Meet Stuart Williamson
As one of the founding directors at APW, Stuart Williamson has a wealth of investment experience and brings his expertise to the many people he meets around the world every month.
We decided to pin him down for just long enough to chat about why he founded APW and what insights he has to share on the big question of building a portfolio for retirement.
– What is your current role at APW?
Stuart Williamson: “I’m one of the founding directors of APW. You could say I put the W into APW. There are three founders in all: Jan [Abeking], Harry [Paget] and myself, and together we serve clients in many countries around the world. I am always on the road, but I’m based in London and am a frequent visitor to the capital cities of Asia and the Middle East, where we have a solid and growing client base.”
“I’ve found that there’s a lot of expatriates overseas–and this seems to be increasingly the case–in the rising hubs of the world, like Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, who want to get a solid foothold in the UK property market, but don’t know how to do so.”
“They also understand that retirement is coming and they worry about finding themselves outside of established social safety nets if they don’t get their finances in order in time. So, I help them with getting a mortgage from overseas, or optimising their existing portfolio.”
– So why do you think property is important for retirement?
SW: “That’s a great question. There’s a million investments out there: unit trusts, insurance-type investments, investment trusts, stocks, shares, so many in fact that it’s hard to take them all in, much less understand what half of them are even about.”
“In far too many cases, the terms and conditions are so obscure and murky that by the time the investment house has taken its cut, the profits from an investment are mediocre and it’s not a helpful or valuable asset. We’ve had many clients tell us that this has been their experience, too.”
“But property, on the other hand, is straight down the line. Bricks and mortar: you can walk up to it, go into it, see it, and it’s very real. And in the UK, this is based on some serious fundamentals: everyone needs to live somewhere, and the rental market just keeps on getting stronger.”
“The absolute best thing about this asset is that you pay only 30% of the cost yourself, and someone else pays the remaining 70. Property consistently performs over the long term, giving you both regular income and capital appreciation. That’s something that other assets simply can’t do.”
– Surely it’s not that easy?
SW: “Well, yes, and no. There are tax implications, and there are matters of maintenance over the longer term. It bears studying and being smart. But most of all, it requires patience and lead-time. A well-performing portfolio takes 15-20 years to put together so it’s definitely not a quick solution.”
– Why did you found APW?
SW: “I’ve had a background in advising clients on investments for the last 25 years, and I noticed a need for a professional property search and selection company to serve the overseas market.”
“We have many clients that had tried financial products, or investments, and found them to be too expensive and not at all transparent. For this reason, this type of individual always comes back to property.”
“APW finds good developments–we pride ourselves on the potential of the places we source–and we’ve developed some wonderful payment plans that fit the needs of expats very well.”
“This means you can pay off a deposit over 24 months, and we also have an option that allows full ownership of a property within 7 years–something we believe is unique in this market.”
– What advice do you have for first time buyers?
SW: “Firstly, do the maths. A property must ‘wash its face’. That is to say, the income must cover all the outgoings, ensuring you won’t be out of pocket in the future.”
“Secondly, be brave. Often it seems daunting to buy for the first time, but have courage when establishing your own portfolio.”
“Also, look carefully at the financials. Make use of the APW team–we will give unbiased advice to you if you want to get into property. We’ll look at the financials and guide you through the process. It’s not as complicated as it sounds.”
“Be sure that wherever you buy, there is sufficient demand to keep on driving growth. In other words, that there is a reason for the location to keep growing. Examples of this could be forthcoming investment in transport, such as the HS2 into Birmingham, or Cross Rail in London.”
– What key ideas would you impress upon any investor?
SW: “Three things I’d tell anyone interested in this market. Firstly, it’s much easier to get a mortgage than you think. Don’t take the tabloid rumour mill too seriously when they churn out scare stories about the Government cracking down harshly on lending to buy-to-let landlords.”
“Secondly, a bigger property does not always mean it is better: the key metric for investment is rental yield, and often higher rental yield is unlocked with smaller properties.”
“Thirdly, the regional cities of the UK (Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds) are often among the best places in the UK for rental yield and future growth.”
– Finally, what are your favourite things about your job?
SW: “Well, flying from city to city and being always on the move is certainly not one of them! However, sharing my knowledge and experience with people is an enjoyable thing: it feels quite educational sometimes. Also, meeting new people and helping them to do things they didn’t think they could do financially is a rewarding experience: helping someone step closer to financial freedom is a real pleasure.”