"It's a passive income and builds my property portfolio"

Amy, owner of Bells Cottage - Tenterden, Kent | Sleeps 4

Amy started holiday letting in 2017. Nomadic in her approach to living has meant for great success early on for the only-28-year-old entrepreneur. Interior designer by profession, property development is now key for Amy and partner Tom.

“We chose Mulberry for the brand - smart, bright , boutique.  I may be internet savvy myself, but life is busy and I trust Mulberry to market the cottage well and attract the right types of guests."

Amy Gardner, 28, looks like an unlikely nomad. Casually dressed but possessing a determined business-like ‘get it done’ attitude, Amy – and her partner Tom- represent a new way of thinking about property when the world is wringing its hands about ‘generation rent’, the bank of ‘mum and dad’ and lifetime mortgages.

They describe themselves as nomads only in that they have developed an approach to property renovation, ownership and planning which requires them to be free of some of the emotional ties that bind us to houses and homes. Although their youth gives them the (relative) freedom to move their lives out of one property when a booking comes in for it; it’s their attitude to doing so which is refreshing. For them it’s about moving out to maximise their return and make their property work for them. In the same way that a certain worldwide rental company has made a ‘lifestyle’ out of having strangers rent a room in a house; Amy and Tom are prepared to give up their home comforts to make livings- and careers – out of property.

Although they are the youngest home owners working with Mulberry right now –  their self-confident, determined approach means they are a formidable tour-de-force.  They already have had in-depth experience in buying, renovating, refurbishing, selling, investing and directing her own property and interior design businesses. As far away from the Millennial-can’t-afford-a-deposit typical picture we’ve been used to hearing recently, Amy and Tom now have three properties in Kent acquired solely with hard-saved-for deposits, mortgages and a lot of elbow grease (their own).  

As the daughter of Army parents, Amy was used to moving house and renovating property but, more unusually for someone so young, she was determined to have her own business.

After studying Product Design at Bournemouth University and graduating in 2012 Amy – and her partner Tom – decided to realise their dream of doing something in property so they could utilise their design skills. Using every penny saved from the jobs they’d had during and after university – plus what they’d saved from taking graduate jobs literally anywhere, doing anything – they persuaded the mortgage company to lend them some cash.

However, what they could afford meant they couldn’t be picky about the property itself. The price rather than its location or condition had to be right. In 2013 they choose a property to renovate in Sissinghurst, Kent which Amy found via a local magazine. The two years spent getting the 19th century property up to modern standards took longer than they expected and was more expensive than they had budgeted for. It became quite usual for them to run out of money in any given month and have to wait until the next payday to resume work.
Amy and Tom did almost all the work themselves and learnt so much in doing so. Honing their carpentry skills, replacing floors, renovating walls and decorating was all down to them with an electrician and gas fitter the only two hired trades they employed. Its sale in late 2015 marked the true start of their full-time property renovation business, combining interior design work, property development and soon-to-be holiday letting.

Amy and Tom moved on to buy Bells Cottage in Tenterden in April 2016. Again, it was a renovation project but Amy’s expert ‘property goggles’ enabled her to see past the outdated features and she and Tom worked hard to achieve an interior finish that completely transformed the interior. Although they lived there for a while whilst the works were finished off, it was always their intention to let it as a holiday cottage. The financial return appealed to their entrepreneurial natures but it would take some personal sacrifice to give up their home to holiday-makers when the demand arose. That sacrifice has meant they have go back to Amy’s parents and live there in-between lets which works well for now, and allows them to continue to grow the business. “I see holiday letting as my passive income. Through Mulberry, the bookings come in, and now I just have to keep my eye on keeping standards high. The income is relatively easy, allowing Tom and I to build our other businesses alongside.”

Initiatially, Amy took the very hands-on approach to understand how to make operations work best. Cleaning and laundry is now handled by a housekeeper, but still Amy checks at every changeover and aims to meet every guest personally.

“For me, the property must be immaculate. I personally hate nothing more than staying somewhere that feels as though lots of people have stayed there before you. A warm welcome is also important, so a thoughtful hamper and plenty of everything is set right. Running out of toilet rolls is out of the question!”

For Amy and Tom their property business is not about giving themselves a mortgage-free lifestyle or investing in pension pots. They like mortgages and aren’t afraid of the debt they carry with them. They are resourceful and entrepreneurial and want to create houses that stand out from the standard holiday lets that come to mind.

Their next challenge is how to grow their fledgling businesses – and here’s the ‘catch 22’. Having taken the path of self- employed renovators they are now directors of their joint company. However, the financial backing they need to grow their business in restricted by the current tentative lending climate. New tax laws and tightened conditions add to this misery which means they are looking for alternative forms of funding through private investors. Whilst not surprising, these hurdles seem unnecessarily high especially when enterprise and entrepreneurship are -reportedly- so lacking in the next generation.