Living rent-free in Belgravia


I now live rent- free in Belgravia.

It is a temporary arrangement while we are buying a new home.

It is quite a wonderful life, living in Zone one – Central London. Also, living among upper middle-class took some getting used to – it’s just a little different.

Walking distance to Hyde Park, Soho, Battersea Park – it is quite an adventure just living in a different part of London. Eight years ago, we (my husband and I) did someone a good turn, and he is now returning the favour.

How we came about living here? We sold our flat in Deptford (London zone 2); we decided it would be a cleaner transaction to sell to be in a stronger position to buy. We found we weren’t being taken too seriously as buyers, with a flat on the market, even with a buyer for our flat in sight, so we took the plunge – put our stuff in storage and moved out. It worked, and we got bumped to the top of the list when we liked a flat on the basis that we were 'highly proceed-able' buyers.

We lived almost mortgage-free in our old flat. It was a modest two bedroom, ex-council flat; and I was very proud of it. We bought it in March 2009 when banks weren’t lending readily in the Uk, due to the housing crisis. We had to put down a 25% deposit, which back then was quite a stretch. As the deposit mainly came from my savings, my husband decided to pay off the mortgage, as his contribution with early repayments. Caveat: this isn't what I'd necessarily recommend as there are better places to stow your cash, especially when interest rates are so low.

Towards the end, our monthly mortgage was £86 per month & we owed less than £20,000 on it when we moved out. Having a small mortgage was quite thrilling! I will miss that little mortgage payment. Living in London means one spends an extraordinary amount of income through rent or mortgage payments; so, we were incredibly grateful, albeit we chose to live in humbler digs.

The flexibility with our disposable income meant that we could travel a lot. I could start my own business without worrying about a mortgage, we could invest quite a bit each month & give money to charity.

I thought I would miss my old home or all my stuff in storage like my Vitamix and books. Strangely I don’t. Human's are remarkably adaptable, I guess. It’s a better deal, living rent-free in Belgravia & feels like a mini-London vacation. Though they say, fish & friends smell after three days; we are looking to exchange on our new home soon, we are mindful of not overstaying our welcome. And then back to normalcy with a normal-ish sized mortgage again – sigh!

As Londoners (& this is true of other areas too), we spend a considerable portion of our earnings on mortgage payments or rent. However, is this at the expense of other lifetime plans such as funding a pension or for some, having greater freedom? It’s a tough balancing act.

A week in the life of an IFA in London

A week in the life of an IFA in London

In this blog focusing on my work week, I hope to give you a perspective on an Independent Financial Adviser’s (IFA) work life; it also helps me reflect on the quality of my work week.

Diary of IFA in London

Monday is unusually manic and I felt good about a very productive start to my week. I use a software called Rescuetime which also confirms with hard data that I am productive, which leaves me feeling great (when I am). I posted a blog about dark clouds over buy-to-let properties this morning - was partially prompted by a conversation with a client who  asked if I could write to him summarising everything I shared with him on this topic in our meeting, as he found it it useful. Blog posted, I also had lunch with a client whose investments I am managing; I am quite a foodie and she trusts my choice. She was pleased with her Vietnamese salad and more importantly the performance of her portfolio.

Tuesday is a 'working from home' day as my office in the city is being used for film making all day. I catch up on some research and thinking time - looking at a buy-to-let mortgage for a client ironically after writing my blog earlier. However, the property is already rented out and so I have no zealous 'anti buy-to-let' pitch to make here. I did talk him out of buying a second property a few weeks ago and he really liked the logic and rationale I presented. The client has 2 young children and no life insurance and also needs to invest some money. I want to help protect his family - he does too ofcourse and so I emailed quotes across for life insurance as well as pertinent information relating to investing in ISA's. Also, a pension for his wife who runs a limited company and has no pension arrangements.

Wednesday and Thursday are a productive (seems to be my favourite word) blur of meetings. I like structuring my work week so my meetings are more or less clumped together. I really enjoy being in an introspective space when I want to do meaningful thinking work and so I keep research days meeting free where possible. I do however like the social side of my work -  both meetings with clients and ocassionally colleagues. It is only the second of December, yet it seems very 'Christmasy' everywhere. My colleagues and I headed out to a spontaneous lunch together; I walked past a grinning, young man dressed as Santa at lunch time and the local Slug & Lettuce in the City was absolutely packed out. There was a lovely warm buzz in the air which I thoroughly enjoyed whilst sipping my lemonade at the bar.

