With concern mounting over the prospects of Britain crashing out of Europe, and the potential negative effects of such a hard Brexit on business and visitor numbers in the Scottish capital, you may think this is a difficult time to make money in Edinburgh.
Think again. Enterprising residents are finding a new way to prosper in the face of uncertainty, and observers say it could turn out to be more than a short-term trend.
The new earning model is called ‘warehoming’ or ‘warehosting’.
It involves householders renting out and/or subletting all/part of their private abode for storage, usually undercutting the market rate charged by commercial warehouses in the mainstream property sector.
A stitch in time
Like all the householders interviewed by the Spurtle for this feature, 25-year-old Sheena declined to be photographed or identified (we use pseudonyms throughout).
She has rented her 3-bedroom first-floor flat in Union Street since May 2015, and used to work from home here as a freelance fabric designer.
When neighbours first realised she was available during the working day, they began arranging for Amazon and other ordered-online packages to be left with her for safekeeping while they were away.
‘It started with maybe one or two packages a week,’ Sheena told us. ‘I didn’t really mind. It was such a little thing, and it seemed like a nice way to do a good turn and get to meet other people on the stair.’
But gradually, as friends and acquaintances of her neighbours heard about Sheena’s public spiritedness, the size and frequency of packages coming to her door grew.
‘It was ridiculous. I couldn’t concentrate with the buzzer going off every 10 minutes. In the end, when someone across the road started having a new bathroom delivered, I decided enough was enough.’
Sheena changed career direction last August and began afresh as a full-time ‘warehost’. She now takes up to 150 packages a day, and is on such good terms with the couriers that she’s even been out on dates with at least half-a-dozen of them.
‘I charge from £5 to £100 per parcel, depending on size,’ she says. ‘Over seven months I reckon I’ve made in the region of twenty grand. Which is way more than I ever earned as an artist.’
Sheena says she intends to pay tax on her income, but admits she hasn’t told her landlord about the revised activity, or sought planning consent for the partial change from domestic to Class B8 commercial use. She suspects City of Edinburgh Council would be resistant to such entrepreneurial initiative.
Sheena says hers is a long working day (she receives or hands over deliveries from 7 o’clock in the morning till 10 o’clock at night, five days a week), but she enjoys being busy and never knowing who or what will arrive next.
‘The main problem is I never have time to do any online shopping for myself!’ she laughs. ‘I’ve saved a fortune!’
Competition and opportunity
Firms across many commercial sectors have been stockpiling for months in the run-up to Brexit. In some cases, they do so to cover possible shortages caused by delays at borders with the EU. In others, they’re hedging against future price rises for goods imported from the Continent.
The resulting stockpiles are now so extensive that available spaces are filling faster than they can be built, and the cost of existing rentals has gone through the roof. The Lothians and Borders are already full. Fife is expected to begin hiring overflow storage from Stirlingshire and Perth & Kinross by autumn 2019.
Not surprisingly, then, householders with surplus space in the capital spot a gap in the market, particularly those living close to the city centre. Last week, we counted 723 online warehosts offering space in Broughton and the top half of Leith Walk alone.
Brexit glass half-full
Michael and Fiona moved to a newly refurbished townhouse in Drummond Place over a decade ago. They’re in their early-40s. He worked in Finance before branching out as a self-employed energy consultant. She raises awareness about charity and is a full-time mother.
‘The mortgage was a bit of a stretch to begin with,’ Michael recounts. ‘But my new career was flourishing and I reckoned we’d pull through OK so long as we stopped upgrading the cars every two years.
‘Stupidly, I didn’t factor-in Fi having the sprogs or the frankly appalling cost of childcare in Edinburgh, even from foreign girls smiling a lot but unable to speak English.’
The couple looked for new ways to remodulate their cashflow through-put, and began by letting daughters Pippa and Charlotte (now 9 and 7) move from separate rooms to sharing a ‘sleepy-nest’ up in the attic.
Michael and Fiona then converted one half of the ground-floor drawing room into an en-suite master bedroom for themselves, and let out six other rooms on the first and second floors through Airbnb.
‘It was hard work finding someone to do all the change-over stuff, but the worst part for poor Fi was talking to all those terrible people. Strangers, in her own home. Actors. Americans with toothbrushes. All sorts.’
To their relief, along came Brexit. ‘I was already deeply invested in vintage wines and spirits, but it occurred to me that now was a smart time to lay down a bona-fide hardcore collection,’ says Michael.
