An Absolute Gem of a Buy-to-Let* Investment Manual


*“Buy-to-let” is a term used in the UK for a property which is bought specifically to let out.

The Diaries of a Serial Property Investorby Toby Russell [Kindle]

Well, okay, it’s not an absolute gem. Because I intend to state my differing take on the situation presently; and maybe Toby Russell’s Diaries would profit from a bit of re-writing and proof reading. But what a gem of a book, this is! A buy-to-let manual par excellence! I only wish there were a dozen like it.

I recently downloaded Toby Russell’s Diaries of a Serial Property Investor to Kindle and, subsequent to devouring it at one sitting, I must tell readers what a refreshing change this book is from the run-of-the-mill clap-trap that features in far too many BTL instruction manuals.

I got an immediate feeling of kinship with the author, more of a professional type of guy though he be. Because Toby Russell has considerable experience with BTL property, having been investing in it for the past 12 years or so, as indeed have I. But, whereas I used the opportunity provided by the acquisition of my first buy-to-let property to get off the street and away from the sort of part-time jobs I’d done over 35 years, and into leisure pursuits (Leisure, you say? I wrote 4 books in 4 years, godammit!), Toby Russell and his wife Sam dived (okay, “dove”, you Star-Spangled ones!) full fathom five into buy-to-let investment, bravely intent upon building up a personal pension by means of their buy-to-let property portfolio.

A very wise decision, it would seem to have been in retrospect, because there is nothing like putting your money where your mouth is for making you learn PDQ about BTL property investment.

Toby Russell tells it like it is, warts and all, with regard to dodgy investment advisors, doctrinaire (UK) city council antagonism to BTL investment, bad tenants, house trashers, untrustworthy mortgagors, unhelpful insurance companies, and the rest.

As the guy astutely observes:

  • successive governments in the UK have effectively stripped much of the value out of personal pension plans whilst
  • steadfastly pretending to do the exact opposite.

So Toby Russell and his wife Sam, professional people, to be sure, looking forward to a (necessarily depleted) professional pension in their retirement years on this account, are quite determined to invest in BTL property over a number of years so as to augment their (otherwise paltry) pensionable expectations.

Better still, south of England-domiciled*, as he happens to be, Toby Russell recognises the fact that they need to invest in BTL property in the north of England if they are going to be able to achieve the necessary levels of income and potential capital gains. [* Property in the north of England is generally cheaper than in the south, yet rents are not necessarily proportionately less.]

Impressive, too, is the way in which Toby Russell teaches us:

  • to walk away from any financial mistake which simply cannot be remedied
  • whilst making quite sure he keeps his eyes fixed steadily upon his original – and, therefore, eventual target.

In other words, Toby Russell is prepared to forget a lost BTL battle in order to win the overall BTL war.

Where I would take issue with Toby Russell, though, is with regard to the inordinate amount of money he (being southern-domiciled, as he is ) has felt it necessary to expend on “sourcing” suitable properties in a variety of northern locations (Stoke, Birkenhead, Rotherham, the North-East, Glasgow @— gulp! — £2,500 to £3,000 a throw for each “sourced” property. That is to say, he paid this money to agents to find properties for him.)

Because, to my mind, Toby Russell might otherwise (and at a more reasonable rate of expenditure, I’d suggest), have targeted just one area of the North-West in particular as opposed to using a scatter-gun approach, so to speak.

By way of example, I would suggest, Toby Russell might have taken the towns flanking the East/West M65 corridor in Lancashire, say – from the M6 to Nelson/Colne and beyond – thereby expending in the process a bit more time, but much less money on overnight accommodation at Travelodge hostelries and the like than his agents billed him for commission

Nevertheless, the figures speak for themselves. Because 12 years on from Day One, Toby Russell and his wife Sam have built up a BTL portfolio, consisting of 32 properties which are jointly valued in excess of £2M.

So, game, set and match, to Toby Russell and wife Sam, methinks! And fair play to them, too.


Re. Toby Russell
Readers may care to note that Toby Russell used the services of mortgage brokers throughout. This is a timely reminder that simply relying upon individual banks and/or building societies remains a sure fire way to scupper anybody’s investment plans. Please note, too, that certain statistics within the author’s inventory [e.g. the cost of renewal of 18 central heating boilers and 12 front doors] would tend to suggest that some of Toby Russell’s BTL properties are a bit more downmarket than the more sniffily-picked properties in my own portfolio.

Re. Bill Keeth
The purists amongst you may be shocked to find that I have no intention of “suffering for my art” – living a sub-consumptive existence in a garret, with a Mother Hubbard-stocked Frigidaire ready-to-hand. (Neither have my wife and 5 kids either.)

I had one bad summer, the second year I was married, when I was off work for 6 weeks and couldn’t afford a pot of paint to paint the house. Thereafter, I did part-time jobs – sometimes as many as two, three, four at a time – for 35 years and counting. This was necessary since I worked full-time for a so-called “equal-opportunity employer” (aka Manchester Education Committee) which proved to be nothing of the kind from 1974 on. (Middle management, you say?: piddle management, I say – with knobs on!)

Accordingly, only self-investment from 2001 onwards freed me to write my 4 books.

Incidentally, those same purists who recoil from mention of the world of work should remember this, too. Mario Puzo, before writing his best-seller The Godfather was supported by his immediate family. Meanwhile, in The Godfather Papers the author recalls getting some of his best ideas picking the kids up from school or down the shops as opposed to sitting at his desk, staring blankly into space.

Heck! The aforementioned purists might even get something worth writing ABOUT at work!

(20 February 2013)

Bill Keeth’s books, Every Street in Manchester ISBN 1859880649 & Write It Self-Publish It Sell It ISBN 97809558863 are available from Amazon and all good book shops. Bill can also be contacted via his website,

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