The pandemic disrupted the education of thousands of pupils. Ben Criddle’s grades dropped, ruling out university as an option. Instead, he got a job at Iceland supermarket and trained to be a property investor on Samuel Leeds’ academy. The 20-year-old now makes an average profit of around £3,000 a month, using the rent-to-rent strategy and joint ventures.
‘My business is turning over £16-18k a month’
Ben speaks and acts like the confident property entrepreneur that he has become, despite his young age.
His reason for being drawn to the rent-to rent strategy is that he can control property without owning it, he says.
“It gives you a lot of power not having to put down £50,000 to £100,000 for a deposit, depending on where you are in the country, but still getting the profits as a normal homeowner would.”
He adds: “If you’re not confident in your business, why would anybody else be?”
Ben has had to pull himself out of a hole and being self-assured has been crucial to his success.
“I did my A-levels during Covid, and it was awful. It was hard on the teachers because they couldn’t teach properly but I was just not clicking with college any more. My grades dropped,” Ben recalls.
By then, he was already looking into trading and investing, and came across Samuel Leeds’ videos about property investing on YouTube.
“I watched enough videos to decide that was the best route for me.”
Ben was keen to be trained properly on Samuel Leeds Academy. “I wanted to stay in education and keep on learning because learning is one of the most important things in life. I had some money already and I thought I’d just go for it.”
His parents, who he still lives with, and friends were initially sceptical. “People thought it was a bit weird. But in a way I don’t blame them because you’re scared of what you don’t know, and they just didn’t know what I was doing.
“It was seen more as a hobby rather than a business which is understandable because it’s not serious till it gets serious.
“It’s serious now. In Cambridge I’ve got three apartments, two studios and one two-bed. The two-bed I’ve just got. It’s got a hot tub and an arcade machine. It’s all about the USP. I’ve just got a 21-night booking for it.
The day after it went live, I got two bookings which totalled £6,000. Right now, the business is turning over £16,000-£18,000 (the average monthly amount). I’m profiting just under £3,000.”
‘Everyone laughed when I asked how to find property deals’
Ben was 19 and still employed by Iceland when he started on the academy. He quit when he got his second rent-to-rent deal on an HMO.
“I didn’t enjoy my job. It was probably more the environment than anything because I wasn’t surrounded by people who were on the same path.”
Social media is a good way of breaking into that environment for anyone who has no experience of business, Ben believes.
“I always say the first education you should do for business is YouTube university. There’s so much content on there.”
The entrepreneur also recommends messaging people on Instagram. “I get quite a lot of DMs from property people and non-property people talking about business and I’m always happy to help them.
“It’s very important to talk to people on Instagram and like all their pictures, and stories because I recognise people who are constantly liking my stuff. If I meet them in person, I’ll go and chat to them. I’ll be much happier to give them my value and time.”
Networking events provide the opportunity to meet like-minded people and potential investors. The first such event Ben took part in was an online Property Investors Network meeting.
Ben was the youngest participant at 18 and showed his inexperience. “I said I want to get into property, and I remember asking, so how do I find property deals? They were really supportive, but everyone just started laughing because that’s the obvious question.”
He likens a networking event to an in-person supermarket because deal sourcers, management companies and people with money will be there.
“If you talk to the right people, you can get everything you need.”
Ben progressed from asking ‘silly questions’ to becoming a professional property investor by making his mistakes on the academy.
He admits one of his first calls to a landlord in front of the Property Investors’ founder at the rent-to-rent training programme was bad.
“When I rang the landlord, it was something along the lines of I’ve got an interesting proposition for you.”
It got him nowhere, but Ben learnt from it when he made the call that landed him his first deal on a studio apartment.
“One thing I made sure to do was not sound like a salesperson. Selling is in the words but it’s also in the tone and how you present yourself.”
Through the SpareRoom website, Ben contacted a landlord who had used a rent-to-rent operator in the past, liked Ben’s ‘spiel’ and agreed to rent his flat to his company.
The young businessman pays a monthly rent to a property owner and then rents it out for a higher amount, either for short stays or room by room in an HMO.
In many cases, landlords don’t want to go to the trouble of letting the property themselves.
“Quite a lot of landlords I encounter are older, especially in Cambridge. They bought it decades ago, held on to it and it’s now quadrupled in value. They just can’t be bothered.”
Ben points out that it is also cheaper for them to take on someone like him to manage their asset. His rent-to-rent company covers up to £200 of any maintenance work required in a month.
