Brett Fidge

Join me, Sean O’Neill, as I sit down with Brett Fidge to explore his compelling journey through significant personal and professional highs and lows. In this episode, Brett shares his story of facing substantial financial losses in property investments, the hard lessons learned, and how he transformed these setbacks into a successful career in the competitive property market. Discover the power of resilience, strategic thinking, and effective networking that helped Brett redefine his approach and achieve success.

Transcript - Mastering the Property Market with Brett Fidge

Brett Fidge: I ended up losing 72% of the money I put in. I was naive. I didn’t do my research. I didn’t know my market. I made a number of poor decisions.

Sean O’Neill: You were a great currency trader.

Brett Fidge: Yeah. Yeah. Maybe I should have gone into Forex.

Sean O’Neill: That’s a week later. I said, are you ready to go for a run again? He says, well.

Brett Fidge: Not really. I had no toenails, though.

Sean O’Neill: All your toenails had fallen off, like the amount of books. I said, I’m never buying another book. And then someone that I sit with have a good conversation and say, you must buy that book. And it’s like, oh, I’m on bang bought.

Brett Fidge: Yeah. I get down the theory of not reading two books. Don’t start another one till you finish one. I’ve got three on the go at the moment, though, because I’ve got an audio book on the go. I’ve got the daily stoic. Have you heard of that? So I read that every night before I go to bed. Just the one page, because it’s one page per day. And then I’m reading a hardback copy of a book specifically about growing estate agencies, which is a very practical book.

Sean O’Neill: When you talk about reading, I read recently about how kids don’t read anymore. And I’m thinking, okay, kids don’t read anymore, but, but do adults? It must be even at an all-time low from what?

Brett Fidge: So if they’re not reading, what? Well, they don’t. Computer games.

Sean O’Neill: They’re not reading anyways.

Brett Fidge: Yeah. Well, it’s not hard to believe.

Sean O’Neill: What are we doing?

Brett Fidge: It’s not hard to read it. It’s not hard to believe really, is it?

Sean O’Neill: No, it’s just endless content that we have to somehow muddle our way through and find out….

Brett Fidge: What you said before as well, like about. Keep adding to your list the, you know, as more of the information is coming out as well. So what you learned last year, is that really relevant to your life today?

Sean O’Neill: But you know what I find the most relevant, the things that’s impacted my life the most has been the stuff that I’ve been taught growing up.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: Your values, what the old people taught you.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: You know, the lessons, the very basics.

Brett Fidge: Yeah. Because what we, life is basic, isn’t it? That’s the point. Life is simple.

Sean O’Neill: If you think about. That’s exactly how we got together. Remember that we went to the, we first met, where we both had like a, this sort of dream of being public speakers or the ability to public speak. And remember that first night. And you says to me, I says to you, what are you doing? You says, I’m in the property. Got a property business. And I kinda. I remember walking in that day thinking, I’m not gonna meet anybody that’s, you know, that I’m gonna relate to in here. It’s just public speaking. And the next thing we got chatting, and I thought, actually, this guy knows his stuff.

Brett Fidge: That’s kind of you to say.

Sean O’Neill: And then, and then the next part of that story was when was a few days later, you give me a call. I think the best, the most beautiful part of our story of how we connected was. It wasn’t complicated, was it?

Brett Fidge: No.

Sean O’Neill: It was probably the most easiest.

Brett Fidge: Friendship.

Sean O’Neill: Easiest business deal we’ve ever done.

Brett Fidge: Yeah, it was very, very. Everything slotted into place very quickly. Yeah, I remember I was, because I’ve been going to toastmasters for a little bit. And then senior walk in, I was like, straight away, I was like, this guy’s not from around here. And whatever he does, he does it well, because you obviously had, like, an air of confidence, but genuine confidence. Because then when you stand up and do your introduction, I got a few businesses and property, and straight away I was like, oh, ding ding. I was like, yeah, let’s talk. So then after I was doing a speech about passion that night.

Sean O’Neill: Yeah. But, you know, genuinely, that night when I turned up, as you say, I usually walk into a room quite well dressed, always confident.

Brett Fidge: You were the best dressed that night, for sure, at Toastmasters.

Sean O’Neill: Then all of a sudden, when I went into the room and then they started asking me, are you willing to speak? Are you willing to get on stage? It’s as if the air started seeping out. And I remember sitting there thinking, f****** h***, I’m actually not that confident. Cause you jumped up. Other people jumped up. But ultimately, we were all sort of bluffing our confidence, weren’t we? Because by the time they called me, I definitely thought, I’m not gonna be able to hold this together. I have to stand up on stage in front of impromptu as well.

Brett Fidge: Yeah, yeah. That’s the hardest thing, being on the spot, not knowing what to say. When you’re prepared, you’re doing a prepared speech. It’s much, much easier. But I, yes, I did that speech about passion, finding passion and whatnot. And then, yeah, went straight over afterwards and said, what do you do? You’re in property, and you give me a business card for. I think it was the adore business card. Must have been. And he said something about having a plot of land in town, and we were looking for land, me and my previous partner at the time looking for land in town.

And so that was my — Initially, I was thinking, yeah, this guy’s got a plot of land I’m going to try and buy. That was my initial thought. And then I don’t know what your thought was, but. So, yeah, that’s why I reached out to you a couple days later. It was early in the morning, one morning, wasn’t it?

Sean O’Neill: Yeah. You sent me a text that I think it was half seven in the morning, saying, Sean, nice to meet you, nice, be good to hook up. And I saw it and I thought, well, let’s, like, seize the day. If anyone’s sending me a text, then automatic reaction to me is make a call. So I rang you at 25 to eight and said, all right, Brett. I said, well, you want to meet up? And you said, yeah. And I said, well, what are you doing now? And you said, right now I’m brushing my teeth.

