Laura Hamilton was well qualified to be a presenter on Channel 4’s “A Place In The Sun” when she joined in 2012. On the show, she helps people find a new home in more exotic locales, explaining how to buy and maintain homes abroad.
Hamilton was just 19 when she bought her first apartment with a £5,000 ($6,917) deposit, renovated it on a budget and let it out for a profit before eventually selling it on.
Now 38, she has renovated and sold 19 properties in London and south-east England, including one commercial premises she transformed into a coffee shop, apartment and house.
“I had this thing in my head of wanting to get on the property ladder as soon as I could,” she tells Insider of that first purchase.
“This property became available on the same road that my parents lived on and although I didn’t really want to live so close to my parents, I knew that it was a good opportunity.”
In 2001, Hamilton bought the £100,000 ($138,245) one-bedroom apartment in Kent, south-east England with the small deposit she had saved. She moved in to renovate it in stages. But three months later she was laid off and had to move back home with her parents to let the apartment out.
With a budget of £2,000 ($2,765), she carpeted, painted and installed a new bathroom. “At that particular time I tried to sympathetically modernize the kitchen – I would never do it again now, but I painted the kitchen tiles and just tried to make it look a bit better.”
She covered her monthly mortgage payment of £550 ($760) by renting it out for £650 ($899) and saved up enough to buy another property, having sold her first one to her brother.
Despite her experience in renovation, Hamilton says she still makes mistakes. “You still learn so much from each project that you can then take to the next,” she adds.
She gives Insider her five tips on how to buy cheap properties, renovate them on a budget and sell high.
- Before you buy anything, research exactly what you’re actually going to have to do
Hamilton says people have got to know what needs doing before they spend the money on buying somewhere.
“You can really transform a kitchen by using a work surface that has a marble effect but isn’t actually marble,” she says. “It’s just about being savvy with the products that you use in your renovation.”
In the bathroom, Hamilton says she would never save on taps, but does try to save money on the tiles.
“You don’t necessarily have to spend a huge amount of money on designer tiles,” she says. “There are some amazing tile companies out there where you can get really wicked looking tiles that don’t come with a designer price tag.”
- DIY can save you a huge amount if professionals. Use Google how-to guides if you don’t know how to do something.
Hamilton says that doing the painting and decorating yourself is a brilliant way to save money on a renovation.
“You can Google how-to guides and if you’re willing to take the time to learn you can do it yourself,” she says.
After being quoted £15,000 ($20,743) by a decorator to paint the house she currently lives in, Hamilton decided to do it herself. She paid around £1,000 ($1,382) for paint and equipment and did the work across several evenings.
She says the first thing you need to use if you’re painting fresh plaster is a mist coat, which is a mix of paint and water, followed by a topcoat and a second coat.
Hamilton has also learned that replacing door handles, wrapping kitchen cabinets or using chalk-based paint are cheap ways of updating kitchens and freshening up handmade wooden fittings.
- But use a professional if doing it yourself will take a long time
“I once attempted to tile a bathroom, but I’m such a perfectionist that it ended up taking me three months,” Hamilton says. “Because of the time it took me versus how much it would have cost me to pay someone to do it … it was actually a really poor decision to make.”
She says she never does plumbing or electrics as these need to be signed off as compliant with regulations. Hamilton says you need to be sure you can pull off some of the more difficult jobs before reaching for your toolkit.
“Be really careful when it comes to doing work yourself because shoddy workmanship can end up going against you and devaluing your property,” she adds.
She also recommends thorough research before hiring anyone.
Something like Checkatrade.com – a UK service where tradespeople are rated by past customers who aren’t identified to those browsing – isn’t enough, says Hamilton.
“I want to know who that person has worked for and that I can trust that the recommendation I’m getting is from a trusted source.”
- Buying cheap is the key to making money – as is looking for places where people are likely to rent as well as buy
Hamilton says that most of the profit in renovating houses comes from getting a good deal on the buying price, rather than what you ultimately sell it for.
“I’ve been in situations where renovation projects go to sealed bids,” she says. “When you start getting involved in a bidding war and emotions take over … that’s where you have to be careful and look at it as a business.”
She recommends looking for projects in areas where there is a reason for somebody to rent – such as places near an airport, hospital or a university.
- Sell when the property looks its best
Hamilton says, “There are highs and lows and it’s important to know when to get in and when to get out.”
She recalls buying a house for £270,000 ($373,000), spending £35,000 ($48,350) improving it over nine months and then having it valued at £485,000 ($670,000) when she was ready to sell. But then the property market crashed amid the 2008 financial crisis. She eventually sold it for just £345,000 ($476,662).
She says the best time to sell a property is when the property looks its best.
“Be prepared that it might not be plain sailing the whole time, but you have to ride that storm,” she says. “You’ll win some and you’ll lose some … but eventually, if you keep doing it, you will get there in the end.”