Yorkshire expert's advice on how to get started in the holiday letting business

Expert Beth Thornton reveals the best way to find, buy and run a holiday let

Beth's latest holiday let is Seapink Cottage in Whitby, which has a seaside theme

Chartered surveyor Beth Thornton didn’t plan to have a portfolio of top-end holiday lets, but after creating two successful AirBnB annexes in her garden five years ago, she spotted an opportunity she couldn’t resist. Beth, who runs Elysian Property, now has two luxury townhouses in York for let, a cottage in Robin Hood’s Bay, plus her latest acquisition – a fisherman’s cottage in Whitby, which she has just finished renovating.

Her surveying skills, which includes the ability to spot problems and potential, along with acute attention to detail and her friendly personality have helped the business to thrive. Her reputation now goes before her and after, advising friends on how to get started in the holiday letting business, she now offers consultancy services. “I’ve had a lot of people contact me over the last six months as there seems to be a great deal of interest in buying a holiday let as an investment opportunity,” she says. “I’ve also seen more people with money coming to the market looking in the £250,000 to £450,000 price bracket.”

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There is no doubt that the staycation boom has influenced this. Bookings for UK holidays have rocketed due to the pandemic.“Those thinking of investing also like the idea that they can stay in the holiday let themselves if they want to,” says Beth. “I did conventional buy-to-lets for years but after converting the annexes, I realised there was a lot of potential in letting property for short breaks and holidays as, if you get it right, it can be financially rewarding and enjoyable.”

The door of Seapink cottage is painted in an appropriate colour

She progressed to buying a five-bedroom York townhouse in desperate need of renovation and turned that into the City Escape, a luxury holiday rental, earning her Airbnb Superhost status. She did the same again with another York house before turning her attention to the Yorkshire coast.

“I still work as a surveyor but it’s probably five per cent of my time. The rest is spent on the holiday lets and my holiday letting consultancy and I really enjoy it. People often consult me when they have seen a place they might want to buy so I can advise on whether it would make a good holiday property. I’ll look at the location and can also tell them what they should be aiming for and what work needs doing to achieve that.”

Her tips for those thinking of investing in holiday property puts location at the top of the list as it needs to be spot on if you want to maximise the number of weeks a home is let.

Beth has only bought in prime hotspots where interest is high year after year and says: “York has a steady stream of visitors from the UK and abroad and, as for the coast, I went for Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby because while you pay more for the property the returns are greater and you get a lot of repeat business. I find guests rebook for the same weeks year after year. Another thing I look for is whether the property is within walking distance of amenities because now more than ever people like the idea of not having to drive everywhere.”

Seapink Cottage's kitchen

Renovation modernisation and stylish decoration are also top of her to-do list whenever she buys a place.“I actually prefer buying properties that need renovating because that allows me to re-do everything and make sure everything is right from the start. Everything should work and the decor should look good.”

Her newly-launched holiday cottage in Whitby, which she has renamed Seapink, is a good example of a fabulous makeover. It has four bedrooms and two bathrooms and the painting bill alone was £9,000. Beth also reinstated 17th century panelling. The property is now for let and is managed by Ingrid Flute, an agency that Beth recommends.

While she uses commercial suppliers for some of her furniture and accessories, she also likes to support local businesses and artists, which adds some character and her coastal homes have a beach/nautical theme. Extras are always appreciated and her lets have Smart TVs, Netflix,a DAB radio, fresh flowers, plus tea, coffee, milk, wine, biscuits and chocolates.

She self-manages her York properties and advertises them on AirBnB as they are within walking distance from where she lives. However, this is only an option if you have enough time to devote to it and are confident you can provide a great service. Otherwise, you need a great holiday letting agency. “I know from experience that not all the top-end holiday let agencies give a good service and some agents will oversell the rental return you are going to get so you do have to be careful who you use. If you don’t get it right, your business will fall apart very quickly. You might have to kiss a few frogs before you find the right agency,” says Beth.

One of the Whitby cottage's bedrooms

As for financial return, she advises would-be buyers that the gross to net profit differs wildly from a conventional rental home, though return is often greater. You have either council tax or business rates to pay, along with utility and wi-fi/telephone line bills and letting agency, cleaning and laundry fees.

Return on investment is between eight and 10 per cent per annum on average, while a conventional let is about six, say Which? But don’t forget tax.

“An accountant is useful for this,” says Beth, who has just put a deposit down on her next holiday let, a property that is being built on the Raithwaite estate, Sandsend. “That is next level luxury but going down the five star route has worked well for me and it means I have a business that is sustainable.”

*Beth Thornton charges £200 for a initial consultation on holiday letting. Her properties for holiday let include two large townhouses in central York, which she manages, and Primrose Cottage, in Robin Hood’s Bay, which has its own website, www.primrose cottage.org.uk and email [email protected], and her new let, Seapink, in Whitby. Email Beth at [email protected] or tel: 07900 497549.