Hi. I’m Natasha.
I'm like the Ed Balls of Property. Light hearted, compassionate, empathetic. I listen first, then take action on my strategy. Although, I'm much better at social media. You're never going to see my tweet my own name out... but I might dance Gangnam after a few glasses of wine.
I don't talk 'financial freedom' or '6-figure salaries'. I'm all about smart tactics, building your investments wisely, caring for your tenants and having a lot of fun along the way. Your property, your colour scheme, right?
I have to be honest. I'm the worst liar. So here's the FULL story of how I started in property, the highs the lows and how I've got where I am right now!
I got started in property by accident. Being a bankrupt student at 20 meant I had to get a job for my final year. I landed myself an admin role in a letting agent.
I’d hoped that my Geography and Computing degree would land me a job as a mapping specialist. However, 38 telephone interviews later with no call back, I’d lost hope this was my calling.
So, with the money I’d saved whilst working I booked myself 3 months in America to ‘figure out my life’.
As luck would have it, before I left, I met a surveyor in need of a rental property. Whilst, I couldn’t help with his ideal home, I could help with babysitting (I was cash strapped!!). He introduced me to what a surveyor was and suggested I give it a try… he got me an interview with a firm in London and whilst I was travelling, they contacted me to offer me a permanent position when I returned.
No, I didn’t figure out my life whilst travelling but I certainly found a life long love for long haul flights, hidden waterfalls, tops of mountains, southern BBQ food, outlet mall shopping and lazing on the beach when the humidity soared.
Also, just to confirm. I’m a people person, my Grandma taught me to always engage with people. I can get a job based on me being a conversationalist. I’ve never been an A* student.
Moving to London was a culture shock. Long hours, huge responsibilities but equally huge pay packets meant I was living in an urban bubble of gym, work, play.
Within 3 months I’d been promoted to head of asset management, as my predecessor had left. It was sink or swim so I persevered.
I was learning A LOT!
It was this confidence that led me to create a business plan for my parents and persuade them to lend me the money to buy my first rental property in Notting Hill for £195,000.
I was riding my idea of success, I’d found an industry I was great at and wanted to continue doing my best.
So, I enrolled in Real Estate Masters at UCEM, so I could then get chartered once I’d finished and was now working, studying and still socialising. I felt invincible.
2012 was a long hot summer. London was partying around the Olympics and I was enjoying getting closer to Chris. I was having the perfect year and to top it off my fee earning was just increasing and increasing so my bonuses were getting bigger and bigger.
You can only do it all for so long…
In March 2013 My parents started the divorce process. This was a terrible time in my life. My family fell apart.
I went into overdrive and lost myself. I was getting up at 6am, going to the gym from 7am-8am. Being at my desk by 8:20am. Working until 7pm. Walking/running home then studying until 11pm and then doing it all again.
I don’t do things by halves. A Natasha Collins meltdown is, apparently, the stuff of dreams to most people. My drive to accomplish every single little thing, to hide the fact that something is going momentously wrong in my private life kicked in. Side note, this is why I find it heart breaking when comments are made around mental health such as: ‘We have a workforce creaking at the seams, lacking the encouragement to perform effectively which cumulatively hinders the progress of business and the economy alike’. When my mental health is out of whack I perform at my highest and it sucks so much because it physically hurts to be going at that level, but I can’t stop, otherwise I have to live with my actual feelings of a deep sadness. Just to put this in context… I had my first cervical screening January 2014 which flagged up I had HPV. I had to go to the hospital for a colposcopy and a biopsy of my cells. Which feels like someone punching you hard in the belly with a needle attached to their fist. Rather than go home as the nurse recommended. I dragged myself back to my desk and finished my emails through tear-soaked eyes, clutching my belly, with my face resting on my desk. I was in agony. Oh, and because I didn’t learn the first-time round, I did the same thing 6 months later when I had to go through the process again. Torturing myself didn’t stop there. I had my wisdom teeth removed one sunny Friday morning in June. Chris had to carry me home from the hospital because I couldn’t tell you what was going on in the world. I was high on painkillers… however 72 hours later I decided that I’d been out of the gym for long enough and was probably putting on weight so I cycled to the gym for 6am, did my workout, got back to the changing room and walked face first into a wall and ended up in heap on the floor… and then went to work with a bloody knee and black eyes from having my teeth removed. So, bare this all in mind when I tell you what I accomplished.