So I says, well, what are you doing in an hour? And he says, yeah, yeah, I’ll come and see you. And within an hour, you were in my office. And I think the thing that really sort of connected us was we’re in the office and you could see you had all these ideas about business, where you want to go, land, property management, buying and selling, but you sort of came with looking a bit more guidance and advice than just doing the deal. What was really interesting was that although things weren’t going that well, you protected your staff, you protected your business partner. You sort of came with the most positive approach to being slightly confused on the way forward for the business. So we sat there for an hour, had a good conversation, and I told you what I thought your business was worth.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: And you had two choices…

Brett Fidge: Which I couldn’t see at the time.

Sean O’Neill: You either went and tell your business partner and, you know, take my advice and go with it, or the second one was within an hour, realized that you’re the type of guy I wanted on my team, and we’ll buy your business partner out.

Brett Fidge: Yeah. Ten weeks later.

Sean O’Neill: Ten weeks later, we done the deal.

Brett Fidge: Yeah. And what? I look back at it now as well. Like I was thinking, you only spoke to him once. We had lunch together and that was it. Everything. The deal we negotiated was not the most complex deal, but it wasn’t the most straightforward either, buying out a majority shareholder of a business.

But all the negotiation was done through me and not in a way that, like, I was having my hand forced in one way or another. It was like you were guiding and supporting me on understanding what I was working with and how and the way forward and giving me things to think about and kind of let me do the work.

So it was like you’re sort of putting up, like on a pinball. Not pinball, what’s it called? TempIn bowling. Put up the guardrails and just sort of point me in the right direction. And I was just bouncing my way down. And we ended up doing. Yeah, sign it. From the day — From the day we met to the day contract signed, it was ten weeks, wasn’t it? 10, 12 weeks something.

Sean O’Neill: It was quick anyway, but even within them, ten weeks.

Brett Fidge: But that was obviously meeting, getting to know each other, understanding you guys, understanding what the business was, us collectively placing a value on it and then negotiating that value with my then business partner, which obviously negotiations in themselves can take weeks. And then, yeah, signing contracts. And it was all done pretty quick.

Sean O’Neill: But I sort of reverse engineered it and thought, I know this business is worth a lot because I’ve got knowledge.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: But what you explained to me and how you explained it is I just knew you were someone that actually just needed guided.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: So there was. It wasn’t a business that was going to be mine. If we could structure this. Right? The negotiation process to the buyout was going to be the time that I was going to educate you.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: So it couldn’t have been me. And the value really in the business was how well we got on.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: You have to go by gut instinct.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: So we both must have had a gut instinct that this could work both from different periods of our life. You sounded like me ten years before, young, hungry, willing to do anything, optimistic, willing to take, you know, willing to take a gamble. So it kind of — we just. It just felt right and we went for it. But that ten weeks, like, we could have went in nine weeks and six days.

Ultimately, it wasn’t that on week one the deal was done or the intention was the deal was agreed subject to terms. There was a process we had to go through, and that’s what most, you know, most deals are like, that you can’t just. Anyone that shakes hands or agrees, it’s usually subject to terms, subject to due diligence, subject to what’s being declared, you know, being sort of looked into and verified.

But what was impressive about that whole process, and if I was to give anyone guidance or advice on finding your business partner, anytime I called you, you answered the phone. So communication. When I invited you to do something, you said yes, actually, that’s a funny story. We’ll have to touch base on that. And there was never a no. Everything was a yes. So I thought, well, this is, you know, in business partners, if there’s no obstacles and everything’s free flowing. Yeah.

Brett Fidge: If it’s too much work, it’s too much work.

Sean O’Neill: And then if it becomes difficult, there’s actually warning signs there. But how we actually bonded and got to know the nitty gritty of the deal was absolutely incredible. Do you remember that one?

Brett Fidge: The run?

Sean O’Neill: The run, yeah, yeah.

Brett Fidge: Well, yeah, obviously, I knew a little bit about you. Obviously. Had a few coffees and lunches and things here and there over there. So let’s say we’re talking about a ten week period. Yeah. It was probably four or five weeks into that ten week period where I never forget, I’m at my little home office in my house in Anfield, and it was a Sunday afternoon when I was doing something, working on my laptop, and get a phone call.

Sean. Yeah. What’s going on? Yeah. Do you want to run a marathon with us? I was there by far the most out of shape and unfit I’d been in ever half marathon. So I was like, okay, well, can’t say no, because no’s not part of the vocabulary.

So especially in something like this, it’s a challenge, isn’t it? So you have to do it. But I was just absolutely dreading it. My stomach saying, excuse me, my stomach sank because I just knew I was so unfit. I’d been working in the office. I grew up quite fit, and I always played lots of sports. But then at that point, I’d been sat in my office for nearly seven years without doing any sport, just working stupid hours at the office and not doing any sport or any physical work. And so I was dreading it. I was absolutely dreading it.

So the first thing I did when I got off the course. Oh, s***, now what? I kind of mapped it out. Okay, well, if the date is x, whatever. It was just kind of reverse engineered. I was like, okay, well, I would go and do one lap of Sefton Park this week, and then next week it’d be two laps and then three laps. And I’d worked out that if I build it up a lap per week, by the time the date of this half marathon, it’d be the equivalent of six laps. Sefton Park was the thing. And sure enough, we go down there, go down to Sefton Park that weekend, and then me and you just going for. I said, yeah, just to let you know, I’m doing one lap or.

Sean O’Neill: Yeah. I said, you might do two.

Brett Fidge: Yeah, might do two. Maybe push for two. Anyway, we were on the second lap, and you’re telling me stories about how you and Yuri met, and I was like, oh, this is. I need to hear this. So first lap goes. Second lap goes. And. Starting to get pretty sore. And then, yeah, by the third lap, I could feel blisters on my feet, like, kind of raising. And then.

Sean O’Neill: But this stage, we were halfway through the dealing on our rooms.

Brett Fidge: Yeah, we’re halfway through the negotiations. So I’m like, well, this is my new business plan. I can’t stop running. I can’t stop running. And I want to hear what you do.

