If there’s one thing you constantly hear about property it’s that it’s a long-term investment and that the financial rewards of ownership are only apparent after many years. That’s a sentiment with which I heartily concur. When I started off as a rookie investor 25 years ago, I knew that the rewards of buying and refurbishing property might only be fully apparent in the distant future.
I always felt though that if I looked after the property, nurtured and improved it, eventually the property would look after me. Nearly all home owners share this sentiment – owning property is a long-haul journey rather than a short-term hop.
So it makes sense to budget and plan for the long term. Ever since my 20s, if ever faced with replacing windows with cheap ones likely to last 10 years or an option more likely to last 30 years, I’d always be plumping – so long as funds would allow – for the longer-term option. Re-roofing jobs done properly 25 years ago are still completely serviceable, while any time I’ve cut the odd corner – such as giving a cheap boiler a try out – it’s nearly always come back to bite me by re-emerging as a problem only a few years later.
George Orwell wrote that to plant a walnut tree in one's garden was to provide a gift to a future generation rather than to oneself
Occasionally, it can be true that choosing a seemingly long-term option can be a strategic mistake – particularly when new technology introduces efficiencies. Some high-quality heating systems, for example, might last 40 years but be superseded in performance by the installation of a new system after 15 years.
Generally speaking, “always plan as long term as possible” has been my mantra – but then in the past, I’ve always been reasonably confident that I will still be around in 20 or 30 years to reap the maximum benefit.
But next year, I will be reaching an, ahem, significant birthday with a “5” in it. Increasingly I might have to consider that while the property might enjoy having a new roof that will last 40 years placed upon it, I might not necessarily be around to eke out the return on my investment.
If, in 50 years time, someone sits under the shade of a walnut tree I planted, then I will consider the 'long-term planning' I carried out to be time very well spent
And yet I find my attitudes to long-term investment unchanged. The novelist George Orwell once wrote that to plant a walnut tree in one's garden was to provide a gift to a future generation rather than to oneself. As it happens, one project I am currently looking at is the landscaping of some derelict land to create a "secret garden" for a block of flats, as well as the removal of a withered "barked" tree and the planting of some saplings to replace it.
As it can take some trees 30 years to reach maturity, it’s far from entirely sure that I will be around to appreciate its full flowering. But for me, this provides more, not less of an incentive to plant such a tree.
Property investment isn’t something which should be conducted solely for personal profit. I see it as the duty of every property owner, as much as their budget will allow, to raise the property to its highest potential and nurture and improve it for the future.
“The houses will be there after you’re gone” is a saying often invoked by property investors not to get too stressed out by the property they manage, to look after number one first.
Yet to me, the idea that the houses will be there after I’ve gone is a source of comfort not worldly resignation. If, in 50 years time, someone sits on a summer’s day in a secret garden under the shade of a walnut tree I planted, then I will consider the “long-term planning” I carried out to be time very well spent.
Damian Flanagan is a property developer, writer and critic. @DamianFlanagan