Landlord in the fast lane
Following a near-fatal car crash, racing legend Sir Stirling Moss turned to property. Annie Deakin reports from the sideline
Friday 17 April 2009
"When I retired from racing at 32 after a big crash, I knew nothing about anything," laughed motoring icon Sir Stirling Moss last week who is today hailed a property tycoon.
It took three quarters of an hour to cut him free from his blue Lotus; he was unconscious and remained in a coma for 38 days and paralysed for six months. He recovered but withdrew from racing. "There were two things I could become - an estate agent or a politician. Those are the only two jobs for people who know nothing. It’s true, think of Barbara Castle who couldn’t drive but was made Minister of Transport and Gordon Brown who was put into the Exchequer only to sell off all our gold at half price."
Instead of the House of Commons, Moss invested heavily in run down buildings and is now reaping the rewards. The 80-year-old racing legend has built up an extensive portfolio of buy-to-let properties in London, now worth tens of millions of pounds.
As landlord to 43 tenants across the capital, Moss will speak about his experiences of managing property at Grand Designs Live London later this month.
"If there is any law, it is certain to be against you, rather than for you. The law in this country is not very helpful to good landlords. [Peter] Rachman really screwed people like me over. He charged a fortune to safeguard the tenant but not the landlord. There are people who have been living in my properties since the Seventies but I can't get rid of them. There is no legal way of getting property back and all the people who cheat know how to work the system."
His is a passionate and refreshingly candid rant against the system but Moss thrives on his property investments.
Following his 1962 car crash, Moss took over and rented out his father’s portfolio of dental surgeries and residential properties. Today, he owns eight properties all within scooter distance of his Mayfair home.
Is he worried about the credit crunch?
"The property market is not good at the moment, but you see, I don’t buy and sell." Instead, Moss buys property, converts it into flats or bedsits and rents it out. He believes that the best hedge against investment is bricks and mortar - particularly in the West Kensington area. "The annual rent that I get today in 2009 is the same that I paid for the freehold in 1975. If you’re going to work at it, invest in property now."
Acting as landlord is not the lazy occupation that some believe it to be; new laws keep Moss on his toes. "Now there is so much red tape with Corgi and electrical certificates that it is cheaper for me to give the tenant money to buy the kettle, rather than me doing it. Being a landlord is no longer a pleasant job." While most of his peers are enjoying their retirement, Moss works 12 hour days. "The difficult thing was finding a wife who is also a workaholic." Third time lucky, he married - Susie, 20 years his junior. "We travel everywhere together. We’ve been married for 30 years it wouldn’t have worked with the other wives because it’s not easy to be with others for 24 hours a day."
They live in a James Bond-style house behind Hyde Park Corner that he bought (as a bombsite) for £12,000 in 1954. Now worth at least £3million, it is six levels of gadget-packed rooms. On the first floor, there is a motorised section of the beamed ceiling. At the press of a button, it slowly descends to become a table. His lift was made bespoke out of racing car carbon fibre by the Williams Formula One team, his loo seats are heated and his bath can be run by remote control - a revolutionary concept when installed fifty years ago.
His house brims with sporting memorabilia from his racing years and designer furniture. Hanging on the walls are two mangled steering wheels salvaged from his car crashes and a display cabinet of Dinky-sized models of Ferraris, Maseratis and Aston Martins.
And his most treasured piece of furniture? "I wouldn’t ever get rid of my Charles Eames chair," he says. "I didn’t buy it. I happened to win some races and I said, ‘would you mind instead of another trophy, could you possibly give me a chair?" His Eames chair and ottoman is the ultimate midcentury seat. For a man who declared to know nothing about anything, Moss at least had an eye for a design classic.
Stirling Moss will be discussing his property portfolio on MONDAY 4TH MAY 13.00-13.45 in the Grand Seminar Theatre, sponsored by the Electrical Safety Council, at this year’s Grand Designs, Live, London - www.granddesignslive.com
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