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Exclusive Interview with Douglas Haig, Vice Chairman of the RLA

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douglas-haig-rla-13-febVice Chairman of Residential Landlords Association (RLA), Douglas Haig, talks to Business News Wales about the property industry in Wales, predictions for the future of the industry and the effects of Brexit.

Can you give our readers a little background into yourself and your role within the Residential Landlords Association?

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) is a professional body that represents over 40,000 landlord in England and Wales to local and national government putting forwards the interests of landlords.  We also provide a range of services including a legal advice line to help all landlords and make sure they are compliant.  I am their Vice-Chairman and Director for Wales.  I started in property when I was 21 raising money from friends to buy my first property.  I built the portfolio up from there until I set up my own property management and maintenance company.  My work with policy in Wales was noticed by the RLA and that’s when they asked me to join their board.

What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?

There are very significant challenges for the private rented sector (PRS) over the next few years.  Mortgage Interest Relief changes probably being the most significant one to affect landlords making renting property unprofitable for many, risking their savings and pension plan for them and their family.  This is compounded by many changes the Welsh Government is making in areas like Rent Smart Wales, a new housing act called the Renting Homes Act as well as possibly banning agency fees, increased property licensing and the introduction of the Immigration Act in Wales.  All will put pressure on the affordability of housing and push rents up, but will it be enough to make it worthwhile for many landlords to continue in the sector?  It is unlikely.

The RLA is there to support and continue to represent landlords to Welsh and UK Government and minimise the impact of these changes whilst continuing to improve the sector.  Only with the support and membership of landlords can we do this successfully.

Looking back at your career, are there things you would have done differently? 

Absolutely.  I have truly made some silly mistakes.  A common one has been taking people at face value.  I invest a lot in people and trust that they will deliver and return this investment over time.  This doesn’t necessarily pan out always, but sometimes it really does and that does make it worthwhile.  There are also a lot of people out there with ill intentions from the start.  The property industry has some very interesting individuals operating in it!  I probably would have also focused on one part of the business more before expanding into other areas.

What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?

Drive, ambition and a love for what you do.  It’s never going to be easy, you have to have this inner desire to keep pushing on and belief that you can do it.  I don’t know where it comes from it me but certainly (most) days I really look forward to getting into the office and working with my team.

What are your top three tips for success?

Be focused on one thing – Something I never do.

Become an expert – Be the go to person and establish your credibility.

Understand your pricing – It’s so easy to undersell your time and services, if you have done the first two right then people will understand you’re delivering value.

Are there any innovations within your sector that you believe should be adopted by the wider Welsh market?

It already has, arguably things like Rightmove and Zoopla were some of the primordial examples of uniting industries into one stop shops which are now shown through things like Just Eat and Uber.

Do you foresee any issues that Welsh business will be facing in the short/medium/long term?

It’s got to be Brexit as the number one issue.  However I’m also concerned at the increased devolution and the impact this is having.  It’s positive in some ways, but ultimately in others it begins to segregate Wales from the rest of the UK.  For instance, is Wales a big enough market place to have property lawyers that specialise in what is becoming unique to Wales?  We will continue to attract enough talent to service it well enough?  It depends how different we begin to make it, so I think Welsh Government needs to keep this in mind.

Do you have any predictions in regards to the impact of Brexit on your sector?

Immigration is a big driver for rented housing.  Whilst Wales does not have the highest level of immigration it is still significant, especially when we look at those coming to study here as well.  A bigger impact on the sector will come through the ultimate impact on the finance sector.  If this becomes restricted it will have a significant long term impact on the housing market both for all tenures.

What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to do business?

One of the strengths of doing business in Wales is that you can get to who you need to get to reasonably easily.  Politicians are more accessible and those higher up in business are more accessible.  Unfortunately people don’t want to pay for quality products and quality service as much in Wales as elsewhere in the UK.

What can Wales do to attract more inward investment?

Wales has a fantastic graduate skills base.  It attracts a huge number of good quality individuals to its universities and especially in Cardiff and Swansea, they tend to stay.  Welsh Government needs to show big business elsewhere in the country and further afield that they can hire some great people in Wales and should consider basing more of their operations here.

What skills should the education system be promoting to the next generation?

Whilst I think the graduate system in Wales is excellent I am concerned about the quality of teaching within schools.  As an employer I do find that basic skills are not being taught anywhere near as well as they should be.  The biggest changes that are needed are around trades.  We need to get over the drive to get everyone into university and say that it’s a great thing to be a quality plumber, electrician, carpenter or roofer.  We need to make sure these qualifications are seen as equivalent to other higher education and quite frankly get back to how trades used to be taught.

How important is it for there to be a close relationship between business and higher education in Wales?

Hugely.  It should be a lot more closely tied.  We have begun working with organisations like T2 and Coleg Y Cymoedd, the first to help upskill our current staff and the second to bring on what have turned out to be some amazing apprentices.  I would love to work with education organisations to say what we have noted that we would like to see our staff supported with and even better would be to develop vocational training directly tailored to the industry.  If businesses could do this on a regular basis you would see cost reductions and a hugely improved level of service as your time to train individuals reduces incredibly.  Wales has a good base of educational establishments and it would be fantastic to see engagement with business being a WG priority over the next few years.