Managed £500 Million Property Portfolio
I couldn't say no to taking on more clients. I lived by the motto 'if you want something done, ask a busy person'. And I was the busy person.
Being so busy managing this meant I had no time to think. I was also earning huge amounts of fees... I got a record bonus of £65k.
I became efficient at dealing with queries and being proactive rather than reactive. I honed my property management skills and became the go to expert for how to deal with running buildings.
Chris and I Purchased Our Property In Putney
I choose the area because I loved being on the river, the high street was improving and there were plenty of planning apps going through... which meant values were going to skyrocket.
Chris chose the building and decided to buy off plan which I thought was pure madness because it's a complete risk as to whether it would get finished and let him know it on so many occasions.
However I was in the position to pay for half (thanks bonus!!) and so reluctantly followed his lead.
I Finished My Masters
Yeah I did!! Go me :D
And I can't remember how... I have no idea what my dissertation was on.
All I know is this. I would get home at 7:30pm, I would eat a bowl of Special K and I would sit at my desk and plough through modules.
I consistently did this every single night, apart from Fridays because i knew I would have the weekend.
Churning out reports until I reached the end.
I Studied For My APC
The APC is the assessment of professional competence to become a chartered surveyor.
Slowly my masters slipped into my APC and I just continued studying.
I had never met anyone who had failed the process so the pressure was on to pass... or what would I do with my career?
So I created a massive revision 'bible'. I recorded revision guides so I could listen back and I carried these tools with me EVERYWHERE, so I could revise all the time, no breaks.
I Ran My First and Second Half Marathons
I would do a long run on a Saturday morning and then run home from work 2 nights a week (because what else would I be doing between 7-7:30pm?).
The first half was in Hackney and I had picked up a stress fracture in my left hip, from overdoing it. I mean, it is super sustainable to life weights in the mornig and run at night without sleeping properly and expect my body parts to tick over. I ran it in 2hrs 11mins and ot heat stroke so threw up all the way home. The second was in Bath and I beat my time (there was no let up in my training regime) at 1hr 58 mins.
This was when I found out I hated running, it actually made me angry when I crossed the finish line. So I stopped running and life has been rosier since.
I Travelled The World
With my revision in hand I travelled the world and I loved it.
Hell yes, I was on the road, seeing the sights, smelling the fresh air, completely on my own time.
It was all I wanted, my time to be my time.
America, Cambodia, Santorini, St Kitts, Italy.
I didn't mind that I had to work, all I cared about was being somewhere away from everything I 'must' do to make sure I stopped thinking.
This was my happy place and I was addicted to booking more and more remote places, escapism at it's very best.
How I managed to keep all of that together for quite so long I don’t know. It was a blurry time of life.
The day I sat my APC I was nervous, stressed and exhausted. Slowly I started unravelling, I lost my purpose I just wanted to leave and not be interrogated anymore. I wanted a break.
Of course I didn’t pass. Burn out took hold. Tired, aching, brain fog, no motivation. I was done.
If it wasn’t for LionHeart jumping in and picking me up, I’d have left the industry.
I was introduced to LionHeart by the RICS. I was told they would help me feel OK again.
I had nothing to loose, I called the number and told them how I felt... I couldn’t cope with my own pressure.
Immediately they gave me a counsellor and over the next 6 months she gave me permission to take time out to ‘be kind to myself’.
It worked, I took my APC again and I'd passed. It was a good surveyor, I'd just lost myself along the way.
The counselling from LionHeart was revolutionary. It’s free for RICS members and it happened on the phone so I could sit in the church yard at the Brompton Oratory in peace and talk.
I knew I had to help raise the voice for this charity.
I’m now an Ambassador for mental health and I also lead Boosting Your Resilience, Supercharge Your Wellbeing and Building Your Confidence seminars.
I get to go out and talk to so many inspiring people within the industry. I’m humbled when they come to me for support in their tough times.
