groups who meet looking for advice and who are trying to get into investing. However, the majority I do think are people who were in the UK they had a property they left, they rented it out, for example, they might be looking to buy one or two more, or they're just trying to manage the one that they've got already from a distance. But there's definitely some investors out here,


Expat Property-Guy  20:03

Saif attributes some of his success to the guidance he received from his mentor.


Saif  20:07

First I trained with him and did brr training course. And then I ended up joining his mastermind. And we meet every couple of weeks to discuss challenges, progress, what we've been up to like a support network where we can, you know, seek advice and help.


Expat Property-Guy  20:21

So I think you're pretty happy with your property education. But do you think that you would be as far as you are if you hadn't had a mentor?


Saif  20:29

No, no, without a doubt, 


Expat Property-Guy  20:31

Why not?


Saif  20:32

No, the reason for that is because...


Expat Property-Guy  20:35

Because you're quite a motivated guy, I get the impression that you would have got as far as you are, whether you had a mentor or not...


Saif  20:42

I think I think that's a fair...that's a fair point to make. But I... The trouble is, is not necessarily just about motivation. Motivation will get you so far. I mean, they'll get you a lot further than somebody who's not motivated. Definitely. But the next part of that is experience and strategy. And you need guidance. To give you an example of that. One of my refurbs ended up hitting a bit of a roadblock where a builder run off with some money, I was kind of left thinking, What do I do now? And it really served me so motivated or not, I didn't have the skills, I should say, to be able to cope with it and manage it in the right way. So when I took this to my mentor, I said, Look, this is what's happened. You've got a mentor is not just about the skills and strategy relating to property, it's about your mental well being as well. It's about your thought process, you'll get so far on your own, but having somebody behind you pushing you and motivating you and guiding you in the right direction that will take you to the next level, I believe. So when it comes to challenges and things that's where I think having mentorship and having training is invaluable. But it does come from taking action as well. You can spend all the money in the world on courses and training and books but until you actually start putting the hours in yourself, it's not going to materialise but equally, you can go places, you know, by putting in the effort, but having somebody else say actually, by the way, we thought about this, or that sounds like a really good move. But try this move as well. This this is going to make you a lot more money, it's going to get you where you want to be so much quicker. So that's why I stand by education. I think it's I think it's brilliant.


Expat Property-Guy  22:12

Now subscribers will know that I always asked my guests to bring some humour, because this is of course the only property podcast in the world that comes with a free joke!


Saif  22:21

Okay, so my joke is: What do sea monsters eat? 


Expat Property-Guy  22:25

I don't know, what DO sea monsters eat? 


Saif  22:27

Fish and ships. It's a lame one I know


Expat Property-Guy  22:31

 It's good enough. It's good enough 


Saif  22:34

Oh, that's good. Thank you 


Narrator  22:35

Monopoly Challenge. 


Saif  22:36

I'm a huge fan of the game... huge fan especially given that we're in property monopolies just very appropriate, isn't it? So yeah, huge fan


Expat Property-Guy  22:43



Saif  22:44

Try to get as many hotels as possible. Doesn't matter where doesn't matter where as long as you're on property. It doesn't matter where it is.


Expat Property-Guy  22:51

Right. Okay. Sounds like real life.


Saif  22:53

Yeah, literally. 


Expat Property-Guy  22:54



Saif  22:54

This skills are so transferable. It's, it's quite amazing.


Expat Property-Guy  22:57

Just to remind you, you have 30 seconds to name as many squares as possible without repeating any squares. Okay.


Saif  23:06

Strand, Regent Street, Leicester Square, Oxford Street, Bond Street, Trafalgar Square. Park Lane, Kings Cross is on there,  Euston's on there Marleybone is on there, Pall Mall, I want to say Pall Mall is another one. That's it


Expat Property-Guy  23:37

Yeah, that's it. Saif scored 11, which puts them in fourth equal with Vicki O'Shea. Which means that Helen Godbold-Eade from Episode Seven is still in the lead with 21. If anybody wants to get in touch with you, Saif, what's the best way to do that?


Saif  23:54

The best way to get in touch would be to find me on Instagram. My handle is at expat property investor, drop me a DM on there. And I'll be happy to help if there's any other expat investors who are looking for a little bit of support a little bit of guidance, happy to share some of my experiences. If there's anybody who's struggling for contacts in the UK or they're looking to invest in my area. I'm very happy to share my contacts there as well. I get messages quite regularly from people asking about solicitors, accountants, even builders. I'm not protective of any of the people that I work with. I'm just happy to help and support anybody. However, I can 


Expat Property-Guy  24:28

Well, great. I think you've been a great help to our listeners today. I think you've added a lot of value and given us a flavour of Dubai. So thank you very much for being on Expat Property Story.


Saif  24:37

Thank you very much for the opportunity. I look forward to hearing some of your episodes.


Expat Property-Guy  24:44

Well I found Saif's story quite inspiring. And there's lots of great things I could highlight, but three things stood out for me. One was Saif's attitude to money and saving it. He shows that you don't have to have a lucrative salary to get started in property. If you have some willpower determined nation and a healthy dose of delayed gratification, which in Dubai, by all accounts is easier said than done. The second was his choice of where to invest. If you have family and friends in a location in the UK, where you can realistically invest and get a good return on your investment in terms of cash flow, then that could be your first port of call. There's no substitute for having boots on the ground in your chosen area. You don't have to use them. And it sounds like Saif is pretty independent, but it's handy to have them if they're needed. And finally, Saif takes action rather than over analysing. So when he bought his first buy two letters, an expert, he hadn't planned everything out to the last detail. It was only after he completed, that he started to think about who would collect the keys, and manage the property, et cetera, et cetera. This is what I call a ready shoot aim philosophy. You get as ready as you reasonably can. But at a certain point, you just have to shoot if you hit the target, or well and good. If you don't, you readjust your aim, learn from your mistakes, and go again, that's got to be better than continually aiming without ever pulling the trigger. Willpower and taking action are also high on the agenda in next week's show, as I talk to an expat who chose an investment area that was not his hometown, but booked into a hotel for a couple of weeks and walked the streets until he knew the area as if it was his hometown. One last reminder to subscribe if you haven't already done so, or leave a review or a message or an idea for the show at www.expatproperty.story.com And if you can think of someone who would benefit from Saif's story, then share the show to spread the word. You've been listening to: Expat Property Story