Sean O’Neill: Maybe the deal’s over if you do.

Brett Fidge: Yeah, well, it would have been for me, let alone for us. And I was just like, you know, this just wasn’t an option. But then you’re saying at the same time that Yuri had just done the equivalent of the half marathon on the treadmill. So it’s like, well, there’s even more reason to. We can’t stop.

Sean O’Neill: It’s ahead of us.

Brett Fidge: Yeah. So anyway, long story short, yeah, we ended up losing track of the number of laps, but we ended up getting. Well, I’d lost track. We got up to. We ended up doing six laps. We ended up doing the equipment.

Sean O’Neill: We were on lap four. And we had that. Like we. And I said, you know, we’re actually quite close, near to the end here. If we only do one more lap, it’s a fifth lap, which means only a half left. I says, we can’t stop now. And you, by this stage, you’re like, yeah, okay. Yeah, you keep going.

Brett Fidge: I was struggling.

Sean O’Neill: I was struggling, so I just kept talking.

Brett Fidge: Yeah. And I was hearing all the stories about the businesses you guys had built. And that was our proper first chat, really, was when I really got to first hear who you were, what you’d done, and hear about how all your businesses came to be where they are. That was it. That was on that run. And it was painful, but it was enjoyable at the same time.

Sean O’Neill: You know, it was incredible the whole way through the process. I still have a selfie after we’re finished. We found out each other’s background. I want to go back on your background in a minute, because sometimes when, more often than not, when successful people and people that partner and do well together.

The backstory is misunderstood, but our story of how we got to, where we got to is so similar in every way. So we get to the end of it, we found out that we actually, we can talk for 2 hours together. Even being out of breath. That’s a week later. I said, are you ready to go for a run again?

Brett Fidge: Well, not really. I had no toenails left.

Sean O’Neill: All your toenails had fallen off.

Brett Fidge: I could feel it as well. Like, on the third lap, I could feel, like, my feet swelling up. I didn’t know what. I never had it, but it was. My toenails were like, so. Cause I was so unconditioned. I hadn’t run for seven years. So my toenails were like, that swollen that the toenails, like the blisters underneath, were like pushing up against the top of my shoes. And I was like, what the hell is that feeling? Like I’d never felt it. Yeah, sure enough, they all went black and fell off. I had no toenails left.

Sean O’Neill: So I remember the minute I heard that, I says to my business partner, I says, you know what? We’ve definitely got someone that’s willing to do whatever it takes to make a successful company. And that’s even a story that I tell today that, you know, what are you willing to do to prove yourself? What are you willing to endure to get to know your next business partner?

We’ve endless amount of stories since that, over this past five years, since then about how we’ve pushed through all types of what happened in 2020, 2021 was just incredible story of how we succeeded through managing properly through a time where the whole world was shut down. But take me back. It’s so important that, you know, I then found out about how previously investments went completely wrong and you lost all your money close to being bankrupt.

Brett Fidge: Where do I start? Well, I mean, I shall start….

Sean O’Neill: Well, I think it’s so important because what’s happened is a lot of people have come to Liverpool and made it to fall in love with the city. So many people I meet have a backstory of they’ve come here after failures in other countries and other cities.

Brett Fidge: Just go back to my first step out the gates was definitely learned a harsh lesson, let’s say. So it all started like, growing up, I was playing Aussie rules football and the idea was to play professionally. I never really committed myself, so that never worked out. And when I knew that that wasn’t working out, my plan was always to fall back and originally I thought build a construction company.

And my idea was at the time, I grew up in a small country town similar to yourself, but obviously in South Australia. And one of the things all the local builders were complaining about was never having work. So the idea I had was, well, I’m going to buy houses, and just my building company will build the house, like renovate the houses so they’ll always have work. That was one solution to the problem.

And I got the idea of buying houses from my dad’s, who he basically had a couple rental properties and lived on the rent money. I thought that was a great idea. So I had the idea as a kid that I was always going to be working in property. That was the plan. And I was no good at school.

So when I dropped out of school as early as I could, I was 16, I think, and started working in the mining industry. And I was earning a lot of money for it. Sorry. I did a carpentry apprenticeship first because I’m going into property.

So I did that, got signed off quickly, and then I think I was in the mining industry by the time I was about 19, earning at the time six figures as an 18, 19 year old, which is pretty decent going. And I was taking all that money and buying houses in South Carolina, in the US. And it was going well. I bought my first one. I went over there, bit of a kind of a business pleasure trip. Ended up having my 21st in Las Vegas with a couple mates. Had a mate who…

Sean O’Neill: You lose all your money?

Brett Fidge: Well, that wasn’t where I lost it, actually. I earned some in Las Vegas and I lost it in South Carolina. But basically, yeah, was buying, like, just little bungalows in. In a city called Spartanburg. And the first one went over there, renovated it. That went really well. Was rented out to a family. They’d been there for years, came back to the mines and, yeah, kept doing the same thing, saving up these big salaries and just dumping it into houses. And it was all going well for a few years.

And I remember I was in the mines one day, this is how sophisticated I am, and I’m drawing in the dirt. When I was on lunch break, I was just counting all the houses. And I’m like, okay, by the time I’m 30, I have all these houses, then I’ll be set. I’ll just retire. That was my big master plan. But obviously working in the mines is very, very remote and in all honesty, quite depressing.

So I was kind of torn between sticking to this master plan of buying these houses or wanted to go traveling, like, had friends that were traveling all over Europe and whatnot. So I was really torn and I basically forced myself to stay in the mines. Ended up having a motorbike accident, nearly ended up in a wheelchair, and that kind of flicked a switch. I was like, okay, well, life is too short. So I was coming out of the. I was coming out of the hospital in a wheelchair three days after the accident, pulled my phone out and just booked a one way flight to London and just never went back.

And then when I was traveling around Europe and just living it up for a little bit, it was good. The rent was coming in from all these different properties, and then all of a sudden, just overnight, it just stopped. And to cut a long story short, my manager in Spartanburg must have come into some sort of issue, because she started keeping my rent and it was happening to various investors.

