“Just rent it out and travel for a year!”
If you’re planning to travel the world long-term and you own a home with a mortgage, the obvious idea is to rent your home out while you’re overseas. This means your mortgage is hopefully covered (you may even be lucky and earn extra on the side), your property will be looked after, and then your home is there waiting for you when you return.
But is it really that straightforward?
No. Not at all. And I’m going to jump to the end of our story and tell you that we will never rent our home out to travel ever again.
Now there are people who have had good experiences renting their home when travelling. However, I’ve come to realise that there’s an equal balance of people who have had bad experiences.
This post isn’t to tell you not to rent your home, but I want to provide food for thought for anyone considering it as an option. Long term travel provides enormous benefits to families and the risk may be worth taking. Plus, it may be the only way that families can afford to travel long term.
I want you to take the risk with your eyes wide open and prepared if you do rent your home to travel.
Why we rented our home
Back in 2018, Jay was working as a software engineer, and an opportunity arose to move to Bangalore, India. Despite having kids aged 1 and 3 years old, we jumped at the chance. This was just the sort of adventure we love!
We didn’t think twice about renting our home in Kent out. It was a small, Grade 2 listed cottage and we loved the thought of another family living in it and looking after it while we were overseas.
Through a local agent we found a family wanting to rent our home; the mum was a teacher and they sounded perfect!
So we signed the relevant forms, handed over the keys relieved that we were breaking even on our mortgage repayments, and boarded a flight to India.
Two years later we returned to the UK and decided to move to the Peak District. We continued to rent out our Kent home until 2023 when we made the the decision to sell (buy-to-let rates had increased so much that we would be losing money renting it out).
Yes, we rented the property for 7 years, even though we had bad experiences along the way. More on that later.
It soon went wrong
A couple of months into our new life in India and the tenant had found us on Instagram and was sending us incoherent messages at 4am UK time on a school night asking to get out of the tenancy and that she never agreed to fund our ‘holiday in India’. The property was managed by an agent at the time.
This was just the start of a 7-year string of various dramas from 4 different tenancies that got increasingly worse.
One tenant left our lovely home in such an awful state that the carpet company refused to allow their staff in to remove the carpet for health reasons, and a cleaner had to scrub ingrained dog turd from our kitchen parquet floor. We spent £4k fixing the property up and had to fight to get the deposit back, which barely covered our expenses.
The most recent tenancy upset us the most. One half of the couple was someone that we’d known for years. Surely this tenancy would work out? Unfortunately not.
They also left the property in a really bad state. It was disgusting. We suggested to the tenants that we split the deposit 50/50 (even though two of us spent 7, 12 hours days fixing up the property) and that’s when they got very nasty. Long story short, we returned the full deposit to them as it was all too upsetting and we wanted to move on with our lives.
There are so many more stories to tell over our time renting this place, but I don’t want this to be a pity post. I just want to share our learnings with other families who may be considering renting their home.
As I’ve already stated, renting your home out isn’t straightforward.
Things to consider when renting your home
So if you are thinking about renting out your home to travel, here are some things to consider:
1. Don’t think of it as your home, you need to detach yourself
People who rent our properties for a living look for houses (ideally apartments) that are new and easy to maintain. This is a business for them.
But renting out your home out is different. It comes with a lot of emotional baggage.
Our home in Kent is a character cottage built in 1750 (expensive to maintain and not a property a professional landlord would have on their books). It was the first home we bought when our boys were born and totally impractical for babies and toddlers, but it was love at first site. We moved into it straight from the hospital after Arthur (our eldest) was born. I hand-painted a tree on the nursery wall, sewed cushions and curtains for most rooms, and we redecorated it as our family home with love and care. We were very emotionally attached to this property.
You need to detach yourself from these emotions when you rent your home out and come to terms that it’s no longer your home, it will be someone else’s home. Get your business head on.
2. Consider the extra costs and hassle
There are a lot of hidden costs to consider with renting your home out to travel.
Firstly, landlords are advised to clear the property of all their furniture and belongings. It’s just stuff that could get damaged and you need a fire safety certificate for most things. Allocate time to put everything into storage so that your home is an empty shell and budget for monthly storage costs.
Landlords are also required to provide at cost:
- Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR)
- Landlord Gas Safety Certificate (plus all gas appliances need to be serviced annually)
- EPC (Electrical Performance Certificate).
You also need specific Landlord Insurance, and need to contact your Bank to inform them you are renting (they may increase your rate).
3. An agent isn’t always the best way to manage a property
We started out by using an agent to manage our property. We thought this was the best way to make sure we were getting everything right and they could manage problems as and when they arose. We paid about £100 per month for this service.
However, what actually happened was that for every minor occurrence they called someone over an hour away to check the problem and quote, before actually fixing the problem. So a leaky tap would cost us over £100 before the problem was even fixed.
When our agents missed that the tenants and completely broken the bannister (it was very obvious), which meant we couldn’t claim any of the deposit to pay the £300 to fix it, we realised that we could probably manage the property better ourselves.
