There are many reasons for wanting to learn a new skill in construction trades – a new career? A spot of DIY? But how about landlord property maintenance?   

Continuing our Student Story series, we catch up with Suzanne Smith who recently completed a plumbing course and a tiling course at Able Skills. 

Suzanne is a self-managing landlord who selflessly shares advice from her own property letting experience on her blog, The Independant Landlord. She also co-hosts a podcast called Good Landlording where she shares practical advice for fellow landlords.

In this interview, we find out why Suzanne wanted to learn plumbing and tiling, how she found the training experience at Able Skills and what she plans to do with her newly learned skills.  

Interview with Suzanne Smith aka The Independent Landlord  

We begin the interview by asking Suzanne to tell us about her career journey to landlord, blogger and podcaster.  

I was a corporate lawyer for 25 years. I retired in my early 50s because I was ready to do something new. I wanted to have an income after I retired and so I started buying buy-to-lets in 2019. I just did it gradually and then because I was learning a lot as I was doing it, I thought I’d set up an Instagram account to explain what I was doing. 

I did use a letting agent to find tenants to begin with, but they were useless! And then I took it over myself in 2022, and started the blog the same year. My whole blog is about empowering landlords to do it themselves and saying: Actually, it's not that difficult!

What prompted you to start The Independent Landlord blog? 

I got a lot of questions in my Instagram DMs, so I thought, why don't I set up a blog and I can just write about them. It's grown and now I'm one of the biggest landlord blogs around, certainly one of the biggest independent ones.

So, the blog started off the back of your own journey and the things you worked out along the way about managing your own properties. What’s the blog about now? 

It's a free resource for landlords. I want to help landlords be good landlords. I'm very much trying to improve the private rented sector so that landlords are good landlords, and they look after their tenants.  

My children are both renters and I see the world through their eyes, and I want to help landlords do the right thing. Because a lot of them don't really understand the obligations as landlords, they go to letting agencies, I presume, because it just feels too much.

Can you give us an example of the blog topics that you cover on The Independent Landlord?  

When the Renters Reform Bill was going through Parliament, I was writing a lot about that. And now, with the election, I literally published this morning about Labour, what their policies are. 

I want people to be able to rely on what I say because I'm not trying to sell anything and although I'm a lawyer, it's not legalistic, I'm objective.

You mentioned that you recently started a podcast, what topics do you discuss in your weekly episodes?  

This week’s covers tips to help landlords self-manage their buy to let. There's so much scare mongering from letting agents about how difficult it is to manage your own properties, but it is actually fairly straightforward to do it yourself.

That podcast episode talks about learning basic skills so that landlords can take on more of their own property maintenance tasks. That brings us nicely on to how Suzanne found herself enrolling on courses at Able Skills.  

The first course that you did was the Introduction to Plumbing. What made you decide to do that? 

I had a lovely long-term tenant who had a tap that was leaking. I got a plumber in eventually, and they fixed it, did whatever you do to fix a tap. And then it started leaking again. And then it took three weeks for the plumbers to come back to replace the tap.  

It went on for very long time and it cost a fortune. And I was moaning about it to my husband. And he said, "Well, why don't you learn how to do it yourself?"

What other tasks did you have in mind that you wanted to be able to do yourself? 

I wanted to be able to change taps, do silicone, unclog a trap under the sink and when the flushing mechanism in the loo needs changing, do that. 

I don't think I'm personally going to be plumbing a bathroom myself or doing soldering, but it's really good to understand it. I think we can be bamboozled when we're hiring people. It means that if I ever have a big bit of work done, I will say to them, put in an isolation valve underneath every tap and don't use flexies, do proper copper. Some of the stuff I'll be able to do myself and other stuff I will be able to instruct a qualified plumber to do it properly.

Next up, you did the tiling course. What was your motivation for doing that? 

I have some tenants that are going to be moving out some time soon and the tiling needs replacing in the kitchen – that was my objective, to be able to re-tile the kitchen. It's just a small splash back. It's not just a cost thing, it's just trying to find somebody to do it. On the day they move out, the next day I want to be able to go in and do it. The last time I renovated a property the tiling was the last thing to happen, two or three weeks after everything else because that's when I could get them in.  

I now know how to take out the grouting and how to regrout and how to replace the silicone. I want it to be lovely and clean when people move in and not all grotty. It's just one of my things that I do, like making sure the oven's clean.

How did you find the courses at Able Skills? Can you tell us about your first day and the rest of the week? 

I got there, it's a bit like, you know, first day in your school. There were no women at all, and I was a bit apprehensive. But I went in, it was quite laddy and everything, but it didn't bother me. They were all very nice and quite protective! Sometimes when I wasn't strong enough to do something they'd come over and help me, but not in a kind of patronising, mansplaining way. 

There was another woman in the tiling course, apparently there are more women who do tiling than plumbing.

Is there anything that particularly stood out that made the learning experience positive? 

What I like about the courses is in the first hour, you were doing something. It's not just lectures, you're bending pipe straight away. 

The instructors are so patient. I would ask them the same questions time and time again – it was anything to do with angles, for the tiling and the plumbing. It's complicated with tiles when you're trying to cut in around an object and how to measure that accurately, there's a secret to it.

What’s the biggest thing you’ll take away from having done the two courses? 

It's taken away a lot of the mystery of it. I now understand the topics and I now feel confident to be able to talk about it and to understand what I need to. Because there's so much mystery around, even silicone and tiling, all tiling is really difficult, that kind of thing, but I'm not afraid of it anymore.

What made you choose Able Skills versus other training providers?  

Because it's City & Guilds, I thought that this is a proper place. It's a serious place to go to. It has trained instructors who have experience and I'm getting the same introductory course as anyone who goes on to do a proper qualification.

As a landlord, Suzanne mentioned that by gaining some property maintenance skills, she'll save time and money on the smaller jobs by doing them herself. It will get them done to her timescales and save money on hiring trades. However, she was keen to point out that there are still tasks where she’ll need to hire a professional, but by having gained this industry knowledge, she feels empowered and better informed when hiring a tradesperson.  

Able Skills has been delivering a wide range of high-quality construction and technical trades training since 2002. We have approval to deliver qualification training from City & Guilds, LCL Awards, NOCN, AIM and BPEC. All of our courses are taught by time-served experts in their respective industries. If you’d like to know a bit more, feel free to get in touch with our team on 01322 280 202 or visit the centre.