So then the properties kind of were getting neglected, lost. I ended up losing 72% of the money I put in. Which, to put it into context, was 72% of all of my savings from the time I was about probably ten or twelve years old, because as a kid, I knew I was going to buy houses. So from ten or twelve years old to, I think, when I left, I was about 22. So ten years of childhood savings, 72% of it gone. And that was obviously a bitter pill to swallow.

Sean O’Neill: How did you get the 28 back?

Brett Fidge: Well, it would have been less than 28, but the reason why it was 28 was because at the time, when I was buying from Australia into the US, the dollar to the Australian dollar to the US dollar, the exchange rate was at the best that had ever been. So that was in my favorite. And then, on the flip side, when I finally sold them for whatever I could, I was living in the UK at the time.

So then the US dollar to the British pound was at the best that had ever been. So if not for those two strokes, like lucky strokes of fate, it probably would have been less than 28% I would have collected. So it would have been. I don’t know. Don’t even want to think.

Anyway, basically, down on my a*** and sort of starting from scratch again, took that tiny little pot that I had left and I was living in London at the time, and moved up to Liverpool because I wanted to — My idea was…

Sean O’Neill: Just before when that happened.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: Because I’ve got the similar story of I think I lost 150%, I lost everything and went into the minus. But then again, we’re still on the same path when that happened, me. And the question goes back to you. I made a list of all the reasons that that happened and when. I made a list of all the reasons how I ended up in such a mess, actually, close to bankruptcy because I had debts that were coming on top of me. All of the reasons led to me making poor decisions.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: Although I knew that I couldn’t make those decisions again if I was ever to get out of the hole I was in.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: Did you make any list or what were you thinking then? Because most people would have just gave up on property. Most people would just give up on, like, a lot of people, when they get bitten once like that, they think, this isn’t for me, I’ve had enough.

Brett Fidge: Funny enough. No, that never. I don’t know if I’m. I don’t know what that means, but that never crossed my mind. It never crossed my mind that I would give up. And I’m not saying that to try and sound like a hero, it’s just I always knew I was going to be in property, so I was like, well, okay, just lost all that. But I learned so much from it. I learned so much. I never actually wrote down a physical list of all the lessons I learned, but I could rattle off 20 of them right now.

And the main thing is I was naive. I didn’t do my research. I didn’t know my market. I was nowhere near as assertive as a person as I am today. I didn’t know how to manage people. I didn’t take responsibility. I made a number of poor decisions, one of which putting trust in people I hadn’t done due diligence on at the time I thought I did.

Sean O’Neill: You were a great currency trader.

Brett Fidge: Yeah. Yeah. Maybe I should have gone into Forex. I did do some due diligence, like, I did what I knew to do at the time, which was, mum, can you get your accountant to check that this company is legitimate? Yes, it is. That was the extent of it.

So, yeah, I mean, lost a whole bunch of money. It never actually crossed my mind that I was not going to continue in property and just took the money. And all the lessons that I had got out of that experience, brought them into Liverpool with the original plan of coming to Liverpool to build a buy to let portfolio. It’s just going to buy, do the same strategy, basically buy, run down family houses, renovate them, rent them out.

Sean O’Neill: That’s the key to this one. You managed your own assets this time.

Brett Fidge: That’s the thing. So I had done.

Sean O’Neill: From start to finish.

Brett Fidge: Precisely.

Sean O’Neill: You had your eyes on the ball.

Brett Fidge: Because I knew full well that you can have the best investment purchased at the best price on the best street. But if it’s not looked after, it’s not worth anything. That was the biggest lesson I learned. And hence that’s where the inspiration of building a property management company came from.

Sean O’Neill: This is the exact lesson I learned.

Brett Fidge: Because I didn’t trust anyone to — Well, I’d been burned so badly, so I wanted to control the whole supply chain. So from beginning to end, I wanted to have control and know what was happening with the management of my investments because I know I’m going to be in property for the rest of my life. I always knew that. So it made sense that I would build my empire from the ground up, which is a solid baseline of management, which is now well and truly done, which I was on my way to having done.

And then obviously I met you and then that’s just gone to whole new levels and in all different ways that I didn’t anticipate, but yeah, and then now I’m sort of stacking onto that little empire, let’s say. I don’t know why I did that, but, you know, because it is. It’s like a building block that it’s happening over time. So I learned where to from here.

So, yeah, I come to Liverpool originally thought to do family rentals. And then because I love network and it’s probably my greatest strength in business is network and building relationships and finding opportunities. I was out running around up and down the country and all around London. When I was living in London, I was going to all these networking events and just meeting everyone.

And then when it came to coming to Liverpool, I had this small pot of cash which I ended up burning through. And I was living on credit cards and I was living on the negative. I was in negative balance and that was character building. Let’s say stressful as hell, but we’ll call it character building. Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: So we are on the same page then.

Brett Fidge: Yeah. So I never forget the day I looked at all my balances and added up what was outstanding on the credit cards, which was paying the rent. And, yeah, it worked out. I was severely in the negative. Well, for me it was a few grand.

Sean O’Neill: I used to change the figures the bank, because I was so much in debt, the bank was actually asking me for a monthly recalculation and where I am, my balance sheet. So I used to type in what was probably the highest and lowest possibility because nobody knows. You just don’t know. A forced sale is different than being able to hold on.

So I just used to change the figures and the calculations before they’d ask me. And I just realized after about a year of doing this, it didn’t actually matter what my assets were worth, as long as I had enough income cash flow to get me out over of each month, well then all I need to do is make a little bit more and a little bit more and eventually if the assets some of my, and this is something I know we talked about and agree on, if we are never going to sell, then all you need to do is constantly generate income.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: The biggest, the common failure we had was the debt. The cash flow is in a minus, not in a positive.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: Okay. There’s other. How well you manage something, how well you, what price you buy, your assets return, there’s all amount of things, but your own personal asset, if they’re bought at the right price and you don’t have too much debt and you’ve got really good income, that is never a problem. The problem is whenever you’ve got too much debt and interest rates change.

