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Fergus Wilson and his wife Judith are one of the UK's biggest buy-to-let investors, owning as of October 2008, 910 two and three-bedroom properties, all located in the area of Ashford and Maidstone in Kent. They were listed as #453 on The Sunday Times rich list, with a fortune of £180 million.
Both ex-maths teachers, the couple, already home-owner, began buying houses when prices were low in the early 1990s. The had previously claimed that house prices would never stop rising, and announced the 'Judith Wilson Investment Property Bond', which, they claimed, would double in value every seven years (based on claims that the UK property market behaved in this manner). It is unclear if this was ever launched. Similarly, their plans for a chain of discount dentists staffed by low-cost Eastern European dentists do not appear to have reached fruition.
The couple used heavy leverage to build their portfolio, buying only new-build houses and remortgaging them as soon as prices went up, they could use the money to finance further purchases.
The couple are also racehorse owners, an activity that earned them some criticism, as they persistently entered 'no-hoper' low-quality racehorses in top races such as their entry of the 'worst racehorse in history' into the Epsom Derby,] as well as similar entries in the Gold Cup, Grand National and Champion Hurdle.
In late 2008, with the nationalisation of Bradford and Bingley, who had provided them with most of their finance, the couple announced, contrary to previous statements, that they would begin selling some of their portfolio, with 18 houses going on sale at the end of their fixed-rate term in March 2009, and 50 further houses to follow. A local estate agent indicated that resale prospects were poor with prices having fallen 20%, and few buyers.
How two maths teachers clocked up 707 houses and 240m fortune - Fergus Wilson by DAVID JONES - dailymail.co.uk
As former maths teachers, Fergus Wilson and Judith Wilson are wizards at mental arithmetic - and given the mesmerising rate at which they accumulate houses, this is just as well.
Take the day I met them. When we sat down to discuss their phenomenal rise from the blackboard jungle to top of the money tree, these unlikely tycoons owned 704 buy-to-let properties, worth £240 million.
Barely four hours later they had increased their portfolio to 707 houses, and their wealth by £500,000, without ever leaving the Kent hotel where we chatted over coffee.
The Wilsons negotiate with such stealth and speed that the deal for three brand-new terraced homes, each priced at £180,000, had been concluded right under my nose - and I never suspected a thing.
"So when was the last time you bought a house?" I inquired naively, as the conversation drew to a close.
"This afternoon, actually," Mr Wilson replied nonchalantly, explaining that the triple sale had been agreed during a brief mobile phone call when he slipped away from our table.
"Oh, and the mortgage surveyor is coming on Saturday," added his wife, whom, I now recalled, had also disappeared for all of two minutes earlier.
Remembering my own laborious recent house move, I was momentarily dumbfounded. For most of us, buying a new home is an agonisingly draggedout affair, yet for the Wilsons, it had all been as quick and painless as purchasing a packet of cornflakes.
According to Fergus Wilson, herein lies a major secret of their success.
"The literal translation of Fergus is fearless," he says, jabbing a meaty forefinger into my arm.
"To anyone dithering about buying a second property to rent, my advice is this: 'Don't mess around. Get stuck in and buy it!'"
Mrs Wilson concurs, albeit in more measured tones befitting a former deputy headmistress. "You've got to say to yourself: 'What's the worst that can happen?'" she says. "The worst thing is that you'll have to sell the second house. But so what? You'll still have the one you live in.
"The key is not to take it all so seriously. It's only a game. You have to remember we're mathematicians, so a million is just a one with six noughts on the end. It takes more than a few noughts to frighten us."
Doubtless it does. But less than 15 years ago, the Wilsons were still chalking the boards for modest salaries. Now, they rank between Phil Collins and the Duke of Beaufort on Britain's Rich List, and should comfortably overtake the likes of Madonna when the next one is published this spring.
To have amassed a quarter of a billion pounds so quickly, the tycoon teachers must surely have done more than simply "got stuck in".
At a time when millions of us aspire to be landlords, and property (despite fears of more interest rates rises) is fast replacing pensions as the investment vehicle of the masses, the questions everyone must be asking are: how did they do it - and can I do the same?
Fergus Wilson promises to provide the answers in a new TV show, which he describes as a hybrid of The Apprentice and Dragons' Den, with elements borrowed from the X Factor.
A pilot show is expected to be broadcast later this year. Would-be house-buyers will compete for mortgages, and he will act as their nononsense mentor.
His wife wants no part in the programme.
"I'm not interested in providing free advice that might backfire," she says curtly. Instead, Mrs Wilson will impart her wisdom at Imperial College, London, where she was recently appointed as an Adjunct Professor.
