So here we are, several months on from another series of ´Britain´s Benefit Tenants´ and just because the camera´s aren´t on, doesn´t mean we stop working! As well as filming commitments, property sales, investments, welfare guidance and refurbishments, we also have our personal brand with which we use to engage with and promote all aspects of our life - both inside and outside Yorkshire. January was a busy start to a promising year. As well as discussions with Channel 4, we made a lot of actions inside and outside the office, as your about to see; alongside learning some of Andrew´s ´Top Trade Tips´ on how to think like an experienced property professional!
January - Week
As you all already know by now, Monday is normally our busiest day of the week – for setting up and planning, but today this isn´t the case. A bank holiday sees the office closed, but not for Andrew, as he takes the opportunity to plan work for the weeks ahead. Tuesday, however is another story and sees all the staff back to discuss their holiday entitlement as well as a back to work team meeting; setting a well-planned and organised tone for 2017. The middle of the week saw us well and truly into the flow of things, with the days being taken up running around our properties (mostly in Furlong Road, Stavely Street, William Street and Chapel Street) for inspections as well as booking schedules of work and remediation into the 2 Let 4 Sale diaries.
Sad news finally hut home as the Government ´Benefit Cap Casualties’ has just arrived and is already starting to affect our tenants. The cap is set at £380+ per week - so for anyone claiming more than this, the housing benefits payments are reduced or stopped. The tragic part of this law is that anyone with four or more children will now receive no help towards housing costs; this is something that has come as a shock for a lot of large families! Andrew does agree in principal with some notions of the idea, but yet again, the new legislation punishes the most vulnerable in society, yet. (On the other hand, what some families receive is shocking and is significantly more than they could expect to earn if they got a job) making it impossible for everyone to achieve a fair balance!
TOP TIP – Cleaning windows has become a speciality of ours, and nothing works better than a splash of vinegar in warm water! It costs pennies and is just as good as the leading, more expensive brands of cleaner.
January – Week 2
Andrew´s Saturday starts off with the clean car challenge! Scrubbing out the two cars and works van; something he enjoys, but Alan hates! Once the vehicles are all prepared for the week ahead, then that´s one less task for The Property Boyz to worry about. The second week sees a lot more maintenance and remediation of properties now that January is in full flow, good and proper. West Street was now ready to receive another new tenant (the last tenant murdered his partner at the property just before Christmas, so the clean-up was a challenge, for many reasons.) Thankfully, once again the property is cleaned and cleared with repairs undertaken and ready for its new tenants to make it into a home.
Next up on the list was a visit to Ramsden Road (Hexthorpe) to see Barbora Benakova (the Slovakian lady) from Britain´s Benefit Tenants. Her housing benefit claim is still being looked into after six months, so Andrew attended the Doncaster council offices with the tenant’s latest wage slips to try and speed the application process up. So for the moment, all this is still work in progress.
A day after this meeting, it was back out on site again -specifically to Lesley Road (Goldthorpe), where we had an anonymous tip off that the tenant had moved out, leaving the usual trail of rubbish and five weeks rent arrears behind. The rest of the site visits were a little less expensive after that one, with basic maintenance activities in Tickhill Road (Maltby) involving the supply and fitting of window handles (a speciality of Andrew´s), before driving over to Thornwood Court (Thurnscoe) to measure up for new carpets.
TOP TIP – Try to learn the most basic of property maintenance skills, regardless of how simple or menial they seem. You will be amazed over the years how much time and money you will save!
The rest of the week was the usual mundane, but important administration tasks. We made an on-line claim for housing benefit for our new tenant in Railway View and Co-operative Street as well as assisting our tenant at Tickhill road with her housing benefit application, trying to get the less fortunate provided for by the state.
Thursday brought us to the first landlord and council meeting of 2017; which saw the agenda of anti-social behaviour, littering and fly-tipping being covered. As usual, the local councillor attended, but the meetings are now attracting 25+ individuals and becoming somewhat messy in their content and interactions. These monthly meetings came about as a direct result of the Britain´s Benefit Tenants TV series in an effort to get the council, letting agents and landlords to all work together; however in Andrew´s opinion, it has had a limited success.
Friday 13th, unlucky for some! For those in rented accommodation it turned out to be as we heard reports that 11 Million people are now living in rented accommodation, and as such, the councils are under a lot of pressure to build more homes. Most of our investment stock is old property that was built in the 40´s and 50´s and is now showing its age. Dampness is the main issue raised by tenants, but in 75% of cases, it is due to ´lifestyle´ factors such as not ventilating the property, drying clothes on radiators, not heating the property sufficiently and not treating mould as soon as it´s noticed. Less than 10% of our tenants have a tumble dryer, but 80% have children and a point we have learned from this is that the water from the clothes which condenses on the cold walls makes the perfect environment for mould growth; it is a weekly battle and one which we are losing!