Brett Fidge: I didn’t have, I didn’t have any commercial debt with the properties. I didn’t have any debt because I was earning such big salary in the mines, I was just paying cash. So that’s probably one thing that worked in my favor, I suppose, but then it was all my money that was lost. But then I was in consumer debt when I was living on the credit cards.

Sean O’Neill: So for the people at home, now you, we own a company called now Rooms, which has over 800 rooms in its portfolio.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: The biggest HMO business in Liverpool of its kind and growing.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: We both are proud of the attention and care that we look after our landlords, staff, the operations. How do you think we’ve managed that fine line of customer service in a service industry that property management doesn’t get maybe the best reviews at time? How do you think we’ve managed to keep such a great relationship with all our landlords?

Brett Fidge: Well, I finish off like the self, I’ll finish off. I didn’t finish my point before, but. So I was running up and down like the country, networking, and I needed some income to cover my bills. I didn’t want to burn through my cash, but I inevitably did. And everyone was tapping me on the shoulder saying, oh, I hear you’re managing HMO’s. And I was like, well, no, not really. I just took a couple on just to cover my own personal expense.

But then next thing you know, I’m doing all this network and I’m meeting people face to face and they’re giving me their keys. So I was like, well, there’s obviously a gap in the market here, so that’s when we looked into it and I ended up sitting at home checking all the agents in town and identifying that there was a need.

So then my life became finding landlords who needed help because they didn’t trust a high street agent, nor should they, because, no disrespect to high street agents, but they just don’t manage HMO’s and they’re not afraid to admit it, they just don’t. So we plugged the gap of managing by the room, managing to work in professionals and providing, just providing a very attentive service, that understanding the needs of the tenant is the big thing.

So, and obviously, if you understand the needs of the tenant, which, again, I kind of throw in the high street agents under the bus a little bit, but we’ve taken over a lot of stock from them and in most cases they actually phone us and say, come and take this office, because they don’t understand it, they don’t want to deal with it, they don’t really know anything about it, so they’ll end up. The big thing about managing…

Sean O’Neill: Room rentals.

Brett Fidge: Yeah, room rentals, yeah. So the concept is you have a three bedroom house that’s been stripped out and then redeveloped into five or six bedrooms. That’s the most typical model. And then in there you’ve got four, five, six people living together who are from all different backgrounds. They’re individual people, they’re not like students who come and grow, come and go as a group of friends.

Once a year they move in, they’re friends, they live together. The working professionals come from all over the place, so obviously you need to try and match people who are similar age groups, similar demographics, similar from walks of life and interests and things like that. And when you get that right, then obviously a lot of the rest takes care of itself.

So then if you don’t get that right, then obviously you’ve got turnover of tenants, you’ve got high maintenance expenditure, you’ve got just constant day to day issues, which then obviously goes back to the landlord. The landlord’s employing you to take away all the issue, to be the middleman, just like any other agent, and the landlord wants you to protect their asset, collect their rent and keep the tenants safe and healthy.

So if you’re looking after the dynamic of the tenants in the house and keeping that in harmony, then the landlord ultimately end up getting their rent on time and having their property looked after.

Sean O’Neill: So landlord doesn’t leave you and tenant doesn’t leave you.

Brett Fidge: Precisely. It’s a yin yang. You can’t have one without the other. And then obviously that kind of translates to the more you can get that right, which obviously, over years of practice and thousands and thousands of tenants, we know what dynamics work, what don’t, and then that gives us more time to better focus on more service for the landlord.

But the reality is most landlords don’t actually want to know, but they don’t want to hear from you. They just want to know that their property is safe. If they’ve got trust and faith in you and your agency, and they know that the property’s looked after and the tenants are safe and healthy and the rent’s collected and paid on time, they’re happy, we’re happy, tenants are happy.

Sean O’Neill: Remember when we, when we got together, we come up with a concept of just fix it?

Brett Fidge: Yeah. This was the first thing I learned working with you, actually. I remember previous sort of partnership. We were kind of, we were looking externally like, what do we want to achieve, what do we want to do, what deals do we want to do? And kind of neglecting what we had right in front of us. And that was the business.

So then when we started working together, the focus was on fixing every little thing about the business that we currently have and just growing it from the inside out. Not necessarily expanding, which inevitably happens when you fix, but just tinkering away and just fixing, refining, developing, improving. And then over time, we just kept fixing, fixing, and then it’s just gone like this.

And then things have added on and plugged in and now it’s just an ecosystem of all different products and services, things and businesses. But yeah, it’s very much like focusing on what you’ve got and fixing what you’ve got.

Sean O’Neill: If the tenant needs something fixed, normal agents have to. Normal tenants have to ask the agent. The agent has to then get permission with the landlord, the landlord has to approve. Awkward landlords sometimes don’t, and the process can last anything from two weeks to two months. So we sat down and I said to you, just fix it. And we looked at what would the problems be.

So if we just went and fixed everything, you might have an unhappy landlord that was unhappy that we repaired or fixed, but you’d have a very happy tenant because the tenant’s issue would be fixed within seconds. But also you’d save on admin.

But when we looked and explained to the landlord, this is the issue, it’s 5000 pound. Obviously we went into too much expenditure. You’d speak to the tenant and come back, but all of the, most of the tenant’s issues are small things that can be resolved. That isn’t worth wasting admin time, wasting tenant time. So we corrected and we fixed hundreds of small things.

Brett Fidge: Yeah, absolutely.

Sean O’Neill: 99% of the landlords were happy. If we had a landlord that wasn’t that happy, we just didn’t work with them anymore.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: But 100% of the tenants were happy.

Brett Fidge: Correct.

