Founder’s close brush with death at 43 revealed as reason behind Upad’s closure

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.”

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8 Comments

  1. JWVW

    Get better chap. Life is short, precious, and all this stuff is irrelevant

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  2. AgencyInsider

    Health and family must always come top and I have every sympathy for the man, wishing him a full recovery.

    However, a look at the company accounts rather suggests it was struggling even before Mr Davis became ill.

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  3. Mrlondon52

    Likewise – health family etc far more important than work, ego, glory in trade pubs and I wish him good health.

    Yet the hidden story is the one the article alludes to: why James couldn’t sell the business. uPad was a pioneer in some ways and is pretty well known in the industry but my guess is that the appetite for loss-making online agents must be limited. Two years ago the buyer would have been another online agent but not now.

    Stay healthy people

     

     

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  4. smile please

    Importantly James is well. Nothing more important in life as health and family.

    However being cynical is this just a convenient narrative to go along side a company submerged in debt that nobody want to buy?

    At least he has done the right thing in winding it up not just walking away and leaving a mess ….. Others could learn from this.

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  5. Hillofwad71

    Sad to hear the personal reasons behind the closure  .

    What it does show however is the real risks of losing your money when   choosing a model whith pay up front . The company can just disappear overnight for whatever  reason

    “Those who bought Upad packages before October 1 but have yet to find tenants – will not get their money back.”

     

    Good luck to him but those who wont be getting their money back might find it a little unpalatble that he has a portfolio of 20 rented properties to fall back on !

     

     

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  6. Andy Halstead

    Wow, Upad seems to have literally disappeared; I wish James well, illness is a dreadful thing.
    It’s hard to understand why there is simply no value in this business after 11 years of trading. Whilst the model is flawed, I always thought the marketing was good and they seemed credible. Just goes to show how marketing over substance can impact our market. There is simply no real alternative for landlords and tenants, local professional letting agents provide what they need. Lettings is about customer service and a broad range of skills and knowledge that generates profits, good yields for landlords and safe homes for tenants. It requires talented people on the ground, visiting properties and meeting with landlords and tenants. Not easy, if at all possible, to replicate.   

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  7. andyamomentum@yahoo.com

    Although I am saddened to hear of James’ health issues – he is a fabulous guy, the story of UPAD closing for the reason given is  at best odd – very odd; given that James and his wife Natasha registered a new company (Jed Property Lettings Ltd) less than two weeks ago i.e. October 2019. Also, one would have expected a business that traded for 11 years to have had good enough systems for co-directors and employees of the company to be able to continue to run the business while James sees to his health and family. A transfer of ownership could also have been an avenue. These makes one to conclude that the reason given for the closure is not the real reason behind the closure. There must have been deeper underlying reasons. Perhaps, flawed business model, loss making, cash flow problem etc.

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  8. Stephen Parrott

    James, Wishing you a speedy ongoing recovery

    The team at Prosico.com will miss a most worthy competitor!

    Family has to come first and is easily overlooked during the excitement and daily challenges of a very tough business

    Very best wishes for a full return to health from the team here!

     

     

     

     

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