How did you get started? Prior to selling up in the early 2000s I had been a landlord since my early twenties, owning four or five rental properties during most of that time. I was familiar with the challenges and when I considered starting a business, lettings seemed like an obvious choice.
My first step was to buy a manual on how to set up a letting agency. It had templates for letters, adverts, and websites. I loved the cookbook nature of the manual and putting all the pieces in place kept me busy for months. I followed the advice in the manual to get the first few instructions.
Before setting up the business, I worked mainly as a software developer and IT consultant in the oil and investment banking sectors.
What is the company ethos? Openness and honesty are our watchwords. We’re constantly looking for new ways to quickly and easily share information with our landlords and tenants as well as with our team. We’re committed to lettings. It’s very rare to find an established agent who doesn’t dabble in other property areas, such as sales, factoring, development and sourcing. I’d say our strength comes from that focus. I believe that if you want to be as good as you can at something, its best to avoid distractions.
Who are your typical clients? We call them emotionally attached landlords. Our typical client owns a single rental property, which they’ve decided to rent out. Sometimes it’s a couple moving in together and renting one of their homes. More often the landlord is relocating and has taken the decision to rent their home rather than sell it. Approximately 90 per cent of our landlords own a single rental property. Less than 3 per cent own more than two.
What is your typical day like? I tend to work at the office in the morning and at home after lunch. Broadly speaking, the morning is spent working ‘in the business’, and the afternoon is spent working ‘on the business’. The day starts with an all-hands morning meet, which usually lasts five or ten minutes. We reserve the hour between 9 and 10 for clearing overnight email. I usually have a catch-up with one or two of the team. Each property manager looks after between 100 and 150 properties. They deal with everything on their portfolio, including vetting tenants, co-ordinating maintenance and arranging tenant changeovers.
We’re progressive with technology. For example, we don’t generate any paper for tenant changeovers. We use team collaboration software to make sure everyone knows who is doing what when. Landlords can view and comment on all tasks relating to their property management.
I get the biggest kick from witnessing the development of individual team members. As far as possible everyone is encouraged to do what they find enjoyable or interesting. Learning is encouraged and we teach each other.
What areas do you cover? We have a focus on the West End which is mainly for historical reasons. It’s more efficient to have properties concentrated in one area close to the office. A higher average rent is also good for business. We still like our West End focus, but we will consider properties up to 40 minutes from the office.
Where do you live? I live in the Park district in a triplex flat which we bought in 2015 after it was restored to residential use, having been used as offices since the 1960s. We had been looking to buy for some time and the conversion was perfect for us. We don’t feel compelled to be always on the move, although we have just purchased a plot of land in Aberdeenshire with planning permission for a five-bed house.
Does your job affect your social life? I wouldn’t say my job gets in the way as I enjoy doing most bits of it. It’s rare that something urgent comes up that I personally have to deal with. If I don’t have anything particular to do on a weekend, I’ll usually spend my time working on a Western Lettings project or reading about business in general. You could say I’m always on the job, but it’s mainly because I like it and I like learning. Several of my friends are landlords or contractors which I’ve met through the business.
What advice would you give someone wanting to work in the industry? Try to find a company who are set up to support broad-based learning. Many companies break up the workload with an assembly line mentality, which means that your job quickly becomes boring and repetitive. You won’t learn much about the lettings business by spending five years doing viewings. It’s a good sign if an employer supports professional development and talks about it in the job specification. Try picking a company who have an Investors in People accreditation.
When we’re recruiting, we ask applicants to complete tests for customer service and attention to detail. Although we set a high bar for short-listing, most candidates rule themselves out by not completing the tests. When recruiting, we’re looking for things like a clean driving license, some signs of tenaciousness, such as successful completion of some higher education, and a willingness to get ahead.
What do you do in your spare time? For most of my life I’ve been a keen rock-climber and spent several years climbing full time. I’m getting a bit old for hard rock-climbing now, but still enjoy adventure travel. Just prior to the pandemic, for example, I spent a few weeks exploring the Mexican coast along the east side of the sea of Cortez with an old climbing friend in his small trimaran.
I sail once or twice a week and have a half share in a keel boat which we keep at Largs and race when we can. Last weekend we took part in the Round Mull race.
And I’ve recently registered as a volunteer Business Mentor for young people with the Prince’s Trust.
How is the market? The rental market feels normal for the time of year, in terms of demand and rent levels. The average rent across our portfolio has increased by 6.1 per cent in the past 12 months. Having everyone working from home and dealing with the difficulty of viewings has encouraged innovation. The main change we’ve seen is increased use of virtual viewings which we now use for all of our listings. Floor plans have also become more of a thing. It may be that conducting viewings later in the tenant journey will become normal.
What are your future ambitions for the business? We have plans to grow the business to 950 properties in the next 18 months. During that time we’ll be looking for our first merger of acquisition opportunity. However, we are committed to our mission of making renting better and we will not compromise that by scaling the business prematurely.
Born and raised In Glasgow’s West End.
Education I attended St Columba of Iona Secondary school in Hopehill Road, Maryhill, which doesn’t exist anymore. And I have a physics degree from Strathclyde University.
FamilyI live with my partner, Caroline, who also works in the business.
First job Too many paper rounds!
First home My first home after full-time education was a house which I rented with some friends in Calderwood, in East Kilbride, when I was working at the National Engineering Laboratory.
Plans for retirement We’ll spend more time at the house in Aberdeenshire. I plan to give up work when I stop enjoying it. We will travel for at least two months of the year.