Sean O’Neill: So what happened was our retention just went through the roof.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: No voids, less empty rooms. Tenant turnover went from months into, you know, one point x years. So the tenant turnover doubled. Everybody was happy. And what we did is ten over reduced. So it probably doubled in the extension of time, tendency, length, double. But we just solved everyone’s problems. And what we did is we took responsibility and ownership of the situation. We didn’t say, oh, it’s attendant’s problem, or the landlord’s problem or admin problem. We just said, we’re going to fix all of your problems. And that was the game changer when we had that mentality that it was about finding solution, not going for all of these approvals.

Brett Fidge: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. I think there’s so many traditional. Fortunately, I’ve never worked in a traditional agency, but I can see how they operate and I’ve rented from them. And you are right, they follow a very rigid sort of. We can only do this. The landlord said no, blah, blah, blah. At the end of the day, look, these issues need to be sorted.

So, I mean, yeah, just to take it a step further, like, how many times have we given feedback to a landlord saying, you need to redecorate the bedroom because one, no one wants to rent it, it’s too scruffy as it is. It’s an older property, it’s tired. Whatever, you need to redecorate it and put in some new furniture, you’ll rent the room quicker and you’ll rent it at a higher rate. But the landlord’s based in Hong Kong or Australia or whatever.

And I know because I’ve been a landlord based abroad, and it’s like, well, you take in an agent’s word for it and even though you know them and you trust them, it’s like, oh, do I really want to spend a few hundred pound? Can’t they just rent? And as a landlord based on the other side of the world, you just kind of go to bed ignoring it, hoping that they were wrong and hoping that it will just fix itself. But it doesn’t just fix itself.

So what we do is we just paint the room ourselves and then we take. We say, I’ve said I’ve had this conversation many times. I say to the landlord, look, if you don’t, if you don’t like, if you’re not prepared to do it, I will do it. I will pay for the rent, I’ll pay for the painting, I’ll do it, I’ll just do it. And then we won’t charge it until we start collecting the extra rent. So we solved the problem.

Sean O’Neill: We also solved an admin problem.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: Because you didn’t have to get.

Brett Fidge: The money done quicker.

Sean O’Neill: Cash flow.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: Job done. Job done.

Brett Fidge: And then putting your money where your mouth is. I think that’s the thing.

Sean O’Neill: And then the yields go up for the landlord, the void periods go down, the landlord’s better off.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: We’ve got less hassle.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: For anyone wants to do that, good luck to them, because what you have to do is open work, a seven day a week operation. Answer the phone all the time, reply all the time, be there for the tenant. So you end up becoming like a cross between a hospitality sector and an agent sector.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: But it’s back to the willingness to just go above and beyond and always say yes.

Brett Fidge: Yeah. So for those who don’t know, a HMO stands for house of multiple occupation. So by definition it’s three or more people from two or more households and there is a bit of bad press about them. And you can see why, because like anything, it’s. If it’s not well managed and some of them are not, if they’re not well managed, then obviously it can cause issues. But the obvious thing is, let’s say, for example, in a really densely.

Sean O’Neill: It’s not just bad press in general, but being a landlord, or if you don’t manage.

Brett Fidge: Yeah. Well, I mean, to a degree. But I think the reason why HMO’s are kind of liable for extra scrutiny, I suppose, is because you’re increasing the number of people in the house and subsequently, if you’ve got multiple HMO’s, the street. So, you know, parking can be an issue if you’ve got too many people living on one street, and the waste disposal can be an issue. But also if your tenants are disrespectful, then they can be disrespectful to the neighbors and littering and things like that. I’m always in that….

Sean O’Neill: Volume really.

Brett Fidge: Yeah, it’s volume. Yeah, I think so. And then. And the quality and how the world they’re looked after. Like, I’ve been into some HMO’s where they’re just not safe, like, they’re just not safe. Like a HMO has much more extra fire safety regulations than just a family house. So you gotta have fire doors and alarm systems and emergency lights and all that sort of thing. And they have to be adequate, functionable and serviceable, you know, doors and systems and whatnot. And some of them just are not. So. Yeah, I guess for that reason, councils kind of are cautious about. Well, no, they’re not cautious like, they’re. They’re in our lives, like it’s part of. And the thing in the UK is obviously the population.

Sean O’Neill: The rules and regulations are there, aren’t they?

Brett Fidge: They’re all there. Yeah, yeah, they’re all there. But it’s such a. It’s an affordable living solution. So, for example, our rooms on average are roughly 500 pounds, give or take. That’s a very general number across the city, but that’s including all the bills. So for a tenant who’s moving into the city, they don’t know anyone. They don’t want to go through the hassle of setting up all their utility bills and they can’t afford to rent an apartment, which is 650.

Sean O’Neill: Or a house.

Brett Fidge: Or a house, 600 and 5850, plus all the bills. They move into an HMO and they’ve got 500 pounds, all in, all inclusive. They walk in with their suitcase and they just start cooking on the first night because all the pots and pans are in the cupboards. And then also they’ve got three or four, five, six friends who are all like-minded because we only put like-minded people together.

And then they’ve all of a sudden got like a network of friends, which in fact, actually kind of to go off track a little bit. This is one of the biggest things as to why they move into these houses, professionals, anyway, is because it’s the social element. So me and a couple guys from the office took a whole bunch of our tenants out for lunch one day and we just wanted to get feedback.

We found out that price was not the most determining factor, why they choose a particular room, the area wasn’t the most determining factor, it was who they’re living with. That was what it was. They wanted to live. It was the social element, because most of them are moving to the city or they’re moving out of student halls and they don’t know anyone. Their student friends have moved away or they’ve gone back home, wherever that is. So they’re in the city and they want social life. So that’s the biggest part of it.

So I think, yes, they do get a bit of a bad rap here and there. Some of it is justified, a lot of it is just the press being the press, but there is regulations around controlling the numbers of them. And I think. Yeah, I mean, the council. The council, I don’t really want to speak too much about the Liverpool city council, but I think they’re quite good to deal with in terms of getting things done. But in terms of their view on policies, I can’t really comment.

