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From lawnmower to buy-to-let empire

Suki Barham has come a long way since mowing the gardens and painting the fences of his dad’s buy-to-let properties as a teenager.

Now aged 31, the successful businessman has become one of the Midlands’ most well-respected property entrepreneurs. Today he has more than 200 rental homes in London, the North and the Midlands - in a portfolio worth about £10million.

It all started off with a £40,000 flat he’d agreed to buy but couldn’t afford.

He said: “I’d been working in a few jobs, including for an estate agent friend of my dad’s and, instead of blowing my wages like some of my friends were, I kept all my money, saving bit by bit.

“The estate agent offered me a little flat he said I might like, just down the road from my house, and I agreed straight away. My intention was to refurbish the property and sell it on. The only problem was that I didn’t have all the money I needed.”

Suki was just 23 at the time. The financial crash of 2008 had hit three years before, and mainstream banks had dramatically scaled back their lending on property. His parents Vik and Narinder were supportive, but sceptical that he would be able to raise the finance needed.

Suki, from Birmingham, said: “They thought it would be a ‘no’ from most lenders but then I remembered someone who’d worked with specialist finance company Together. I contacted them and, within a day, they had come back with an offer in principle for the loan I needed and, within three weeks, I owned the property.”

He put down a 30% - or £12,000 - deposit to secure a bridging loan from us, and made more than £24,000 by selling the renovated flat within three months. “I’d spent my entire life savings,” he said. “But I made just over double what I’d saved up by selling the flat. It gave me the drive to carry on. I thought ‘I’ll have another punt on this.’”

Over the next three years he would visit auctions to buy, then ‘flip’ - or re-sell - residential, commercial and semi-commercial properties.

Suki made £84,000 on a single deal by flipping a terraced house in Selly Oak, in Birmingham’s student heartland. He said: “Every time I sold a property, I was making a few thousand. Everything I touched turned to gold and my pot was growing more and more.”

Suki’s reputation was in the ascendancy among property professionals in the Midlands, and he gained his reputation as a trustworthy investor. Buoyed by his success, the property entrepreneur decided to take his first step into the buy-to-let market. Again, he drew on his relationship with us to buy a house in Birmingham using a specialist mortgage.

Suki said: “In 2015, I bought four or five buy-to-let properties and rented them out. Then, slowly, I thought that if I buy one a month and keep it, it’ll build up a nice little nest egg for the future.” Since then, he’s purchased about 100 rental homes with our help.

At a meeting at our headquarters in Manchester, he met our company CEO and our specialist underwriters. We subsequently agreed a £5million facility, and offered competitive rates with higher LTVs so Suki could continue growing his empire.

“Together has become more than just a lender; the team there have become business partners and are more like friends. We work together on a regular basis,” he said. “It’s hard work building up a portfolio, but Together have offered help and advice, I can speak to anyone in the business, and they’re there to support me with any funding I need.”

Along with many other buy-to-let investors, the portfolio landlord has also had to weather a raft of tax and regulatory changes over the past few years, including mortgage interest relief cuts and higher Stamp Duty. The latest hurdle has been refurbishing properties which fall below EPC energy efficiency guidelines. As of April this year, residential landlords can’t grant a tenancy if their property’s energy rating is F or G.

Suki said: “You’ve got to get the houses refurbished to meet the guidelines but it’s more than that, it’s about meeting tenants expectations and bringing more professionalism into the private rented sector. You can’t expect a doctor to live in your house if the ceiling’s falling down or there’s rats running everywhere. If you look after your tenants, they’ll look after you.”

Now a dad-of-two - he has a two-year-old daughter and seven-month-old son with his wife Rina - Suki hopes his children will follow his lead into his property business, Stratton Estates. He said: “I was helping my mum and dad from when I was 15 - mowing the grass and painting fences. Hopefully, one day, my son and daughter will follow in my footsteps and we’ll have three generations helping out in the family business.”

28th November 2018

Suki, one of our lending customers