Becoming A More Effective Learner

In the quest to learn how to build our new life as property investors, I tried to distance myself in both time and monetary dependency from my previous career as a teacher.

I struggled to introduce myself as an investor while attending networking events etc, as my entire career path had focused on teaching and I felt like a fraud to say any different. Until the day my Mentor jokingly said, “You’re not allowed to say the words; “I’m an Art Teacher” anymore. You are a property investor.”

So from that day I disassociated myself from that  title. However, in doing so I took it to the extreme and also turned my back on all that I had gained from those years; what a waste of knowledge.

While I was reading the book; ‘The One Thing’ this week, there were so many ‘actionable’ points and it hit me that all I do is read and listen, without actually acting on the true concepts of the book, that’s not learning. Then it hit me. I am trained to help people learn and how to learn. *Eureka* moment, I know how to effectively learn, not just listen and forget it later. Why am I not using this to get my head in the zone and grow faster.

So I wanted to share some of the basics in learning that I will be implementing, as it seems such a shame to forget how to do these things we used to do daily as children.

Assessment

Marking! Haha, I do not miss the hundreds of books that used to do circuits through my assessment stamp, however, it’s such an important part in learning. It is not just someone telling you in red pen, where you have spelt something wrong. It’s feedback.

Whether we take a moment to assess ourselves, evaluating what has gone well and giving yourself areas to improve on next time; or we peer assess, sharing our learning with our peers and evaluating each other. This feedback is necessary to move forward in our learning. It identifies our strengths and highlights areas to develop.  It should never be perceived as criticism, it’s a constructive method of developing skills.

Learning to Learn and Learning Styles

It is not just about what you are learning, learning itself is a skill. There are components we can act on to make ourselves more effective in the learning process; skills such as resilience, responsibility, reasoning; these are all parts of becoming an effective learner.

We don’t all learn the same. Some of us are visual learners, we may need images and to see the information. Others learn by doing; Kinaesthetic and some through auditory environments where listening to information is more beneficial. You are probably already aware of the environment in which you learn best, e.g listening to an audio over reading the book, practical tasks like flat pack furniture, some want to see the instructions, others want to figure it out by doing it. Developing and expanding your learning styles allows you to thrive in different environments.

Risk Taking

This was such a big part of my ethos as a teacher. We actively need to teach children that it is ok to make mistakes when you are trying to learn new things, you figure how to do them better next time. Sometimes, making those mistakes actually makes you stumble on something that’s good. It is about building their courage to put their hand up and ask or answer a question, doing a new task and trying, or just having more belief in themselves that they can do something. But this isn’t just relevant in the school classroom, whenever we learn a new skill or try to learn something new, we need to remember that mistakes aren’t failures, they help us grow.

Learning Objectives and Outcomes

There have been many variations on how these should be formatted and introduced, but the premise is always the same. By the end of this allotted amount of time, what should I have learned and how will I demonstrate it. The What and the How is the important part here. For instance, like me at the start of investing, I was slow on the numbers. I ‘got’ them when we all did them together, but struggled on my own. So I sat and my objective for that day was to understand calculating cash flow, return on investment and yield, (evidence in the photo above) I would demonstrate this by finding properties and ‘running the numbers’, then have them checked by my math whizz Matthew, ( which also ticks the peer assessment box).

Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

Matthew will be very happy to see me acknowledge these words, as I can be my own harshest critic, but I am learning to cut myself some slack. My previous post on ‘keeping the faith’ tackles this issue http://lifeaboutthehouse.com/keeping-the-faith/

It used to make me so sad when students really couldn’t see the progress they were making and lacked faith in themselves. So as adults, we shouldn’t do this either. Property investment is not easy, running a business is not easy. We are all learning and trying, that’s all that I ever wanted from my students and that’s all I want from myself.

 

Renovating A House On A Budget

Working within a budget can be the make or break of your renovation projects. It’s treading the fine line between adding value and ensuring you see the return.