"Judith is Britain's first buy-to-let lecturer," her other half quips proudly.
This month, she will also launch the Judith Wilson Investment Property Bond, a new concept in accumulating wealth via bricks and mortar. She will sell stakes of five per cent in ten of her rented houses, with a promise they will double in value every seven years.
The idea is for parents to buy a £10,000 stake for their children at birth, so that by the time their son or daughter reaches the age of 21, the investment will be worth £80,000; sufficient for a deposit on their first home.
The sharply contrasting manner in which they have chosen to expand their respective careers reveals how utterly different they are.
In his brick-red blazer and candy-striped shirt - custom-made by
Turnbull & Asser for his 22in neck - former rugby prop-forward Fergus Wilson is a ruddy-cheeked, refrigerator-proportioned figure, with a blustering manner and a booming voice.
This bluff exterior - used to browbeat estate agents - hides an extraordinary mind. If there is an obscure statistic about the property market, Mr Wilson, aged 58, knows it.
"I realised, about 15 years ago, that I had to redirect myself," he explains.
"Back then I was a sports quiz junkie. But I realised that, to be successful, I had to give that up and re-programme my thinking to property."
Because he makes all the deals, Mr Wilson describes himself as "the striker" of the team.
More circumspect and reserved, despite her rather loud Thompson check trouser-suit, his 56-year-old wife looks after the fine detail and keeps the books. To her husband, she is "the goalkeeper".
Whichever way one puts it, they complement one another perfectly and make a formidable duo.
The son of a Ford car plant foundry worker, Fergus Wilson was raised in an impoverished Essex family after the war. He had eight brothers and sisters, but two died in infancy.
"I remember distinctly the Christmas of 1958, when I was ten," he says bleakly.
"My mother had a baby who died at birth, and we couldn't have a Christmas because the money was needed to pay for the burial.
"We had no presents to share, so the other mothers in the neighbourhood wouldn't let us play with their kids. When they said that, I thought: 'I'll have more money than you one day.' That's what motivated me."
Judith Wilson's formative years were spent in rural Northamptonshire. Her grandparents had built up a thriving nursery business, but when her father took control, it failed disastrously, and he was forced to sell for a pittance.
"That riled me a little bit," she reflects.
"I watched other business coming up, and thought: 'Why not us?'"
They met while training as teachers at Goldsmiths College, London, in the late Sixties. Already a budding entrepreneur, second-year student Fergus Wilson was selling T-shirts from a stall during freshers' week. When he couldn't find one to fit pretty young Judith, he suggested they rummage through his stock-pile - at his flat.
Before long they were sharing the ground-floor of a four-storey house in Blackheath. By taking on the upper rooms and renting them out, they realised, they could live rent-free.
They bought their first house in 1975, scraping together the deposit for a three-bedroom semi costing £8,200. By a stroke of good fortune, it happened to be in Maidstone, in the so-called M20 corridor.
Two decades later, this would become the hottest property spot in the country, its prices inflated by the clamour for homes near the Channel Tunnel terminal at Ashford.
During the early years of their marriage, their lives were focused on raising two daughters - Samantha, now aged 37, and Tanya, 34 - and their teaching careers.
Mr Wilson taught injunior schools in the Sidcup area, specialising in maths and science; his wife rose to head of maths and computer studies, then became deputy headmistress at Southlands, a huge secondary school in New Romney, Kent.
It was not until 1986, when they decided to move to a six-bedroom house in a sought-after village near Maidstone, that the rewards of buying-to-let first struck them.
Watching house prices rise inexorably, they realised it made economic sense to keep their first house and let it out, using the rent to pay the mortgage.
They began to do some homework. Research told them that over the past century, prices had doubled every seven years and various pointers convinced them this was set to continue indefinitely.
The most important was the law of supply and demand. Britain was then - and remains - chronically short of houses. Therefore, it will always be a seller's market.
"The only way you can ever stop house prices from rising is by building too many houses," says Mr Fergus Wilson.
"For environmental reasons, the Government won't allow that to happen."
Another of their golden rules is never to buy in unfamiliar neighbourhoods, or those which are too remote for them to keep a close eye on their property. For that reason, they will never expand beyond the South-East of England - and certainly never abroad.
Cherie Blair might rue the fact she didn't do likewise, they say.
"She bought in Bristol because her son went to university there. She didn't learn, did she?" Mrs Wilson chastises.
"Euan has left hasn't he? Now she's left with property in Bristol and she's going to have to look after it. She should have bought in an area she knew."
