Portfolio Opportunities: The Best & Most Innovative Investment Concepts
The sky really is the limit in the world of buy-to-let, in any market. Away from the regular suburban stomping ground, a more liberal property search will throw up peculiarities in any part of the country. Odd places which, in their difficulty to categorise, tend to get dismissed and sit empty for even longer. The thing is, with a little imagination, you can see absolutely anything in a different light. Weird can be wonderful and anything which is wonderful surely has potential to earn some money.
An example: charities like the Landmark Trust are renting out newly-renovated old buildings and sinking the profits into other upgrade projects. These properties are largely ‘of historical interest’ and difficult to market in a traditional sense. As I’ve suggested, you’ll see similar examples, their photos gathering dust in some estate agent’s window, an attractive price tag soured by the extensive renovation job they require. Superficially they may also appear too odd to put to any money-making use, hence the state of disrepair in the first place. However, a creative ‘rescue and revival’ approach has resulted in an impressive portfolio of Landmark Trust properties that is nothing short of inspirational.
For those of you not already ‘in the know’, I’d recommend you invest in their handbook. Not only is it great for planning impromptu breaks in hitherto unexplored corners of the country, it’s also an effective blueprint if you feel you’ve got the head for creative and sympathetic restoration.
Part of the appeal of Landmark Trust properties is the overwhelming sense of adventure and romance they instill. The excitement of being master of your very own Mandalay or Wuthering Heights, if only for a week, is hard to beat. And there is undoubtedly a growing public interest in the notion of rescuing buildings which are ‘at risk’, as shown in Griff Rhys Jones’ recent ‘Restoration’ TV debate, where viewers voted which dilapidated properties should be restored.
As modern buildings become more alike, so the rush to save those oddities from the past gathers pace. Martello towers, castles and forts are all on the Landmark Trust’s list and enjoy year-in-advance bookings. It’s not all quirky boltholes and six-figure stately English homes, either. There are enough examples of humble, vernacular buildings to inspire even the most restricted budget. As the handbook proudly reminds its readers, the Landmark Trust also started small. Cottage or palace, what all their buildings do share is the stamp of authenticity, which has all who stay in them flocking back for more.
By rescuing a worthwhile or historical building from neglect, you are preserving the kind of experience that future generations will pay to be a part of. As I’ve suggested, the appeal of staying in, say, a lighthouse on Lundy island, is taking a brief role in that building’s narrative. One only has to read a Landmark Trust logbook to understand how powerful that spell can be for its visitors.
A Landmark Trust property is often in some remote corner of the country, miles away from the nearest village. It may be so small as to be cramped, or so unusually rambling that a team of servants would be needed to maintain it, if used as the family home. The roof may be thatched, in which case there is likely a resident population of bats, or there may not be any electricity. In one example, Swarkestone Pavilion, Derbyshire, you must even cross the roof to reach the bathroom, which is tucked into one of the turrets.
Character and age will usually guarantee why a building is listed, so any radical plans to resolve those idiosyncrasies are instantly nipped in the bud. From a buy-to-let perspective, it’s certainly plain to see why user-unfriendly buildings often sit empty for long periods of time. On the other hand, unusual properties, like those owned by the Landmark Trust, can often be bought for startlingly low prices.
There is also a flipside to the coin. Those attributes which would make them unsuitable as long-term residential properties, quickly transform into selling points for the holiday crowd: the walk-in fire place, the absolute remoteness, the treacherous spiral staircase, the noisy bell tower perched overhead and the fact that all the rooms are circular. Such features all contribute to a unique holiday experience which people will be striving to relive each year.
It may be that the building was never intended for permanent habitation. If it is listed, a little ingenuity and foresight will need to replace the one-solution sledgehammer. In practice, this might mean slipping a kitchen into a space hardly big enough to open a can of beans, or installing single bunks into a master bedroom which is only just two metres square. Admittedly, this would quickly make domestic life fraught for even the most adventurous soul, but as quirks to a weekend break, you can imagine the kids fighting to experience them first hand.
Although a renovation job can challenge the most multi-skilled innovator or deepest wallet, the results translate as premium rates in the holiday season. For example, the Landmark’s Trust first acquisition, a humble stone four-berth cottage in a remote corner of Wales, currently has an annual income potential of almost £30,000. Of course, rates vary dramatically according to season: an unusual location for a cosy winter break comes in very reasonably, whereas the same place on August Bank Holiday can be as much as three times the price. There are also weeks throughout the year when properties will sit empty, but a £30,000 potential certainly makes the time and money invested worthwhile.
On the other hand, some Landmark Trust properties are heavily booked for a good year in advance. Often these are larger, more cumbersome buildings which, under ‘normal’ buy-to- let circumstances, you would be struggling to fill all year round. One such place is Wortham Manor in Devon (pictured). This sprawling Tudor mansion sleeps fifteen and is already two thirds booked for the year, earning a staggering £4,000 for its popular Christmas week.
Should you feel inspired to follow the Landmark Trust’s example, you’ll find that the market is awash with oddities awaiting the make- over. With a budget and a little imagination it’s possible to transform the biggest white elephant into a lucrative potboiler. For more general inspiration and information consult the Landmark Trust Handbook.