In an attempt to address this, we now attempt to make room for a vented tumble dryer, or supply one as soon as the properties become empty. We also ask tenants to report black mould the moment they see it and we provide a spray to eradicate this. Education is the key, but not everyone convinced!
January – Week 3
A break from the norm! No Monday planning for us, instead we make a trip to Birmingham to visit our favourite designer
Cavani, to pick out clothes for our forthcoming photoshoot in Barcelona. After this, we make the most of our time in the city by staying at opulent Malmaison hotel. This set the mood for the rest of the week as Thursday saw us catch the Doncaster train to Newcastle where we enjoyed a great welcome at the Grey Street Hotel. That evening we went to see the super charismatic, Dr Ashish & Wendy Dutta for the re-branding celebrations or their Newcastle practice, Aesthetic Beauty Centre. We caught up with the effervescent Craig Wilde, celebrity photographer Chris Davis and Make Up artist, Jo Leversuch who spoke passionately about her new affiliation with Veil Cosmetics. Amongst the other guests were Terry Costello of CEO of Savalas Model Agency, Michael Owen CEO of ultra deluxe fashion accessories brand Always Wear Red and cutting edge Hair Stylist Sam Wall of Harry B's , also star of the Northeasts 'Loose Women style show 'Chatty Lasses ', Beauty Journalist and Blogger Lisa Clark Guthrie, an excellent crowd and a great hospitality.
Straight after the event we then hot foot it across the City to the launch of Chaophraya - the new fine dining Thai Restaurant in the recently launched 'Grey's Quarter' zone of the Intu Eldon Square Shopping and Leisure Centre in the heart of the Newcastle's City Centre. Ian Leigh, CEO of the Restaurant group behind the Chaophraya posed for pictures recognising us from the TV show. What a genuinely lovely man and fantastic restaurant - we will defiantly be back!
Saturday was a dream day for Alan and I as we spent all our time shopping for accessories and packing for our trip the following week! The shops were full of end of season, and winter wear bargains, which we took full advantage of.
January – Week 4
Tuesday 24th was a particularly sad day for us all in 2 Let 4 Sale after we learnt that that one of our tenants (who was 20 years old) had committed suicide in the house, after a falling out with his girlfriend. This was sadly the first ´casualty´ of the year. We normally have one or two suicides a year on average, and worryingly the same amount of murders! Life is a struggle for many; he was not the first and will not be the last. Our job has highs and lows and this week was one of those lows.
Monday to Sunday saw the mood of everyone return to normal as we all flew to Barcelona for a celebrity photoshoot and to celebrate Alan´s birthday!
Over two days, we had the pleasure of working with such a wonderful, talented group of people. Chris Davis and his lovely assistant Berrit, made a full set of incredible images, with make-up made by Jo Leversuch, then there was translation, location management and public relations by Charles Daniel McDonald and last, but not least, our Creative Director and stylist, Craig Wilde!
The photoshoot took place over two days and saw us take pride of place in the Barceló Raval Hotel (Lounge and Terrace bar), La Sagrada Familia, El Torre Agbar, Barrio Barceloneta and MNAC´s Olympic Gardens. We cannot wait to show you the pictures or the outfits from our clothing sponsors (Cavani, Always Wear Red, Bloodline belts, Tootal and Goodwin Smith!)
The Thursday evening after the shoot saw us celebrate Alan´s birthday party in Barcelona´s Axel Hotel Sky Bar. Alan was genuinely moved by the experience, as it was his first birthday ´party´ in 20+ years ( and the first time that someone had baked him a birthday cake in 30+ years!) We were both overwhelmed by friends who flew in and took time out, just for him. We have done some special things together over the last 23 years but this was very very special indeed.
TOP TIP – Invest in an airport lounge pass, and arrive an hour early! We had lunch, made a good impact on the bar and filled our bags for the plane - all for £15.00. We could not get a sandwich and a coffee for that (well, we all like a bargain!)
Tuesday saw us return to normality from a wonderful trip with wonderful people. The event was gone but certainly not forgotten – we cannot wait to see the images but until then, it´s back to work to prepare for a new month. I wonder what will await us?
Best, Andrew & Alan x