Winter can be a costly period for buy-to-let investors and
professional landlords. As we all know, the colder months are often
those in which niggling problems with a property become urgent – and in
which new issues arise.
Many buy-to-let landlords are still feeling the pinch of the
recession and as a result, saving money is likely to be particularly
high on your agenda this year. The good news is that, with a bit of
forethought, you can minimise or eliminate many of the costs you might
otherwise endure over the winter.
As a landlord you have a responsibility to ensure that your
properties are habitable and comfortable all year round, and making
sure that your tenants are not freezing is an important part of this.
But making sure that your property is warm and properly insulated is
also vital if you are to avoid more significant and costly problems
down the line.
Check for gaps around window fittings and doors, and make sure that
floorboards are fitted properly. If you think there may be drafts, a
draft excluder is very cheap and can significantly reduce the amount of
cold air entering the property. This is particularly important if you
pay the utility bills. A few hours spent draft-proofing the property
will not only ingratiate you with the tenants – it will also cut your
heating costs significantly.
It is also worth remembering that there are several grants available
to cover some or all of the costs of insulating your property. Contact
your local authority to see if you are entitled to some cash.
Check the boiler
Boiler problems can be very expensive and tend to occur most
frequently during the beginning of the winter months, when the central
heating is switched on. By getting your boiler checked out at the start
of the cold period you can minimise the risk of having to have it
repaired or replaced later on.
Don’t attempt to fix problems with a boiler yourself as this can be
dangerous and you’ll more than likely end up making things worse.
Instead, have a professional come to service your boiler.
As well as dealing with ad hoc boiler issues, landlords have a legal
obligation to carry out regular gas safety checks. Fortunately, these
checks often cost less than £100, and many engineers will offer
discounts for multiple properties.
Frozen pipes are among the most common and potentially expensive
problems during the winter months. If pipes freeze they are liable to
burst, wreaking havoc on your property.
The first step towards avoiding frozen pipes is to ensure that they
are properly insulated. All pipes should be clad, but this is
particularly important for any pipes that run outside. Cladding is very
cheap, and fitting it is a simple DIY job.
You should also liaise with your tenants to make sure they take
steps to avoid frozen or burst pipes. For example, encourage them to
maintain the heating on a low setting during the coldest periods –
particularly if they are going away. Tenants should also be on the
lookout for dripping taps; these should have their washers replaced
immediately, particularly if they are outside.
Look after the property in void periods
If your property is currently empty you will need to work much
harder to keep it in good order. In many ways it is even more important
that your look after your property between tenants; potential residents
will be able to tell when a property is in a poor state of repair, and
your void periods will last longer as a result.
Ensuring that the heating is turned on regularly is one of the most
important things you can do when the property is empty. Many heating
systems feature scheduling capabilities, allowing you to program times
for the heating to come on. If this is not possible you will need to
visit the property and do it yourself – but this is not necessarily a
bad thing. Regular visits to the property will help you notice and keep
on top of any problems or deterioration.
Winter is a traditionally difficult time to find new tenants. As
such, you may wish to consider dropping the rental price to encourage
those who may be tempted into moving. This will not only help ensure
you have some income from the property – it will also save you much of
the work associated with winter maintenance.
Above all, it is important that you take some time at the start of
winter to avoid bigger problems later on. The cold weather is likely to
exacerbate any niggling issues with your property, so make sure you
deal with small problems now before you have bigger things to worry
about – like Christmas!