I will always promote mental health awareness and be a listening post for anyone who wants to talk about it.
I graduated from my Masters and qualified as a chartered surveyor in July 2015. I’d had another bonus from work. And my parents’ divorce had finally come to an end.
After a whirlwind couple of years, I was back on my own time.
Through working so hard I had enough in my bank for a deposit on another flat. This time I decided to go back to my roots and buy something at home in Bath. That way I could be near my family if I ever needed to be in the West Country and I was creating my own place, now that our family home had been sold.
I still needed that safe place that was only mine, no one could take it for me, and if I was going to run that was where I was going to go. I turned it into a serviced apartment and to this day it’s still my backup.
When I first started at UCEM I’d signed an agreement with my employer that I’d stay until summer 2016, as they had paid for my Masters. For the following 12 months I focused on looking after myself, leaving work on time and being with my friends and family.
It hit me in August 2016, whilst transferring £33,225 quarterly profit to my client who owned a 19 unit residential block in Earls Court. And listening to Jeremy Vine hating on landlords offering sub-standard accommodation for huge rents.
This was my only purely residential client.
I’d used my commercial knowledge to negotiate landlord friendly tenancies, set-up a watertight maintenance and health and safety plan, and each room was always at hotel standard and getting a high rent.
Using the rental income, I redeveloped the ground and basement into three large 2 bedroom flats.
36 months later, after going through planning and development the profit rent was now £33,225 per quarter.
My client now had the money to go and buy more property whenever they liked.
I’d also used this strategy to build my own property portfolio. Except, I’d learnt to raise money through joint venturing with investors… exactly what my commercial clients were doing.
At 27, I was creating the same income from my property portfolio as I was being a surveyor.
So, I took those strategies and turned them into packages of easy to digest information...
Today that's the Members Club!
In April 2017 I started lecturing for UCEM. I hit it off straight away with the head of the Real Estate Faculty. She loved my enthusiasm for property management and strategy (apparently, she was finding it hard to get anyone motivated to teach it). She also loved that I was a young woman and hoped that I’d shake academia up and inspire my students. It didn’t matter whether I had a teaching degree or not. I just needed professional experience. I love teaching. It’s my calling, providing I can teach in my own style. Which is, get excited, share some case studies and interact with my students to make sure they get what’s going on and throw some passion into the subject. I teach on the property management modules for the undergraduate and postgraduate real estate courses.
In July 2018 I won the teaching excellence award for innovation, voted for by my students because they loved my revision ‘printables’, bitesize seminars and dedication to their success.
Always keep the people you work well with close. I set up a development company with my long-time friend in business Shaun Neal. Throughout my time in corporate, 6 years, we worked on A LOT of projects together. Loft conversions, retail fit outs, flat redecorations. He always had my back and I had his. We’d always aim to get jobs done ahead of schedule, 90% of the time we would, 10% of the time it would rain, so we’d come in on time. I’m all strategy and admin, and he’s all about the building work, so our skills fit together nicely. We do renovation projects for our clients and with our profit, buy properties and develop them ourselves. This truly is a JV partnership that is built on trust and an enjoyment of working together.
Summer is my Jackaranian pup. She was 4 months old when I was given her. She was horrendously mistreated by her previous owners.
Chris was in America at the time and I just told him we had a puppy staying for a week (trust me I had no idea how we would get on and Chris HATES dogs).
She was terrified of me, and that first night, she just slept in her crate. Slowly we started to bond, through running around the park together and I would always sit next to the crate and stroke her when she started crying.
When Chris arrived home, he was nervous of her, but she loved him so so much. He couldn't say no to her staying!
A few weeks later I’d booked to go skiing for a week with my friends. Chris was incharge of Summer… that was the week she started sleeping in bed.
Summer and Chris have been inseparable ever since.
This year, 2018, we made the move to New York.
Chris had been talking about going back to work for Facebook and moving countries and I was super resistant.
My biggest fear was that I didn't think anyone would trust me anymore if I was in a different country, trying to do the same thing and so tried to gloss over the fact that we were moving for months!
Basically, I was terrified I would no longer be relevant or of interest to anyone investing in the UK.