To set your budget, you need to know your market both in terms of the house and your customer. In a million pound property, a potential buyer will likely expect to see certain design choices to validate the worth of the property. Does this mean that this standard shouldn’t be replicated in a house worth a 1/10 of this? Of course not, but we are investors and realistically putting a £5000 roll top bath in a property worth £100,000 isn’t going to see you getting the return you want. (Slight exaggeration but you get my drift).

I have expensive taste. I have the ability to pick out the mega bucks item in a line up. Do I splash the cash? No. Our projects do not fit the traditional ‘high end, exclusive property market’, but that doesn’t mean our property projects aren’t stylish, high spec and on trend. We just have to get a bit more savvy on sourcing items and creative with how we style for maximum impact on a smaller budget.

When you are starting out, it is also difficult to gauge the cost of things especially if you’ve never done a project before. You may find making a spread sheet of what you spend and prices you get, a useful way of referring back to what things cost.

There are some things you can’t get away from when transforming properties. In the age of Instagram and Pinterest; interior inspiration has never been so accessible. The market place for rental and selling is competitive, scrolling time is quick and your property needs to make an impact in the first few seconds. For us, we want to create homes people love instantly, regardless of the property value and that means striking the balance between budget and style.

These are a few of my own tips and lessons learned from others when planning your budget.

1: Get the structure sound first. Your priorities will always be to get the property safe and sound, fixing damp, sorting the electrics etc. This is not the area to be scrimping on. Get quotes from reputable tradesmen and make sure the work is completed to a high standard; otherwise these will be the things that bite you in the butt later. Safe houses = happy houses.

2- Kitchens and Bathrooms are the biggest selling points, so what are you working with? Are the cupboard carcases sound, but would benefit from new doors? Is the kitchen ok, but new tiles and new flooring would transform the space? Or does the lot need to go and start again? In my experience, only one of our kitchens was salvageable, needing new tiles and flooring and the rest have ripped out for new ones.

We tend to buy properties needing a lot of love, so a new kitchen is more often than not a chunk of our budget. It’s the same with bathrooms, sometimes the actual suite is ok, but I tend to see a lot of avocado (I’m only just about ok seeing it on my plate, definitely not in a bathroom!) if your aim is to add value to a property, you need to actually add some value.

3: Shopping. Yay! Don’t feel you have to buy everything from the same place. You may go to a kitchen showroom and choose their cupboards, but don’t feel you have to get everything including the ‘kitchen sink’ from them. You may be able to get the sink, taps, and appliances cheaper elsewhere.

£50 here and there on taps, £100 on the appliances, £4 pound cheaper per square metre on tiles and before you know it you’ve saved a big chunk of money. Is it more research, yes; but you build your contact base of suppliers and can make big savings.

4: If you’re in the property game and want to make savings, there are buying groups you can join. You need to pay to become a member but the power of numbers is what makes this work. Lots of landlords together are big business for retail and trades, that’s how the discounts are given to the members. Make sure you sign up to a reputable one, we use LNPG.

5: Don’t leave it all until the last minute when something you want is out of stock/ delayed/ unavailable and you have to choose a more expensive item because your project needs finishing.

6: There is a difference between being savvy and being cheap. I will never put poor quality items in any of our projects. That’s not our ethics as a business. We provide good quality, affordable homes that I would happily live in and more importantly, would happily let my mum live in. You can find more examples of our projects at http://www.malahomes.weebly.com

7: Décor –  I am happiest when trawling through home ware shops. Paint sample colour charts remind me of collecting tazos, 80s/90s kids will know the deal here, (random free tat in your packet of crisps for those who don’t). Decorating to a stylish and modern taste, for us, has seen quicker rental times and achieving the right selling price on our flip. You can still be careful with your budget, just get creative with your presentation.

