Interview with Jennie Nelson
Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey with Fielding Financial…
I first joined Fielding Financial in 2016 when I wanted to create an alternative to working in the City until I retired. I wanted to build a small portfolio of BTLs to supplement my income, so if I wanted to take a lower paid lower pressure job in the future I could. I then saw what everyone else was doing and realised I could use property to be a much bigger part of my portfolio career by incorporating strategies such as HMOS and Serviced Accommodation.
Tell us about your most recent serviced accommodation project…
At the end of 2019, I bought a Victorian property split into 7 apartments on the South Shore of Blackpool, moments from the seafront and the Pleasure Beach (Blackpool’s famous Theme park). I think in Blackpool location is critical. Whilst there are hotels dotted all over town, there are a couple of key streets which are virtually all accommodation related and that makes a difference to where people want to stay. The 7 apartments range from: studios, 1 bedroom apartments, a 2 storey 2 bedroom apartment which can sleep 8. This means we can cater for a range of different parties and sectors of the market. There is a lot of dated guest house accommodation in Blackpool so to make it stand out on Booking.com I wanted to create bright, modern, clean looking design. The property was tenanted when I bought it but was unsafe to live in, it needed a full back to brick strip out . The tanking in the basement and some rooms being knocked through to different apartments to ensure all the apartments were a good size.
Why did you decide to choose serviced accommodation as an investment strategy?
The returns on a block of serviced apartments like this have accelerated my property income far quicker than I could have done from my other strategies. Given the amount of set up and systemisation I did for the business up front, it made sense to have multiple units coming on line at the same time. Its also good to have 7 apartments in the same building because if there is an issue with one of them, I sometimes have the opportunity to move the guest to a different apartment and keep them happy.
What has been your favourite part of working on your serviced accommodation project/s?
I love seeing a shell of a building turn into lovely spaces. My favourite part is probably the building of mood boards and kitting out the apartments. It’s also lovely when someone emails you after a trip to tell you what a great time they had and how the apartment played a part in that. We have people staying for honeymoons, proposal weekends, birthdays, family reunions and its really nice when someone tells you that the accommodation you provided had a really positive impact on that.
What has been your biggest challenge so far with your serviced accommodation project/s?
Well Covid for one, we officially opened on February 28th and closed again on March 19th. Whilst we had a really busy summer season last year when we could open, the North West was closed by the tier system more than most last year. Fortunately I had applied for business rates on the earliest date I could (once you can prove the business is open). Which meant not only did I save the 7* monthly council tax accounts and paid no rates because the rateable value makes it exempt, but qualified for around £30k of Covid business support grants which were paid automatically through the Business Rates system. While it didn’t replace what we would have made, it was good to have the costs covered.
Another challenge was finding the right power team to do a fairly in-depth refurb project as this was my first project in that area. I had used a sourcing agent who offered a turnkey solution to use his power team. However after completion it transpired that he had got into a deal with a slightly dodgy building company that caused him and his builder to go out of business, so I had to start from scratch. Fortunately my team in Hull are great and agreed to spend 4 months staying in Blackpool Monday to Friday. I was able to house them in an apartment I had available in another BTL block I had acquired a few months earlier, so didn’t need to pay for hotels for them.
What are your top tips for someone who is just about to get started in serviced accommodation?
My top tips for serviced accommodation would be:
1) Location, Location, Location- it is so important to understand what drives demand in the area, people want convenience and will look at a map with the place they want to visit at the centre and work out from there. I’d drop a few pins on a map as to where you think your guests will be visiting (Corporate or Leisure related) and identify which streets fall within a 5 minute walk of as many of those things as possible.
2) Get your team lined up. With other strategies getting the building up and running is where the majority of effort is. With SA its once the guests start arriving and usually the issues arise at 8pm on a Friday when they check in and find a high smoke alarm beeping, or the boiler hasn’t fired up, or the shower isn’t working properly and you need an immediate solution. These things can’t wait until you can arrange a tradesperson on Monday. I’ve had a few teething problems getting the right handyman on the next street and an excellent cleaner that understands the importance of customer service, but now I have them I will make sure they remain happy! The business wouldn’t keep going with out the right people in those roles.
3) Systemise the business- A good channel manager is essential, I use Eviivo but there are many others. That allows me to automate the responses to a the most common queries. I have templated emails which are automatically sent to guests at different stages in the process, as well as managing the website, payments and integrating across all the different channels. I use digilocks for the apartments so we can offer contactless check-in. Some channel management software will link directly to the locks to automatically generate a new code for each booking, to then email to the guest 12 hours before check-in so you can make the mundane processes as hands off as possible.
What’s next for you?
I continue to build out the HMOs in a couple of areas, with the next one completing in Grimsby on Friday (fingers crossed!). Recently added a block of apartments on the South Coast to the portfolio. I want to get a good year of accounts for the apartments in Blackpool. This year the plan is to leverage the model I have already built and add another 2 blocks of SA apartments to that business over the winter, ready for the start of the season in Easter. And I continue to learn what the guests want, what is important to them (Parking and Left Luggage storage is key!) so I can continue to improve the product we offer!
To get in contact with Jenny Nelson –
To Book their lovely serviced accommodation – https://www.rocksaltstudios.com/
Do you want to learn more about investing in serviced accommodation?
See Our Serviced Accommodation Online Course here.