The other day I got a letter through the door from a chap who said he was currently sunning himself on a Caribbean island. He was able to do this, he went on, because his business was making £50,000 per month on autopilot. Good for him, I say, although I fear that he's struggling to allow himself to sit back and enjoy the fruits of his success: not only is he spending his holiday writing to a total stranger, but at the end of the letter he invited me to pay £27 to spend the day with him to learn how he did it.
This particular letter wasn't about property, but this type of messaging is typical of what's used to snare wannabe property investors: message from a very successful man (almost always a man) posing with his (leased) Ferrari, encouragement to come to a reasonably priced day to learn the secrets…then inevitably an upsell to a frighteningly expensive “intensive” or “bootcamp” or “inner circle” where the *real* secrets will be revealed.
It's easy to make fun of this kind of thing (which is why I've done it), but in principle it's always a good idea to learn from others who are few steps ahead on the road we want to travel. So are training courses worthwhile for property investors?
I'm asked all the time, and the answer isn't entirely straightforward.
It's all too easy to tar all property education with the “normally valued at £3,000 but only £97 if you buy in the next 10 minutes” brush, but we should really make a distinction between generic property education and specific property education.
Generic education isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's this type that can easily turn out to be more about marketing than property. For the most part, the content is more about selling the dream than offering specifics: they're pitching property, but it could just as easily be day trading or multi-level marketing or timeshares. There will be a genuine educational component, but normally no more than you can learn for free at Property Hub University or for a few pounds by reading a book.
Warning signs include free or cheap tickets, frequent references to expensive cars and holidays, and defensive reactions to probing questions along the lines of “that question reveals that you don't have the mindset to be rich yet”.
By all means go along and take what you can away from it, but leave your credit card at home.
Specific education, when offered by someone who genuinely knows their stuff, can be a lot more valuable. At its best, it's a chance to learn about an aspect of property from someone who's been in the trenches using it — and it's easy to see how for an investment of a few hundred pounds, you could save thousands or cut years off your learning curve.
This type of training can be related to a niche strategy like rent-to-rent, expert-level content relating to finance or taxation, or a particular type of investment such as HMOs or the LHA market.
A common objection is, “If they're doing so well, why aren't they just doing it instead of teaching it?” Of course, sometimes these suspicions are justified — but often, the people offering these courses enjoy sharing their knowledge and have the opportunity to make £5,000 per day by teaching it. Profitable portfolio or not, wouldn't you offer a course in those circumstances?
In addition to checking out the credentials of the instructor, the other thing to bear in mind is whether you're realistically going to put your new knowledge into action. For example, the sales pitch for the rent-to-rent course might seduce you with the numbers you can achieve with little cash input, but do you have the time to pursue it right now? And does it fit in with your long-term strategy?
How to choose a course
When you're ready to invest in a particular type of property education, there will probably be a few competing providers. At this point, choosing one is much like doing your due diligence on anything else:
- Have they done it? I could read a few books on golf and maybe help you with your swing if you were a complete beginner, but you'd still rather learn from Rory McIlroy.
- Are they still doing it? The rules have changed since 2007-2008, and continue to change all the time – so you want to make sure that the details of what they're teaching still work today.
- What do other people say about them? Many course providers have visibility on property forums, so you might be able to ask others what they think of them. Good teachers will also be willing to give you the contact details of former students.
- What success are past students having? No teacher can have a 100% success record – some people just won't take action. But you'll want to see some evidence that people have moved forward as a result of the training.
- Do you click with them? Anyone will be happy to talk to you on the phone before you commit, so you can get a feel for how clearly they communicate and whether you like them – it's subjective, but important.
Whatever you do…
If you're new to property, I recommend you commit not to spend any serious money on training for the next six months. Use that time to work through the vast amounts of free and inexpensive information that's out there, and you'll be in a far better position to decide what – if any – training you need to pay the bigger bucks for.
Ultimately, a lot of it comes down to your learning style and how much time you have to invest: you'll always be able to piece together information yourself or find people who are willing to share their knowledge for free (property investors are a surprisingly generous lot), but not everyone has the time or inclination to do so.
Good training is valuable, but nothing is more valuable than action — and that's something only you can control. However you choose to learn, make sure you consistently apply that knowledge…and maybe it'll be you writing to me from a Caribbean island in a few years' time.