8: Work with your build team. If you are working to a tight budget, you all have to be working off the same page. No direction or vague input on your part may leave the budget open. Also working together means you can come up with solutions to potentially expensive problems. For example, we needed to have a window in a HMO room. There were two French doors so we thought that was fine. It turned out that although they are an exit, as they can’t be left open they don’t count. The options were looking like; changing the entire frame to a new combination frame, HELLO £1000 plus fitting! Or, lose the use of the room as a bedroom. We worked on a solution with our builder and utilised his contacts.  We managed to add a window into an existing section and cost 1/4 of the price. Phew! You can find more details on working with your builders in my previous post,  http://lifeaboutthehouse.com/building-your-dream-team-builders/

9: Staging. Some do some don’t. We definitely do. There are some of us who can walk into a room and visualise it furnished and fabulous regardless of the state, there are others who struggle to see the end picture of the spatial possibilities. I find styling the rooms and staging furniture, creates the overall effect and maximum impact for potential viewers. Extra work, yes, but I have found it definitely pays off. If you don’t feel confident to stage it yourself, there are fab companies you can work with who will do it for you.

10 – Don’t hide. Sometimes sh*@ happens. Things come up that you haven’t foreseen and the budget goes over. Face up to it, keep track of where you are up to and see if there are other areas you can work with to buffer some of the extra costs. We would all love to come in on budget every time, but life happens. You stand a much better chance of staying in control of your projects by keeping track and being organised.

Re-gaining Our Mojo

In amongst the noise and chaos of my previous work life, I would look longingly out of the window at the summer that would always appear just before the summer break was due, (often only to disappear as soon as the bell rings). What I wouldn’t give to just have 5 more minutes snooze on the alarm, to not have to go in, to get this mound of marking cleared so I could be freeee.

Basically I wanted what I have now. To be out, free to choose how I run my day, working in something that makes me feel energised and like anything is possible.

I would like to start the next chapter by saying, I am not complaining, but having made this transition, I am not coping with it all that well.

I didn’t appreciate how much a routine helped me. Nor did I fully appreciate the constant buzz of noise and snippets of conversations had, as you’d leg it back to your room, necking your tea. I literally had bells to distinguish different aspects of the day and to keep you on task and working like clock-work.

Now it’s just me and the silence is deafening.

Matthew works in the City and I work from home. Birmingham is new to me and the usual ways to meet people, through your new job etc haven’t really happened. It didn’t take long for me to start to sink to be honest for the following reasons;

Waking up to your alarm clock with the same, “I have to get up” when it’s just to go downstairs

Getting dressed when you can work in pajamas until 11am without judgement

Eating properly at the right times

Time management

Actually talking to people, scrap that, sometimes seeing people! The isolation can be hard

Procrastination of tasks, suddenly the washing is priority

Random naps some intentionally, some not

Making yourself accountable

There are people out there who would read this and scoff. They have cultivated their brains to accept no failure and to motivate themselves under any circumstance. Fair play! I have not yet mastered this art but I’m trying.

So after a well spent day, I have a plan. (The premise is “Suck it up, do you want this financially free life or not!?!”) But there is more to it!

I’m not a fan of tough love, I don’t need someone else telling me what I already know and making me feel more crap than I already do. I do however need to find ways to be accountable in a healthy way.

Step one

We have actually made ourselves reward charts. Yes it is a poster made for a child but the layout works for what we need. I covered over the action “I will say please and thank you” I have that task nailed! Instead it says, I will get up by 6.30am every day. (This is your time to feel smug 5am-ers, but Rome wasn’t built in a day)

And the tasks go on… we have also set rewards based on points.

We are not ashamed to say that over the past few months we feel like we have weathered a storm. I wrote about aspects of this in my last blog. We aren’t in competition with anyone else and I know there will be people out there who do all this with ease. But for us, it’s about taking the steps to rebuild our confidence and for me, make the transition into this new way of working without feeling like I am slowly going mad.

I read and listen to so many of the greats. The content is inspiring and has so many practical action tasks. But rarely do I finish the book and make a point of doing them. Over the next few weeks I am going to journal our progress and share what things have helped us.

So with reward charts ready, we’re off! There is a shopping trip bonus to play for!

How do you focus when you work from home? I would love to hear some of your top tips.