‘Leaving Europe isn’t going to make people want to drink less of the decent stuff, or stop buying into it like any other portfolio asset. Prices will always go up. With Brexit they could go up a lot. Really, an awful lot.’
The only problem was: Where to store the bottles?
‘No point keeping it abroad, where there could be post-Brexit problems going liquid in a hurry,’ Michael recalls. ‘Didn’t want to pay London or Aberdeen prices for secure climate-controlled cellarage. Then I thought, “Hang on a bit. We’ve got this socking great house – why not realise its full potential?”’
So it was that, starting late 2016, Michael and Fiona commenced warehosting an impressive and still growing collection of fine wines – currently worth some £4.5M – on two floors of their Georgian mansion with views over the Forth.
‘They’re not all ours, of course,' Michael points out. ‘Friends pay us to nanny their cellars here as well, and that’s where the real money’s made.’
So much money, indeed, that – although the couple refuse to specify exact sums or even ball-park figures – they can now afford to board Pippa and Charlotte at Gordonstoun and have insulated the girls’ empty attic-room for all-season use as an extra office.
‘There’s nothing untoward about it,’ Fiona assured the Spurtle. ‘It’s our house and we can do whatever we please with it. Nobody else’s business.
‘We live really quite modestly, and the beauty is – we don’t heat the rooms with the wine in. So all those eco-savings can be ploughed back into replacing the cars plus a few lovely little breaks abroad now and again. Somewhere understated and romantic, just the two of us.’
Be it ever so humble …
Not everyone, of course, has Michael and Fiona’s cavernous New Town storage capacity. But even in down-to-earth Bellevue, locals are finding ways to turn home space into hard cash.
‘It’s easy pickings,’ Tom told the Spurtle, ‘and what the taxman disnae ken wullnae hurt him. Or her. I’m no a sexist.’
Tom is a 71-year-old retired chartered surveyor who lives alone in a 2-bedroom semi-detached house on Annandale Street. Until 18 months ago, he shared it with wife of 40 years Avril and their cat Primo.
Primo and Avril moved out soon after Tom contacted a Harwich-based middleman and began warehosting hand-stitched Italian sports loafers.
Tom estimates there are now 35,000 shoeboxes in the property. His living space is confined to half the kitchen and a ground-floor toilet. All other areas are rammed from floor to ceiling, and accessible only via an 18-inch corridor between imposing cardboard cliff-faces.
‘It’s no but the normal house insurance I’ve got here,’ Tom informed us. ‘I tellt the wuman it was safe, but Primo wisnae having any of it.’
Tom charges £2 per square foot and has made £14,500 from warehoming so far.
‘It’s jist a simple way to make money,’ he says. ‘Next year I’m planning to cash in my savings and go for broke.’
Tom’s proposal is to warehost what remains of the kitchen and toilet, pave over the back green and fill it with garden sheds, thus providing an additional 75% of lucrative storage.
He will then reinvest the profits in more property. ‘I’m moving on,’ he enthuses. ‘I’m buying mysel a converted shipping container in a field out by Bo’ness.
‘It’s got water and electric and everything.
‘Nae windaes, nae WiFi. Naebidy will ever want to come and visit. But already it’s beginning to feel like a proper hame.’
Do you have what it takes?
Olivia Seymour-Vendables (31) works as Lead Trends Analyst for Glasgow-based property experts Voussoir & Co.
She predicts more and more Edinburgh homes will be used for warehoming in future. Particularly as spoilsport local authorities crack down on short-term residential lets.
But she warns that, as well as financial rewards for warehosts, there are potential pitfalls.
Spurtle asked Olivia for her top 5 tips on making your warehome experience a success:
- Think about your area. Would you mind if there were fewer neighbours and more forklift trucks in your street? Do you worry that soon there may not be enough places left in the city for people to live? Do you care about neighbours and communities at all? If your answers to any of the above questions are ‘yes’, you may not have the qualities needed to be an effective warewolf.
- Think about your supplier. Can you trust the person or organisation whose products you’re stockpiling? Are those really Bavarian car parts or something more sinister? Are you sure you want to store perishable goods which may go off, smell horrid, or cause dizziness?
- How often will your client require access to the stock? Ideally, choose products that will sit on the shelf for months if not years, gathering dust and income for minimum effort.
- Remember that without adequate planning permission, licensing, insurance, and transparency to HM Revenue & Customs officers, warehoming can easily turn out to be a lot more trouble than it’s worth.
- Trust no-one. Strangers, neighbours, siblings, lovers, and even offspring may all turn out to be the ones who finally dob you in it. If possible, avoid them.