But in terms of like, yeah, in terms of getting things done, they’re quite reasonable. I know some councils are not particularly easy to deal with when it comes to HMO’s, but we have had a regulation, legislation change in 2021 which basically restricts your ability to be able to just convert houses into HMO’s. You used to be able to just take a house and convert it into an HMO, whereas now you can’t just do that. You have to go through planning and it’s a bit more of a longer window process and it’s much harder to get. So basically, the long story short is the amount of HMO’s in Liverpool is not likely to drastically change up or down.

Sean O’Neill: Is that because of restrictions?

Brett Fidge: Yeah, because they….

Sean O’Neill: What about supply and demand?

Brett Fidge: Well, the demand is going up because the supplies stand more or less the same, but the demand for the rooms, for students and working professionals. So we cover both markets. The demand for both of them is going up.

So because you can’t create any more HMO’s, but the demand’s going up, obviously, the rent inevitably is going up. So the only ones who are losing out really is the tenants who are having to pay the higher rent. But then I guess the local neighbors are probably glad that there’s not more being created.

Sean O’Neill: We’ve distinguished how great managing agents we are, but also not to forget that we’re both entrepreneurs, we’re always looking for new angles. And recently we started a new venture called Asset Brokers and we talked about how seamlessly our friendship and business relationship has gone. But the next business is absolutely a phenomenal story of how. I think we’ll go into it now, but I think we did the deal, we agreed the deal on the first day and asset brokers was alive and trading within about four weeks…

Brett Fidge: Something like that. Well, I mean, you incorporate the company and we were off, basically.

Sean O’Neill: Yeah. So I guess the point of this story, anybody wants to get the point. The point to this story is, again, if you’ve got someone who you connect with, say the right things, hasn’t got too many demands, just once an opportunity and you go with your gut. It doesn’t always work. But yet again, you made the right decision calling me and you read.

Brett Fidge: I didn’t just call you, I said, cool, what are you doing on Friday? Clear your schedule, which I’ve never done before.

Sean O’Neill: So that was actually the only time. You’ve always sent a nice request. So tell everyone about asset brokers and how it came about.

Brett Fidge: The message wasn’t quite like that, was it? But yeah. So basically, to quote the phrase you said earlier, seize the day is something obviously you do very well when your gut tells you to. So basically, the asset brokers came about because I had a longer standing relationship with our MD, Lindsay. Lindsay was working for a HMO sales agency a number of years ago and we used to sort of collaborate quite a bit.

So I’d pass her buyers and properties and vice versa, and she’d pass me property to manage and so forth. She ended up selling some of our HMO’s and our clients HMO’s. But how it really came about, how I really, really got to know her was we had converted a hotel. It was the biggest HMO conversion we’d done at the time. And the sale price was about 650 grand. And my day to day investors were not looking for anything at that level. So I was trying to sell it, trying to sell it for a few weeks and I just wasn’t getting bites.

So I brought in the big guns, Lindsay. And basically she got the deal, agreed with the buyer. Don’t quote me on the timeframe, but it wasn’t long. We’re talking like a few weeks. She found a buyer and. But what struck me was I’d be driving around Liverpool, viewing properties, meeting landlords, whatever it might be. And just as I’m thinking, I wonder where the sale’s up to call her ID. Lindsey. Yep. Just to let you know, the sale’s here, it’s doing this, we’re doing that.

And every time, before I even pick up the phone, she’s phoning me to tell me where things are up to communication. And I’d never, ever had that from an agent, ever. Whether you’re buying or selling, you’re always chasing the agent, you’re chasing the solicitor, you’re chasing the surveyor. But no, Lindsay’s coming to me before I could even pick up the phone. So that really stood out.

And then, yeah, to cut a long story short, I knew she was due to some sort of personal, unfortunate and sudden personal an issue. She was just temporarily out of work. So I reached out to her and just to touch base, because we were. I always wanted a solid sales solution to support my landlords at now rooms. I was always helping, I was doing sales behind the scenes, selling off market and things like that.

But all my landlords needed a buying and selling solution, inevitably, because at any point in time they’re probably likely to buy something else or sell one of their properties. So I always had a bit of a gap that I was trying to plug and I was trying to do it myself, but I needed to put something more solid in place. So that’s why the solution about Lindsay.

So I reached out to see if she just wanted to help with some sales progression. Long story short, we had a good catch up. We’ve always had a really good relationship, me and Lindsay. So I said, look, I tell you what, come to Liverpool, meet my business partners. And I wasn’t actually trying to force anything, I didn’t even think of anything at the time. I just said, look, just come to Liverpool, meet them, they get to know you, you get to know them.

And then sort of, I was thinking, bring her into the fold in one way or another and she can just sort of start working with us and it’d be good for her. It’d be good for us. Cause she was itching to get going. She’d had time off, she needed the time off, but she was ready to get back in and dive in. So I think I phoned you up and said, look, it was a Tuesday or a Wednesday.

Sean O’Neill: We need to meet This girl and we need to meet her this weekend.

Brett Fidge: I said, she’s coming to live. What are you doing Friday? I need you to clear your schedule. You need to meet this girl, which I’ve never done before. Like, I’ll never just tell you to clear your schedule, but I did because I knew what was on the table. Lindsay comes to town and the way she describes it, it was like Liverpool’s version of Dragons Den. I didn’t quite see it like that, but I suppose it was because everyone was just basically quizzing her.

Sean O’Neill: Yeah. Lindsay comes in, sits down.

Brett Fidge: So she comes. Yeah, well, she comes in. You might need to take over here because my recollection is she comes in.

Sean O’Neill: Just in case you don’t do it justice.

Brett Fidge: Yeah, you go ahead.

Sean O’Neill: She comes in, she sits down, bubbly, smiley, and just tells, tell, tells us about her history and what she can do and what pipeline she has. And I’m used to people coming to me and telling me how they’re worth, you know, their idea is worth this and their network is worth this, and they’re just worth always adding a few zeros on what they believe they’re worth.