 

 

 

Keeping The Faith In Your Business

The irony that social media can be an amazing way to connect and share, but also the source of so much anxiety and comparison is not lost on me. If I am 100% honest, I have been a social media recluse of late because to be blunt, this year has been tough. For all of the progress we have made, at times it’s like dragging ourselves through a mud pit to get to the next step. Matt literally dragged himself through mud earlier this year (I, of course, chose the sensible option of a cup of tea and a blanket!). So it seems an apt analogy.

Seeing the constant ‘highlights’ in others’ journeys (property related or not), caused pangs of inadequacy in the way I saw myself. It doesn’t take long to get into a spiral of self-doubt and before you know it, the momentum has gone or you just start to lose faith in yourself.

We entered into the property world with more energy and passion than I’ve felt for any career move before. This was it, this made sense to me and this is where I fit in. We knew we had so much to learn (and it’s definitely not a quick solution to get our dream life), but I literally could not learn it all fast enough.

What I failed to prepare for was that some things aren’t dependent on how hard I work. Some things just don’t go how you planned.  We weren’t ignorant, it’s not that we hadn’t thought about and planned for different scenarios and exits; we just hopefully believed that as long as we work hard, everything would be ok.

I was helping out at a property event last month and had the opportunity to hear Sir Clive Woodward talk. Here is someone who knows how to coach, manage and lead others to succeed. I may not understand the sport element, but my biggest ‘ take away’ was his ability to teach his team to think correctly under pressure. To think about all the things that could go wrong and how you would deal with it, thus preparing your ability to react to stressful situations and keep your head.

This was an ‘aha’ moment for me. It’s funny because one of my own personal struggles is a battle with OCD thoughts and checking. So I am usually the ‘best’ at coming up with a million potential outcomes to any situation and the thought of encouraging myself to do this on purpose is a frightening one, (it’s something I work on to keep under control). But maybe there is a way I can harness what I usually see as a weakness and use it in a more healthy productive way? Rather than my usual approach to think of them all and feel panic, to actually create the solutions in advance. Interesting.

So as I write this I have been in a state of brain fog. We have projects to plan, paperwork mountains, re-finances, disputes, big goals to achieve, as well as our personal goals; getting fitter, eating better, joining classes to establish myself in a new town. That is a lot of spinning plates and I feel like a few of them are starting to teeter. This is where I need to hit ‘pause’, to slow down the whirlwind around me like something out of a Marvel film and figure out the solutions, one at a time. I also have to fight the urge to isolate myself and get through on my own.

We are fortunate to be part of a huge network of people all striving towards their goals, with the experience we can draw on. I need to learn that reaching out isn’t defeat. So a few cups of tea on, I will keep the faith after all,  we have a 100% success rate of getting through every difficult situation so far.

When you need to re-focus, remember what’s good and what you can do to change the tide. This week;

-A catch up booked in with our mentor

-Our friends we have met continue to inspire us and be a huge source of encouragement and kindness

-We have these situations because we are taking action and trying something new

-We have each other to count on always

-If all else fails, there is always tea.

Building Your Dream Team – Builders

Our experience of working with tradesmen was near non-existent at the start. Now, a couple of years in to our property business, it is part of daily life.

It is not new information that when a lot of us hear about ‘working with builders’, our minds go to worst case scenarios and programmes on TV.  But, building a power team of trades is an essential part of this property life and without them we definitely couldn’t realise our ideas for projects.

Get the right team and they will help you achieve the dream home or investment project and have you proudly walking round the place with ‘oohs and aaaahs’ as you see it taking shape. Their expertise is crucial.

So far we have encountered both sides of the coin. Just when we had started to lose faith, we met our new builder who has done an amazing job and shown us how a project should run. Faith restored!

However, it is not fair to take no responsibility when things go wrong. We have learned a few harsh lessons; so here are a few tips and hints that you may want to keep in mind.