This isn’t to say that all agents are bad. If you do use an agent, just do better research than we did to find a decent one.
4. Have a list of reliable handypeople
We have always found it really difficult to find reliable tradespeople who will get the job done and who don’t whack on a little extra when they find out that you’re a landlord. So when we do find them, we cling onto them.
Things will go wrong with the property and your tenants will notify you at the most inconvenient times (especially if you’re travelling on the other side of the world). We found out about a broken boiler just as we were leaving Heathrow for our four months overlanding Africa.
You need to make sure that you have the right people at hand to do the job. If you are using an agent, make sure that they are using local, reliable people (and check additional fees).
5. Have someone you trust to check in on the property
It’s so difficult when you’re on the other side of the world to get the right information about what’s going on. You need someone who really knows your house, not an agent who had a brief look around before you handed the keys over.
You know who knew our Kent home inside out? My parents. Thankfully they only live 40 minutes away and could check in for us. Thanks Mum and Dad!
6. Put money aside for maintenance
Things will go wrong. If you can, put 10% aside for maintenance costs each month.
If you don’t have the extra cash after paying the mortgage, just ensure you have a pot somewhere to dip into. You will need it.
7. Always get a check-in and check-out report
This is a professional report where the condition of absolutely everything in your home is officially reported in a document. You need this at the start and end of every tenancy for claiming any deposit.
Even if your tenants are friends and you trust them, get the check-in and check-out report done. And yes, there is an additional cost to this (about £150 per report).
We didn’t get a check-out report for the last tenancy as one of them is a cleaner and we thought we had a good relationship with them. We just presumed that they would leave the property in a good condition. More fool us! They left the property in an appalling state and we had no chance of claiming any of the deposit as we didn’t have a check-out report.
8. Don’t expect to be able to claim any of the deposit
Landlords have very little protection and the tenants are more often than not favoured. It’s just how it is.
If you do manage to claim any of the deposit, treat it as a bonus!
9. Have at least £2k put aside to fix up the property after a tenancy
Don’t expect your home to look like it did when you left it. This has been someone else’s home in your absence and there have been wine spillages, family photos hung to walls, and splashed spaghetti on the kitchen tiles. This is all understandable.
However, from our experience, carpets and walls are likely to be damaged and will need replacing. Just bear this in mind.
10. Travel changes you and you may not even return
When you first leave your home to travel there will be watery eyes as your mind flicks through all the memories of this place. But you are on to a new adventure and travel changes you.
After our year living in India, we spent four months overlanding Africa. We then decided to return to the UK, but no longer had a pull to live in Kent. It was the Peak District where we wanted to live.
It’s difficult to imagine how you will be as a family from the start to end of a big adventure, but I can guarantee you will all change and there’s a possibility that the home you left may not be the home you want to return to.
Would we rent our Kent home out again knowing what we know now?
At that point in time, we had to rent out our home to move to India. We couldn’t have afforded it otherwise.
India was an incredible adventure and formed who we are as a family. I’m not sure this blog would be as big as it is if we’d not moved to India, and this blog now forms a huge part of our family business.
So even though renting brought us a lot of tears and headaches, if we could roll back time, we would definitely rent it out again.
Perhaps we should have sold it sooner? Perhaps, but when we moved back to the UK we changed our mortgage to a buy-to-let and were making money on it each month. Enough to ease the headaches and tears.
But if we weren’t making money on it, which is now with the dramatic change in buy-to-let mortgages, it’s time to sell.
Would we really never rent again?
Never say never, they say.
If we were in a difficult financial position, yes, I suppose we would take the risk and rent out our home again.
But the stress and heartache involved is a reason that we’ll avoid it for as long as we can and why we won’t be renting our current home out when we move to Penang.
What about Airbnb or home exchanges?
We used Airbnb a lot when we travel, especially around Southeast Asia. They can be excellent value for money for families, and provide space to spread out.
However, Airbnb is a much higher turnover of guests and local friends in the know tell us that the financial returns are not what they used to be.
Maybe one day we’ll look at lending our home to strangers again, but we’ve been bitten hard and for us, it’s not something we want to explore at the moment; same goes for housesitting.
Final thoughts on renting your home to travel
Four bad tenancies out of four is a pretty bad run. But so many people have messaged me to say that they’ve had similar experiences. And I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve shared my story with another landlord for them to say that they’ve decided to sell up too.
There’s a rental crisis in the UK currently. Rental rates are through the roof and there just aren’t enough homes for people. But sadly we’ve been bitten too hard and too many times that we don’t think we’d ever rent our home out again if we can afford not to.
For those that are considering it, do know that there are landlords out there who have had a good experience. If renting your home out is what’s needed for a family adventure to happen, then do it. Just be prepared and keep your eyes wide open.
You may also like to read:
Unpaid Parental Leave: taking leave from work to travel with your kids
Family travel on a budget: how to travel cheap with kids in tow
10 benefits of family travel and why it’s important