Friday is focused on preparing for client meetings and a workshop. I have an ethical portfolio to construct for a client who has inherited a generous sum of money from his grandmother; this is satisfying work and I have my headphones on so I avoid conversations and distractions until I finish. I had a meeting with a client post lunch who fired her last advisor as she didn't feel he really cared or collaborated with her. When I first met her, she did not understand what she was investing in. Friday was our third meeting and she feels a lot more comfortable with pensions terminology, words like drawdown and annuity are making sense. She also understands the funds she is invested in and the rationale behind the asset allocation of her portfolio.  I felt satisfied after the meeting as I really enjoy partnering with clients to empower them to get more comfortable around their money decisions and investments.

I also conducted an informal workshop after work at 6.30 pm at my office which was an inspiring, fun and a different way to spend a Friday evening! I had two friends in the audience of ten people including my best friend who is a Psychotherapist - I was a tad nervous but excited to talk about an area that I am so passionate about! The topic was 'Financial Integrity and Money' and relates to being more conscious with money. It was a great experience for me and from the feedback I received, also the participants. There were some great discussions around our thinking, programming, culturally absorbed biases and deeper values around money.

Hope you enjoyed reading my diary of an IFA in London; please sign up to my newsletter if you want more.

Diary of an IFA in London

In my diary of an IFA in London series, I write about my work week. While it gives you a perspective on an Independent Financial Adviser's (IFA) work life, it also creates some food for thought for myself while reflecting on my work week.

Being self-employed is enjoyable however I have to stay very conscious of my time and that is why I like to plan my week ahead. An important task each evening for me is to list down my ‘to-do’ things for the next day. It is like a ritual for me and I enjoy using a real ink pen for it. Helps me focus. When I think about what Brian Tracey says about “eating frogs” – tackling the biggest tasks of the day – and I follow it to the core, it makes me feel quite productive. This productive high lends energy to the rest of my day.

Monday is a relatively light day - just two meetings today. One of them is an annual review with a client who is dealing with major changes in her life. We talk about her investments and using her new ISA allowance by selling some of her existing non-ISA investments and moving it across. We also talk about her looking into buying another property in the UK. I believe that we’re in a property bubble presently and she might be better off waiting; especially since she already has a residential property and also a buy-to-let. Another property purchase now will leave her wealth pie quite exposed to one asset class – UK residential property. She is very open in listening to my views – the trust and honesty we have built over the number of years we have known each other is certainly a big help. I follow up our discussion with an email with a link to which has data on housing prices which clearly, and graphically, supports my opinion.

Summer is usually a time for a flurry of enquiries. However, August is unusually quiet. Don’t get me wrong – I am enjoying the small list of ‘to-do’s and being on top of things.

Tuesday is focused on flexible access drawdown research. My client does not have much choice with his provider as it is not an independent provider so he came to speak to me. Flexible access drawdown allows you to withdraw retirement income as and when you like while keeping your remaining pension savings invested. I enjoy the process of research and picking funds. The multiple steps to the research give a fine sense of accomplishment especially when it benefits the client. The client self manages his ISA account at the moment so he has some good inputs with funds that he enjoys investing in, and I take it into account in my research. Rest of the day flies away quickly with admin work.

Wednesday and Thursday are focused on presenting a recommendation to a client for an income portfolio and then setting it all up. The client likes the funds I have picked and the overall yield for the portfolio. I have focused on funds with potential of good capital growth. I have really enjoyed working with his client as we share some similar values. He is looking to cut back on work hours to spend more time with his family and also develop a second income by following his passion.

I see a general shift in culture where many individuals are looking to cut back on unnecessary expenses and corresponding working hours to do more activities that are life enriching or spending more time with family. A great blog on becoming minimalist that I follow, if you are interested. Also,if you are interested in being more conscious with money, you may enjoy reading my blog on it.

Friday is saw-sharpening day! You have to love Stephen Covey. I read his book in my early twenties and boy, am I glad to have read it early! Speaking of reading, I have been putting off studying for my IMC (Investment Management Certificate from the CFA) certification for months now. The tedious studying is necessary for my role, though, so I dust off my book, and make a study time table. It’s now or never!  Since my work is heavily focused on investments and pensions, it’s a great certification for me to get.

