News Column

G2: The rise of an empire How one couple built a pounds 100m rental property portfolio

July 9, 2014

Patrick Collinson



Normal people spend months agonising over the biggest purchase in their life - a house. But Fergus and Judith Wilson, the king and queen of buy-to-let, are not normal. In a few frenzied years up to 2007 they were buying a house almost every day, notching up nearly 1,000 properties around Ashford and Maidstone in Kent until the financial crisis turned off the tap of easy credit.

In the early 1990s they were maths teachers at a comprehensive in Blackheath, and the switch into property speculation happened almost by accident when a house down their road came up for auction. They bid pounds 98,000, rented it out, then used the equity from fast-rising house prices as the security to take on more and more loans.

It was an empire built on a new phenomenon in the late 1990s - the willingness of lenders to advance billions in buy-to-let loans - but it almost toppled when Wall Street giant Lehmans collapsed. Banks stopped lending almost overnight, and the Wilsons' property merry-go-round suddently started looking increasingly shaky. Houses once valued at pounds 180,000 at peak in 2007 fell to pounds 140,000 and below by 2009. An early attempt to sell the portfolio foundered, but the duo have been rescued by a recovery in prices and are now expected to pocket at least pounds 100m from the planned sale of their entire portfolio.

The tenants thrown out because they fell on to housing benefit won't shed tears at their departure. Through 2013, the Wilsons issued 200 eviction notices to individuals on housing benefit, prompting outrage and calls for reform of letting laws. But Fergus Wilson calls himself "marmite man" and doesn't care if you hate him. He says: "There are two kinds of Guardian readers. Those that agree with me and those that are wrong."

Patrick Collinson


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Source: Guardian (UK)


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