At one point last summer, when the value of houses rocketed out of control, he calculated that their fortune was soaring by £70,000 a day. Now it is clocking up "only" £41 per house, or £28,000 a day.
Unlike so many teachers, the Wilsons never fell out of love with the education system. In the early Nineties, however, after Mrs Wilson failed to land a headship, they quit the classroom to concentrate full time on their business.
This was the era of 15 per cent interest rates and a record number of repossessions - the perfect time to buy.
"We virtually lived in the auction rooms," recalls Mrs Wilson.
A tad recklessly, Mrs Wilson can't resist telling me about one scam her husband pulled in 1994.
After snapping up a four-storey house in South-East London at auction for £44,000, he noticed 'for sale' boards outside the property next door. So he called the estate agents to ask the price.
"It's £58,000," came the reply. Mr Fergus Wilson insisted that this was far too much, claiming he had bought the adjoining house for £30,000.
His bid was initially rejected, but a few days later, on Christmas Eve, the phone rang.
"If you've got £30,000, it's yours," the agent said.
The deliciously simple sting was concluded a few days later, when Mr Wilson had the house valued for mortgage purposes and it was deemed to be worth four times the amount he had paid: £120,000.
He borrowed the maximum amount allowable - £100,000 (85 per cent of its value) - and promptly used the excess funds as a deposit on several more houses.
During one extraordinary spell, in 2003, the tycoon teachers were acquiring a house every day, and they amassed 180 in that one year.
Now, their spree has slowed only slightly, but they are still confident they will pass the 800 mark by the end of 2007.
"It could reach 1,000," says Mr Fergus Wilson. "There is no limit."
So where's the next hotspot, I ask? They pinpoint a small Kent town named Ebbsfleet, which has a 17-minute rail link to East London and, crucially, the 2012 Olympic site.
"If we were slightly younger we'd buy there now and sit on it for a few years," Mrs Wilson says.
Roughly half their houses are mortgaged. Thanks to their extraordinary buying power, they can negotiate very low rates from mortgage warehouses.
Sometimes they buy property in job-lots, off-plan or directly from developers, drawing accusations that they are squeezing first-time buyers out of the market.
The couple deny this. "Put it this way," Mr Wilson says. "If you were selling a house, who would you rather deal with? A young couple who might pull out at the last minute, or Judith Wilson, who you know will not mess you around?"
Their ideal buy-to-let is a smart two-up, two- down mid-terrace house, typically costing about £180,000. Bigger properties are more difficult to let, and do not appreciate in value as quickly.
Every one of their 707 houses is decorated in inoffensive magnolia and white. In the early days, Mrs Wilson would paint and wallpaper them herself but now they employ eight East European handymen, plus two office staff.
Their perfect tenants are what they call "vanilla people" - blameless executive types, often living temporarily in the M20 corridor.
The Wilsons' own home is a newly-built five bedroom house in the Kent countryside. They share it with their rottweiler, Pepper, and receive frequent visits from their daughters, who are both single.
Samantha, the oldest, is a maths teacher, but they expect her to take over the business one day. Tanya, who has a first-class honours degree in economics, is being groomed to run the new investment bond enterprise.
Their lives are devoid of millionaire trappings: they never take a foreign holiday because Mrs Wilson dislikes extremes of climate and they drive second-hand cars (a Jag for her, a Land Rover Discovery for him).
Mr Wilson's only indulgence is a stable of racehorses, which he will soon off-load too in favour of a stud operation. "We grew too used to being poor to live like we're rich," he says. "We live the life of middle-class teachers, which I suppose is just what we are."
Teachers they may be at heart. But when it comes to the property game, Fergus and Judith Wilson are in a class all of their own.
Drive-in dentists: Chain will hire Eastern European staff to offer cut-price treatment - Fergus Wilson
By DANIEL MARTIN - dailymail.co.uk
Dental plan: Fergus and Judith Wilson want to set up a national chain charging the same or less than NHS clinics
Two entrepreneurs are to recruit 1,000 dentists from Eastern Europe to help solve the crisis in Health Service provision.
They plan to set up a national chain charging the same or less than NHS clinics.
Fergus and Judith Wilson, who have amassed a £240million property portfolio, said they had been shocked into action by the Daily Mail's coverage of dentist shortages.
Patients have flown abroad for treatment or even pulled out their own teeth because they could not find a state dentist.
Mr Wilson, 59, said: "It grieves me that the situation has come to this, when the NHS is not providing a basic level of treatment.
"If people are being driven to extract their own teeth, there is clearly something seriously wrong."
The Wilsons aim to build seven 24-hour centres near motorway junctions with patients expected to drive.
