What is your time worth?

Becoming a landlord can be daunting – I remember that moment well. Over the years I’ve had some good luck, and some bad luck, but it’s been a very rewarding experience that I’d recommend to anyone.

During that time, I’ve been a tenant, a homeowner and a landlord (sometimes simultaneously!), so I know where the problem areas can lie. Whenever I’ve found myself faced with a problem, I use a useful question to keep things in perspective:

What is my time worth?

That is a very personal question that I recommend you ask yourself now, and it is not a (purely) financial question. Family, hobbies, health, obligations, stress and work can all play a part, and the answer will probably change from time to time. What I’m really getting at is that you need to decide, either ahead of time when planning your property investment, or when facing an issue that will need some attention such as repairs, whether the time and effort it will take to solve could be better used on another area of your life.

So let’s use a real example that happened to my father:

 There has been some damage to the plasterwork in your rental property, and you think it is going to be quite a big job. You look at it and decide that you could probably watch some YouTube videos for advice, go to the DIY store and have it fixed and repainted over the weekend. Just to check, you ask for a few quotes from a local decorator, who quotes £150* to get it all done. Since the materials alone would set you back £50, that means you could effectively buy-back your weekend for £50 per day, to spend:

  • a) with family,
  • b) down the pub,
  • c) or with family down the pub.

He went for c), and we had a lovely day out thanks!

So the decorator turns up to do the work, fixes the damage inside 40 minutes, and arranges to come back the following day once the plaster dries to repaint. The next day he returns and repaints, does a lovely job, and is gone within the hour. You’ve just paid that guy £100 plus materials to do under 2 hours work. Does paying £50 per hour mean you’ve been ripped off?

Absolutely not, because you didn’t buy 2 hours of his time – you bought 2 days of your own! In many cases a professional can do something quickly and with ease that you would labour over for much longer. For small jobs this is not always the case, and getting a good price is worth a little work on your part in any case. You have to decide for yourself where the advantage lies – but saving a little money here and there is not necessarily worth it. Don’t forget that repairs to the property are tax deductible, so savings on £50 of DIY materials could cost as little as £30, but that £150 labour cost could as little as £90, depending on your tax bracket. 

So the difference could actually be only £60 between doing it yourself or having a weekend in the pub family time.

Having an agent manage your property can be the same. If you manage your property yourself, you will be responsible for all the little jobs which can and do crop up, like finding tenants, arranging legal paperwork, arranging repairs, dealing with complaints and chasing up late rent. Extreme events like evictions, squatters, and aggressive tenants are very rare, but if they happen to you then the small sums you’ve saved may not seem worth doing it alone. Imagine that you get paid the equivalent of £13 per hour in your day job - which is the national average. Now you need to spend 6 hours this month doing "overtime" dealing with tenant problems. If your boss offered you that extra work, would you do it, or would you rather be at home/in the pub? This is no different.

Just this week we had a case where a tenant reported that the boiler had broken down. You can imagine how serious that is when the weather is turning cold and you have children at home! So it needed immediate action, which meant calling plumbers, arranging acceptable times to attend the property with the tenant’s permission, and arranging a follow up visit once the spare parts had been purchased. If that had not been possible immediately, for any reason, we could also have been looking to arrange emergency accommodation in a B&B or similar. Now think what you would do in that situation – do you have a full-time job or other commitments that may prevent you from attending straight away? Do you live some distance away? Do you know which tradespeople you could trust to attend on time and do what they promised? 

In fact, do you have absolutely anything else to do in life that you'd rather be doing?

In these cases, an agent is a bit like an insurance policy – part of what you’re paying for is a service you hope you’ll never need, but if you do then you’ll be glad that most of the stress and cost is being borne elsewhere.

And since the cost of an agent is tax deductible, a 10% fee could be costing you as little as 6% in reality. A good agent will make sure you know that! That fee buys you security and peace of mind. Those benefits, like the value your time, might be hard to measure, but you can’t deny that they are important to us all. It’s undeniably a little cheaper to manage your own property – but the question is:

What is your time really worth?

  • I’ve Bought my First Property – Now What?
  • So, You Want to Be a Landlord?
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