Chris ALWAYS tells me to be brave. So I said, OK lets go, and the process happened so quickly. Facebook sorted it, it had absolutely nothing to do with me.
The only thing I had a real say on was moving Summer with us. I chose Pet Air UK as her movers and she travelled with Virgin Atlantic. They kept her safe and thank gosh she arrived with nothing more than a wet bum, after kicking her water bowl over in a desperate attempt to get out of the crate to jump on me. <span style="color: rgb(24, 80, 103); font-size: 1.125rem; background-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0);"> </span>
As Chris and I aren’t married, I haven’t got a working visa and that FORCED me to make my life flexible. It wasn’t easy to negotiate overseas working with the Uni and as I’ve just said, I was terrified NC Real Estate would fail being overseas.
But, here were my decisions: let my family move without me or go through the pain of sucking it and seeing and going with them.
Of course I was coming with them and I just had to get through the discomfort of moving everything online.
Turns out, moving ALL my work online was pretty smooth… considering everything I do is online anyway. Yes, even my property management. I travel often enough it’s always been that way (I was so scared I didn’t see what was in front of me!!).
I’ve actually got more time for everything and love my work lifestyle… hell yes!!
But, I was lone working and knew no one. I’ve had to make myself go out.
The RICS Americas have introduced me to some fabulous surveyors and being part of the Female Entrepreneurs Association gave me women entrepreneurs to network with. And my Instagram has connected with NYC based developers.
I had to be brave and email tentative connections and reply to my DM’s which was terrifying. But it’s worked out. We've even taken up a new Winter Sport... Curling! It's only a few streets away from our home in Brooklyn.
I travel backwards and forwards between the UK for work, to look after my development projects and still host live events. I absolutely love that this move brought me the flexibility I'd always wanted and being able to let go of my resistenance has allowed so much to happen for me in America and the UK. I'm always excited or what's around the corner!
Questions I'm Always Asked
What does your property portfolio look like and how do you invest now?
I have my own property portfolio worth £1 million from assets in Bath and London.
I stopped being so active with my own assets when my parents divorced and have focused on building my parents retirement plans.
When did you start and over what time period did you reach this level?
I started investing in 2011 and started working as a surveyor in 2010.
I've just built on this ever since.
What’s your educational/qualification background?
* I have a BSc in Geography and Computing * A MSc in Real Estate Surveying * I'm a chartered surveyor so MRICS * Currently just finishing off my postgraduate certificate in teaching in higher education (PCTHE) which is teaching conversion if you are a professional who also lectures
Do you have any success tips?
I'm incredibly resiliant, but I have to make myself be that way, it's, not something I would do because it feels good.
This, however can mean I go into overdrive and work myself to the bone.
It's freaking tough to be successful! I never feel successful, other people tell me I'm successful.
But I'm grateful that I now have flexibility so I get to enjoy the park with Summer and try to enjoy my workouts.
I also HAVE to schedule time out to see people, a glass of Rose and good chat ives me perspective.
What are your values?
Don't be mean.
Always listen and try to understand even if you don't agree, I'm not into shutting anyone down.
If you commit to something stick it out.
Your gut will always gie you the right answer if you choose to listen.
Always make sure you look at what's happening around you, you will see nature at it's finest.
It's OK to totally not be OK, just talk about it and you'll find a soluton.
How are you always so happy?
Because my bookshelf is so full of self-help books!
I have days of self-doubt, networking makes me feel quesy and sometimes I like to just put my PJ's on, get into bed and watch Kardashians :D !
In reality, I'm quite grounded. I have a routine which works and I don't need much to make me happy. My prioirty is having a lovely, comfortable home. So I made that, my families in it and I love it.
Which means it's easier for me to be happy and come across as happy because I've got a lot t be thankful for.
How do you save so much money?
Unlike many other millenials that you might know, I’m the worst saver, but I'm a great investor.
I realise that I'm quite unusual but I’m pretty good at finding large chunks of money…
At 21 my Dad told me I'd never have a pension I could retire on. I took that to heart, because how was I goig to fund my travel habit?!
And I've been addicted to the process ever since!