“If this happens with an agent, you’d also have all the fees on top of that, so lots of added up expenses. For landlords it’s easy.”
The same landlord handed Ben another property for him to control. Trust is a key component in the transaction.
“Trust is important because a property is generally speaking a person’s biggest asset, and they want it in good hands.
“You’ve also got to present yourself well. Don’t give them reasons to be sceptical. If you’re coming in like, ‘Hi, my name’s Ben. I’m actually 18 by the way but I would like to rent your property,’ you’ve got no chance because you’re giving them opportunities to be against you.”
He says the secret lies in being confident, knowing your subject and avoiding stuttering.
“That takes time, but if you can do that, they’re not going to think you’re any different to any other professional in the property industry.
“The only time I’ve been asked my age is when I’ve initially brought it up. After that you’ve got to know your business and what you’re providing. I know I can look after my landlords’ properties and my guests. That’s a good enough reason for them to invest in my business.”
One of the ‘big drivers’ for Ben to enrol on the Property Investors Academy was the fact that it gave him access to a large network of people. He also enjoyed the atmosphere and the ‘shut up and do it’ instruction from Samuel Leeds to his students.
“I loved it because I’ve played rugby a lot of my life and I’m used to competition.”
‘Within eight hours I had £75,000’
Ben has upped his activity on social media which is helping him to raise joint venture finance. He put one post up asking for JV partners willing to invest at least £15,000 which instantly reaped a result.
“I had five people message back. Within about eight hours I had £75,000. That’s hopefully going to go towards a luxury SA.”
He is coy about the specifics because the contract has not been signed yet but says it can sleep a lot of people, while also offering space indoors and outdoors for corporate events. There will also be a games room with arcade machines, a TV and a PlayStation.
He bases his Instagram strategy on the three principles of being ‘known, liked and trusted.’
“Everything I put out has to fall into those three categories or it’s pointless,” he explains.
“Being known is the consistency of being on somebody’s phone. I have to post x times a week otherwise people are going to forget about me.
“Being trusted is giving people as much value as I can. I do informative videos. I’ll explain the deals and say how people can do this better.
“To be liked you’ve got to be relatable which is why the way I come across on social media is just me. I’m not putting on a front.”
Cambridge is his main patch. So far, Ben has invested more than £12,000 of his own money into his rent-to-rents, including his latest serviced accommodation property in the city. He also has deals in Plymouth and Coventry which are joint ventures with the same investors.
His tactic moving forward is to ‘joint venture everything.’ “I want to have my personal safety pot, so I’m not being financially stupid. Because of social media I’ve got a decent pool of JVs I can go to. My landlord has also seen what I’ve done, and wants to make more money.”
One major setback Ben had was losing an SA deal on an apartment in Liverpool which he had obtained with a JV partner. The other flats in the block were renting out for £1,000 a night in the run-up to the Eurovision contest.
“We bought the deal, and I went to set it up. But it was all very rushed. We woke up at eight and went to bed at three every night just getting it done. I made the mistake of not reading through the contract properly.
“I painted the walls, put wallpaper up. I drilled into the walls, and I also put a lock box on the outside of the building. But this was a block of flats. You can’t do that. They just weren’t having it. So, I got kicked out of the flat.”
Ben was keen to protect his reputation, while at the same time ensuring his investor got back his money.
“It was about £8,000 which for most people is a lot of money. I made sure to pay him back every penny.”
The entrepreneur is a member of the Property Investors Mediation Service (PIMS) for property professionals working in rent-to-rents, deal sourcing and joint ventures.
“A lot of the business I do is with academy members especially looking for deals. So, if anything goes wrong, I’ve got that support which is good.”
When working with a JV partner on a deal, he has three agreements in place to regulate it. One is with his company Spinning Property Solutions and the landlord. The other two are with the partner and includes a loan agreement.
“The money has got to be passed over somehow. That’s the best way in my opinion to do that safely and securely.”
On the Accelerated Coaching Performance programme, Samuel and his advisers ripped apart his business as they examined every detail of it.
“Some people might not like that, but you need to be able to take criticism to grow. I thought being in the hot seat and being rinsed by multi-millionaires was awesome.”
- Talk to everyone. Networking is so important whether it’s for learning, raising finance or getting the deals.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You learn from them.
- Some people are worried to do business because they’re worried about failing. You only fail when you stop.
Samuel Leeds Verdict
“If you know what you’re doing, you’re professional, you add value and you’ve got the right network and support, like Ben has, then it doesn’t matter what age you are.”