The founder of online letting agent Upad has revealed the reason for its closure – life-threatening heart problems at the age of 43.
James Davis told EYE yesterday that the diagnosis last year was a bolt from the blue.
It was also discovered by chance.
Davis was speaking to EYE after a notice about the closure appeared on the Upad website at the weekend – with no reasons given.
Davis, now 44, said: “Last year, while skiing in France, I had a minor accident and had a broken thumb.”
Broken ribs were subsequently also discovered. A week later, back home, he felt extremely ill and, thinking it was something to do with the accident, was rushed to hospital where he was found to be a heart case emergency, needing major surgery.
Had the condition not been discovered there and then, the prognosis would have been very different.
As it was, Davis spent five months trying to recover – and found that he had lost at least part of his drive.
“I had had no symptoms before the diagnosis,” he said. “I was doing 100-mile bike rides.” He thought his lifestyle was healthy but he had been shocked to discover that his blood pressure was extremely high.
Having founded Upad 11 years ago, and growing it to become the UK’s largest online letting agent with 80% repeat business among landlords, he said: “The fun went out of it.”
He said work had been all-consuming: “I can’t remember the last time I went to one of the children’s school plays. I spent evenings on my laptop instead of talking to my wife and children.
“I never had a coffee break without doing at least two other things at the same time.”
Davis said that he had hoped that Upad would have continued going, ideally with someone else taking it forward, although he would not be drawn on the possibility of having tried for a sale.
He said: “I and the other stakeholders could not find common ground. We just could not agree a path forwards. It was, genuinely, a real shock.”
Unlike so many other online firms, Upad had not, at least in recent times, been on funding rounds. Davis also said that the money was ploughed back into the business.
With the decision made, Davis said he spent last week ensuring that rents, deposits and staff salaries are all ring-fenced and safe. However, some landlords – those who bought Upad packages before October 1 but have yet to find tenants – will not get their money back.
The notice on the website refers to Upad closing to new business, but Davis confirmed that the entire operation will close down within weeks. The firm stopped collecting rents by direct debit last Thursday.
Sixteen people will lose their jobs.
The business will not enter administration or similar status but simply shut down, said Davis, who started it as a landlord and still has 20 rental properties.
He said he is still a firm believer in investing in the private rented sector, and despite speculation said that increasing legislation and the tenancy fee ban have had absolutely nothing to do with the Upad closure.
He said of it: “No one has come out of this a winner. Everyone is a loser. It is a real shame.”
On a personal level, he said he has just received a clean bill of health, and has no immediate plans other than to spend time with his wife and three children aged 12, 11 and seven.
He said: “I am going to be taking a break. The last 11 years have been very intense, and I am now looking forward to hanging out with the children and having fun with them.
“I cannot claw back the lost time I could have spent with them. I started a business at the same as starting a family, which is not ideal. But I am really looking forward to having time with them now.
“When it comes down to it, nothing is as important as your health and your family.”