Case study: When your simple HMO refinance doesn’t go to plan

Happy New Year to your all! I know it feels like 2021 has been around for far longer than just 8 days.. but here we are on week one of the blog.

For January we are focusing on case studies; as we are often asked what sort of properties we look at and what the benefits are of a specialist broker.  So here are some examples which show the sorts of things we can help with.

This week we are looking at an HMO refinance. Might seem like an easy one on paper but this one wasn’t! The client called me up just before Christmas in a bit of a panic. She had bought a property in summer the of last year with the plan of converting it into an HMO from a commercial building.  Planning was granted and the conversion started all on target but by October she had completed the works and was starting to look for a refinance options.

The broker she was using at this point went back to the lender that was used for the bridge to arrange the refinance, but they gave the property a ‘nil value’.  Now this doesn’t mean the property is worth nothing, but that it doesn’t fit with the criteria of that lender,  therefore is not suitable security. App fee and val fee wasted! The broker then tried another lender and had exactly the same outcome. Both lenders are those which we could call the ‘vanilla side of specialist’ and although they do lend on HMOs, they are strict within this area.  So the client has paid for 2 app fees, 2 valuation fees and no end in sight for the bridge.

The client didn’t know what the problem was, but reading the reports it could be any one or a combination of the following:

  • insufficient demand for that sort of property in that area. For example a property designed for professionals in an area which typically doesn’t see that.
  • Rent which is significantly higher than the market rent you would expect. Even if you can fill the property quickly, and it still fits (for a mortgage stress test) on market rent
  • The property would struggle to be converted back into a family home if the lender did have to do this to sell it on. This can be where we have 5-6 bedroom HMOs with all en suites. It may also include kitchenettes or second kitchens.

The frustrating part is that we have no recourse to challenge the surveyor, or find out why it doesn’t fit with that lender as quite often the lender themselves don’t know!

So what did we do differently? 

After a long chat with the client to find out what she was looking for, we decided to try a more specialised lender. The rates are slightly higher, but we have so much more control over the process. We can choose from some available surveyors and we can speak to the underwriters if there are any issues. This particular property had a great yield even as a single let, so I knew that if a lender saw this they would be fine – as long as I could have that conversation!

The client was so frustrated, worried that her bridge would run out without a solution and frantically trying to find a cash buyer in case we couldn’t find a solution.

We spoke about how much she had spent on the property and some comparables to see what we would be looking at for a value. She had over estimated her original value, and the broker had not given her the original bridge valuation which was frustrating. We got three valuation quotes, as we are able to with this lender, and the client made a decision as to who to go with. Again we talked about the options, our previous experiences with these valuers and the balance between cost and availability.

The application was submitted and we waited cautiously for the valuation. It came in higher than we expected, roughly the total cost of the purchase and cost of works which is what we would normally see for a hybrid valuation. I wasn’t really expecting to see a hybrid valuation given the comments around a lack of demand for HMO room rentals on the previous valuations, so that was a pleasant surprise!

The client was over the moon, she had invested so much time and money into this project. It meant she can not only keep the property,  but also pull some money out to move to another project. She was able to borrow 75% of the open market value.

The offer came through on Xmas Eve – we don’t often get tears over a formal offer, but it really made her Xmas.

The important phrase that we keep mentioning is The Route of Least Resistance.  Investors are not charities, so unnecessarily spending, particularly on small properties, is painful and difficult to recover.  Be realistic about your investment and try to steer away from only focussing on the annual rate.