Post this renewed enthusiasm for study and now, a time-table to back it, I review my own investments, update my expense spreadsheets (hope you have one), and am pleased to have cut-back on my Amazon shopping (books!!!) quite a bit.

A cutback on book buying does not have to mean cutting back on reading. My visit to the British Library today is focused on reading books on the ‘psychology of money’. The librarian always surprises me with a huge stack of books he’s held up for me and I am glad for my speed reading skills.

Saturday morning begins with a Skype call at 10 with a lovely couple who want financial planning help – mainly retirement and savings, but we discuss life cover as well. They have a little baby, but an evening appointment (which I usually offer when there are young children) was not possible for them. They did not have any life insurance other than death-in-service so we talked about that being the foundation. I had several questions for them about their future – especially around retirement – and that gave them a lot of food for thought.

From there, I move to my Saturday ritual of spending time with my weekend FT along with a cup of “chai” and then I’m off to enjoy weekend festivities.

Diary of an IFA in London

In my diary of an IFA in London series, I write about my work week.

I know its going to be a good day when I don't check my emails first thing. I get my cup of tea in bed, made by my beloved husband who leaves home early and read the previous day's Financial Times in bed. I like to spring out of bed feeling excited about getting my goals accomplished - like I imagine Tony Robbins (US based life coach) does-on a good day. Today feels like an excellent day.

I usually clear my email inbox as part of my Sunday night ritual - I go through all my emails for the week, replying to anyone I haven't already, filing everything neatly into folders. It helps me feel ready for the work flow of Monday.

Mondays are a day reserved for admin so I avoid client meetings on this day. Monday mornings, I look at my list of activities for the day and tackle the biggest,baddest frog first. Frog, you ask? You  know, Bryan Tracy talks about your “frog” being your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it. So, I get down to business - scratching items off my list as I go  along. I have 3 pieces of research that I need to finish - a large mortgage, a pension transfer with a portfolio with passive funds and a new pension for the director of a limited company. Nice and varied. The mortgage is going to take longest as I have to contact several different providers to scout for the best deal for my client.

Tuesday is focused on getting the best rates for this large  mortgage deal. My client is buying a home in Central London at a pretty price. I have rung around all the banks (that offer big mortgages) high value teams, then the private banks and a couple of the private banks are extremely keen to get this business. The credit teams at these banks tend to be cautious and want to see all paperwork beforehand...but I am organised and armed with everything they need. This work has taken all my focus today with various phone calls between me, the client and the bank offering the most competitive rate. I have politely declined meeting offers from the other provider wanting to pitch for the business; no point wasting their time at this stage.

Wednesday is focused on getting the private banker all the information he needs and the process is on its way, I  can now relax about this piece of work. They have met; the banker now knows the client is not a figment of my imagination. Lunch is with a client who I have been talking to for a while about transferring his pension across. We have known each other for years; the meeting is friendly and we are both quite engaged with each other, flitting from business to banter and back to business. Even though the trust levels are high, he asks me some tough questions and I answer, thoroughly convinced that my proposed solution is worth it. He likes the portfolio I have constructed with the least expensive passive funds in the market, he likes low costs, I give him a bunch of paperwork to read before he signs it after going through the mandatory bits with him and we set up a meeting for the following week.

 Thursday is busy, busy, busy. I have 2 client meetings in Canary Wharf followed by a third in sunny Shepherd's Bush. I agreed to visit my client in Shepherd's Bush as she has young children to pick up from school- its also not a long journey on the tube; I  enjoy reading my kindle on the tube, decompressing from meetings if you will. I don't own a car, I am a Londoner and public transport rocks. I am also frugal and cars are an unnecessary expense for me. The meeting goes well - the client asks a lot of questions, takes careful notes and we agree to meet again in a couple of weeks.

Friday requires me to be a human courier and rush some urgent documents from my client to the banker. A bike courier would normally do but having been scarred with documents being misplaced within departments in a large organisation before, I rush to do it myself. I have a few client phone calls, meetings to book for the following week, paperwork to print for next weeks client review meetings and then after that...its Friday fun. I meet a friend for lunch  - hey! I am self employed and choose my working hours... Lunch over, I head over to research ethical funds at the British Library. I love the library, I have a reader pass and spend many an afternoon speed reading through books and feeling inspired about a new blog post. By 6 pm, I return my books to the librarian and exit the British Library feeling good about a productive week and look forward to a relaxing weekend.