One-on-one interview: Ajay Jagota of KIS Lettings
Ajay Jagota fell into the lettings market after inadvertently building his own small property portfolio. Here, he talks to Clare Bettelley about the accidental career path that resulted in him creating a lettings agency that looks after the needs of 700-plus landlords in the North East of England.
Talk me through your career to dateI worked for Thomson Directories where I was relocated around 12 times throughout the country.I was troubleshooting at under performing branches and helping to launch new branches, dealing with sales people. I kept properties on each time I moved, so I fell into buy-to-let (BTL). I rented the properties out when I moved on and obviously had to use an agent.
I then made my way up to the North where I had family and got passed up for a directorship. I had about seven properties at the time and had always fancied myself as a bit of a BTL investor. The market had really heated up by then, so I decided to build a portfolio here in the North because yields were good and the prices were cheap enough that meant you could build up a fairly substantial portfolio, which is what I did.
What was your strategy?I concentrated on a couple of areas in the North East - South Shields and Newcastle - and on yields. I was looking for something I could add value to that would increase the yield. For example, typical Tyneside flats are two bedrooms on the ground floor and three bedrooms on the upper floor, and some of the owners had made one of the bedrooms a dining room, so it was a simple case of going in and patching that back up again and making it a three-bed. Or we'd go in and extend into the loft - we went anywhere where we could increase the floor space.
It got to the stage, when I'd reached around the 25 property mark, that I realised it was too much for me to concentrate on building the portfolio and manage the tenancies, and to run the business from a mobile phone - it wasn't really indicative of a great family life - so I decided to just open up a small office that was just going to look after my properties.
What is the secret behind your success? Identifying a point of difference. In the lettings market it's about how you can differentiate, and not just yourself but how you can make the experience different for your customers.
How do you differentiate KIS Lettings?In the early days, we had online dashboards on which landlords could see, for example, when their rent had been paid, so they had an almost real-time account balance. Also, in the beginning we were just dealing with my properties and what was important to me was getting somebody in that required the least amount of management possible, and I wanted that for our landlords.
So we decided to embark on a procedure whereby we went to counsel and got a legal document that meant that all of our tenants had to have a homeowner guarantor. And we didn't take deposits because we felt that if we had guarantors in place we didn't need them.
What advice would you give to aspiring agency owners? Identify how you can make the customer experience better for your customers. Don't be put off by the fact that market is highly competitive and fragmented. It's a service-led industry, so how can you put the customer right at the centre of your business?