Do your own homework

Recommendations is how a lot of people get more work, I would definitely want to see good recommendations, however don’t take someone else’s word for it. Try and see examples of their work before and discuss the types of projects they have worked on. Does it fit with what you need? Check they have the man power and experience for the task in hand, otherwise it may not be the best fit for your project.

Get multiple quotes, you will get to hear different opinions and it will be better to see the average costing breakdown.

Be clear and write it down

This sounds so obvious, but when a project is in flow and you walk around on site, conversations can easily be forgotten a few weeks down the line. Something simple like the colour of a worktop, or a tile choice change can easily be lost in the bigger picture of the whole project. So, if you have a discussion and decisions are made, write it down and keep an email trail (it just helps everyone).

Avoid vague requests as interpretations may differ. “New sockets” for instance; who knew there were so many options for a socket?! But there are and the prices vary a lot, so even down to the finer details, be clear from day one so you know what you are being quoted for and you can make any adjustments before the work starts.

Time Frames

For me, THIS is the biggest issue we have encountered for two reasons. I seem to have a kind of time/task distortion (in which I think I can achieve way more in a day than I actually can). Then I start and realise the error of my ways a few tasks in. I probably hold others to this unrealistic expectation too.

Things rarely run to perfect timing and initial time frames seem to go out of the window. Some of this is just par for the course; unexpected sickness, the weather, a domino effect of other projects running over and effecting the next etc, but this is where we have had to wise up.

There are things beyond our control but, it is how we respond and find solutions that will determine us keeping on track. In some of our projects, we were too trusting and naive, being fed the information we wanted to hear. Remaining hopeful you continue to see it through knowing you aren’t where you should be, but being too polite to say anything. Make sure you see the projects for yourselves at different points, ask for photo updates and take action if things are starting to veer off track.

Be brave not brash!

It can be daunting to speak up and we tend to feel we would be causing offence, but when you are handing over large sums of money, you have the right to get what you have been quoted for. Don’t be afraid to point out issues if you see them; it can save a lot of time to fix it straight away than save it up to the end of the job. Of course there may be some snagging at the end of a project but these would be smaller touch ups, not big tasks.

Remember, having a conversation doesn’t equal confrontation.

Avoid the blame game

I write this with my mindful, inner peace hat on… not the first phase of frustration and finger pointing. This is something I am trying to work on and more than anything, to help calm our own stress levels.

Unfortunately there are some people who will not work to the same moral and ethical code that you do and this can be a bitter pill to swallow, especially when you know how fairly you treat others. But, ultimately the responsibility for your project is yours and nobody will care about it as much as you do.

If something has gone wrong, try and find the solution and take action to rectify the situation, (rather than pointing the finger or burying your head in the sand). Hoping it will fix itself and go away just delays the stress. In our experience we have had to pay extra to fix something ‘we shouldn’t have had to fix,’ and it seemed so unfair, but it came down to the bigger picture; solve the problem, move on and keep moving forward. Or end up stifling yourself with resentment.

Learn you lessons, replace your team if you have to, but keep going.

Money Money Money

Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could just pay for things with buttons or chocolate coins! Alas this is the clincher for your projects. Be smart with your budget, fair but strict with your payments.

Set up a payment plan at the start and agree a retention amount that won’t be paid until the job is completed to the standard you expect. On our first project we were naive and didn’t do this and by the end of the project we were over running and having to do some of the work ourselves. Our builder at the time didn’t run off with our money (thankfully), but it happens. You would think we would have learnt our lesson, but a different builder later and naive (again) to thinking we had a better working relationship than we did; left us with a fully paid but not fully finished project. This comes back to not doing the blame game, is it fair? No, could it have been avoided, yes.

Moving on to our newest team, they are fab. They have done everything they said they would and the work is to a great standard.

Equally in all this be fair to your team and pay on time when work is being done to plan, they are running a company too and can’t exist on thin air.

Relationships

Above all, we want to be building positive relationships. It benefits everyone, either through your recommendations to someone else or knowing you have a great team to move forward onto other projects with. Avoid the pitfalls where you can and try to keep the lines of communication open, even when there are difficulties.