The first, employing 150 dentists, will open just off the M20 near Maidstone, Kent.
Mr Wilson said: "What really caught my eye was reading in the Mail about dental tourists and it coincided with the time that people were getting upset about carbon emissions from aircraft.
"It seemed a wee bit stupid that people were trailing over to Budapest when we could simply bring the staff over here."
Their dentists will be offered free housing but given salaries in line with what they would earn back in Eastern Europe.
Treatments there can cost £2,000 compared with £12,000 in the UK. Although much of the dentistry will be cosmetic, emergency treatment will also be available.
The Wilsons, who started their buy-to-let empire in 1975, own more than 700 properties.
The first house they bought will be converted to become the Maidstone clinic.
Mr Wilson said: "We are doing this to make money but we are also doing a service to the country because lots of people can't get NHS treatment.
"People think NHS service is free but it's not - it's paid for.
"At a moment the prices that are being charged by many dentists are outrageous.
"There is an issue about what is a reasonable charge and whether people can afford it, and in many cases it is not a reasonable charge."
Since the introduction of a new contract in April last year, 500 dentists have left the Health Service. Hundreds more now take private patients only.
Mike Penning, the Tory health spokesman, said the Wilsons' scheme highlighted the dire state state of NHS dentistry.
He added: "It is frightening given the amount of money going into the NHS. It's fine if you can afford it but what if you can't?
"You're left pulling out your own teeth or using superglue."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "Despite recent scare stories, some 28million people in England already have regular access to an NHS dentist.
"If anyone, particularly if they are in pain, is having difficulty in finding an NHS dentist they should go to their local primary care trust for advice on getting urgent NHS treatment.
"But let's be clear, this company say themselves that the majority of treatment offered will be cosmetic.
"The NHS dental service provides clinically-needed treatment, but purely cosmetic work has never been something for the NHS to fund."
He said the chain's staff would need to be registered with the General Dental Council and meet its standards before offering any treatment.
Buy-to-let gurus sell after doing the maths - Fergus Wilson
Sebastian O'Kelly, Property Mail on Sunday
Judith Wilson epitomised the buy-to-let boom - the maths teacher who became a multi-millionaire by buying 910 houses. Now she's selling up...
Of all the buy-to-let gurus thrown up during the years of easy credit, none was more inspiring than Judith and Fergus Wilson, the humble maths teachers turned multi-millionaires.
Fifteen years ago they were teaching in a South London comprehensive. Now they have a fortune of about £90m, own racehorses and a farm in rolling acres. . . and 910 two and three-bedroom houses around Ashford and Maidstone in Kent.
But in the same week Bradford & Bingley went to the wall, the Wilsons - once the bank's most cherished customers - decided to start selling their portfolio.
'We are not going broke,' says Fergus. 'We are not a penny behind in our loan payments. I think we are reasonably safe. If we go under, everybody is going under.'
However, the increased cost of borrowing has finally caught up with them and they have identified for sale 18 houses that they bought in 2003 that are now coming off their five-year fixed rate deals, typically 4.5%.
By the time the houses go on the market in March next year, they will be joined by 50 to 60 more. 'House sales should have started to move by then and these are ideal starter homes,' says Fergus. 'All are new properties - we only ever bought new-build - and they cost us about £110,000 in 2003 and now sell for around £180,000.'
The Wilsons, both 60, say that it was always their intention to start selling when they reached 65, but after the changes in capital gains last April, which reduced the maximum rate from 40% to only 18%, it makes sense for them to start selling now.
'We are not going to sell all at once,' says Fergus, referring to a portfolio worth £250m. 'That would collapse the entire market in Ashford and Maidstone. We have even got to be careful to avoid selling clusters in the same street.'
The Wilsons have not been immune to the credit crunch and Fergus admits that they have lost a couple of million over the past three months.
But unlike thousands of me-too buy-to-let investors, the Wilsons never touched new-build flats, a saturated market where prices are plummeting. Fergus Wilson
'All our properties are houses, with a bit of grass and parking,' says Fergus. The starter home market was always their exit strategy and first-timers would overwhelmingly prefer a house to a flat. 'You cannot get people to buy jam tarts if they want cream doughnuts,' adds Fergus with a Forrest Gump flourish.
The Wilsons claim the prices of their homes have been static for the past three months, but estate agent Glen Wright, of Martins in Ashford, reckons they have plummeted 20% in the past year. He says: 'Two-bedroom resale houses priced at £165,000 a year ago now sell for £140,000 - if you are lucky. The market is paralysed.' Fergus Wilson