She came in telling us about all these opportunities she’s got and not saying about anything that she’s worth. And I says to her, well, what would you like to achieve out of this conversation? And she just said, an opportunity like a job. And so I says, well, if you wanted a job, how would it look? And she says, well, I’ll bring the clients, I’ll do the negotiating, I’ve got the pipeline, I’ll bring the money, and I’ll bring. She listed just listing all these things that she’d bring to the table.

And I says, what do you need us to bring? And she says, well, I don’t really know. I just need you maybe to support me. I’m a little bit nervous. So I said, it doesn’t sound like a job, does it? Sounds like, you know. So I says, what would you like? And she says, I don’t know. I remember thinking, if there’s somebody standing in front of me now that’s going to actually bring everything that you need for a successful business. And she’s completely open to suggestions. That’s definitely someone that hasn’t got, you know, someone that’s definitely a team member and not somebody that, you know, overvalues herself.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: So we sat there and I says to her, you got a deal. And she’s like, what’s the deal? I says, you’re not working for us. You’re a business partner. And then I said to you, as long as Brett’s okay with this, I reckon we’ll just be equal business partners. We’ll fund you, we’ll get you going, we’ll support you. And if you can deliver everything you say, this could be one of the greatest finds in a long time of a business partner, someone of a business partner, someone we can rely on, someone that is a true partner.

And that’s a story that we can go on to another time. But what has come out of that has been absolutely phenomenal. The success story between asset brokers in the first year is something that you could write a book on, something you could teach people. And that’s down to teamwork, loyalty, looking after your clients, just doing the right thing with passion, but looking after your clients, making sure that from A to Z, everything’s looked after and nobody has to chase you.

But so there’s so many businesses now we are involved in, in Liverpool, I’m an adopted Scouser. You’re an adopted Scouser. For me, there’s just something about the city and the people that I’ve met and we’ve met along the way that has just attracted us here. And I think we’re going to be here for a long time.

Brett Fidge: Yeah, well, I was here for two years. It’s coming on. Well, it’s been eight now, so. And I’m not leaving anytime soon. So I say. I mean, Liverpool pride, it’s. It is a real thing. I’m always saying it, and especially. Yeah, I mean, you can’t. It’s a very hard city. Like, there’s. There’s no. No people on the planet prouder than Scousers of their city. And you kind of, I remember thinking there is something different about the pride of the people, about their own city. They live in the greatest city on Earth. They all say it, and then you realize, like, you kind of do, because if everyone believes it, well, then, who’s to say?

Sean O’Neill: Well, it must be true.

Brett Fidge: Exactly. So I was like, you know what? There’s merit to that. And then I. And then we were sitting down one night with, with Dave and he said about the documentary two tribes. So I went and watched that. And that kind of put into perspective a bit about the history. I kind of. I knew a little bit about the history, bits and pieces of the history of Liverpool over the years.

But that documentary really kind of summarized for me, like, kind of all the ups and downs the city’s been through. And it just goes to show that is really why there is so much character here, you know, character and the culture is so strong. And how I landed on Liverpool was partly that, but mainly property.

So when I was living in London, I did research. I wanted to build a cash flow and portfolio. I was looking to build a yielding, high yielding portfolio. So I was like, well, it’s not London, it’s got to be up north. So I did research on Hull, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. And out of all of them, Liverpool was by far the strongest. Well, it ticked all the boxes and it stood out as being by far the strongest city. Because the property market was strong, the future economic growth looked very promising, and the culture was not so much about the others, but the culture and the, you know, it was just so strong.

So it was a bit of a no brainer, really. So, talking about seas in the day, I came up from London, I had no intentions of moving here. I came up from London one weekend up to Liverpool, viewed half a dozen properties, went back to London and decided to move to Liverpool. The next time I came up to Liverpool, I was looking for apartments to move into. I found one, and then a month later, I was up here, living here, said goodbye to all my friends and whatnot in London.

And that was in 2000, very end of 2015. My plan was I’d be in Liverpool. I take this pot of cash from America, and I’m going to go around, I’ll meet all the estate agents and the builders in town, I’ll get to know the market, and I’m going to build up some buy to let you know, some residential properties.

Eight years later, I’m not leaving one because the city is so exciting, the property market is so exciting. Obviously, the relationship we’ve been building and the businesses we’ve got going on. You know what I mean? And you’re right, I think so many people, a lot of our tenants are the same. They can’t leave. You move into Liverpool and you kind of just. You stay. Like most people who move here, they stay, and I can see why. Like, it’s got a lot to offer. Yeah, it’s got a lot to offer.

Yeah. Especially the restaurants. Like, every day there’s a new restaurant popping up. We live in town, obviously, right near each other, so within walking distances, there’s restaurants everywhere. So if you like eating out and.

Sean O’Neill: You know, well, you’re never lonely if you walk down Liverpool. I struggle to get down Bold street without someone saying hello. So I am cautious. Now, if I tell someone, I’ll be ten minutes, I always put the condition that I may be stopped on the way through towns to have a conversation with somebody.

Brett Fidge: Yeah.

Sean O’Neill: Yeah. I think. And that passion about, you know, we’ve got a passion about life. The people of Liverpool are very similar to us. We’ve got a passion about Liverpool and we’ve got a passion about our businesses. And I think that collective, whatever the economic forecast is, whatever other people think about the city or the country or the world we live in now, the common thing we have is that we just see the opportunity that’s here and we don’t see the other things we don’t see.

Okay. We’re not living in a bubble. We do know there is challenges out there, but we just see that so much opportunity exists that, for me, it trumps any negativity that may exist.

Brett Fidge: Yeah, yeah. The optimism for the future in Liverpool is quite high. Everyone knows that as a city, we’re moving in the right direction and where everything’s leveling up constantly. So, yeah, I think that enthusiasm and that morale is high and it’s contagious, and it’s good to be a part of it.