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Creating Homes, Creating Futures: Michelle’s Path to Property Mentorship

Michelle Walker-Smith has always been a people person, driven by a deep belief that everyone can build businesses from scratch and take control of their happiness. At just 24, she completed her business degree and swiftly secured a position as a Housing Assistant, where she excelled in helping people transform houses into homes. With a natural talent for public speaking and a keen interest in property investment, Michelle quickly became a sought-after mentor in the real estate industry. Her expertise spans building property portfolios, managing properties, and navigating the complexities of lettings and serviced accommodation.

Michelle’s journey from a fresh graduate to a property management guru is a testament to her dedication and passion. She now runs a successful business, guiding aspiring landlords through the legal requirements and best practices of the industry. Despite facing significant health challenges, including surviving a burst appendix, septicemia, and peritonitis, which resulted in blocked fallopian tubes, Michelle’s resilience and determination never wavered.

Her story is one of resilience, vision, and unwavering commitment to empowering others. Through her mentorship, she continues to inspire and equip individuals to achieve their dreams and create lasting prosperity.


What initially motivated you to pursue a career as a Housing Assistant, and how did that experience shape your approach to helping others in your subsequent ventures?

My natural values are to help people, always has been.  I struggled to get a job once I’d completed my degree as I was really quite shy.  Once I got this Housing assistant position, I flourished, I loved it.  Really getting to know people and knowing I could make a difference. The areas I worked in weren’t the most affluent of places. When I saw the number of people who struggled with the various paperwork and forms, I realised that sometimes, tenants need a bit more help and support. This, in turn, built the trust and respect necessary to facilitate them paying their rent. This and personal experiences of individuals who have faced housing challenges, heightened my awareness of the issue and motivated me to be part of the solution. I’ve kept that ethos throughout all the other housing management positions I‘ve held. And through starting my own Lettings Agency, almost 9 years ago, I am able to keep contributing to providing safe, stable housing and support those in need. I carry forward a deep commitment to helping others and making a positive impact.

Your journey through severe health challenges and infertility is incredibly inspiring. How did these personal experiences influence your determination and outlook on life and business?

I was devastated to learn that I couldn’t conceive naturally, but so pleased I was still alive. Facing severe health challenges and infertility requires immense strength and resilience. These experiences taught me how to persevere in the face of hardship, which has translated into a strong work ethic and tenacity in my professional life.  Having diced death a number of times, it makes you appreciate what you have.  I could easily have crumbled and closed off from the world and thought ‘why me’, but that doesn’t do anyone any good.  My inner strength really got me through when we ended up with £100k debt due to businesses not going according to plan.  

Health issues often bring unpredictability, necessitating a flexible and adaptive mindset. This adaptability has become a cornerstone of my approach to business, enabling me to pivot and respond effectively to changing circumstances and challenges. I had to dig deep and build my Lettings business to 6 figures. It taught me never to quit, failure wasn’t an option.

What inspired you to form a support group for people undergoing IVF, and what impact has this group had on its members and on you personally?

I know how traumatic and invasive the process is from personal experience.  It is the way it affects us inside, the mental pain – which is indescribable. I believe I can support people from personal experience and give them hope and support. Experiencing profound personal struggles has deepened my empathy for others facing their own challenges. In business, this translates to a compassionate leadership style, where I prioritise understanding and supporting my team and clients.

I have coached several ladies through their journey.  It reinforces that they are not alone. Two of those ladies are currently expecting babies. People don’t realise the difficulty many people go through having their family, it has taught me never to take anything for granted and often, nothing ever is as it seems on the outside. My experiences have made me a strong advocate for others facing similar challenges.  My journey has given me a unique story that can inspire and motivate others. I aim to lead by example, showing that resilience, and my personal experiences with health challenges and infertility profoundly shaped my character and approach to life and business. They have instilled in me a deep sense of empathy, purpose, and resilience and show that determination can overcome even the most daunting of obstacles. The decision to form a support group for people undergoing IVF was driven by a desire to provide much-needed support and create a sense of community for individuals facing similar struggles. The group has had a profound impact on its members, offering emotional support, information, and empowerment. Personally, it has given me a sense of purpose, facilitated personal growth, and provided emotional healing, underscoring the power of community and shared experiences in navigating life’s challenges.

What sparked your interest in property investment at the age of 43, and how did you and your husband Peter get started in building your property portfolio?

I have always worked in Housing Management and Tenant Liaison since my 20’s and always managed our personal properties.  Peter used to work in development and house builders, then he got made redundant a couple of times. After navigating various personal challenges, including severe health issues and infertility, Peter and I were keen to secure our financial future. Property investment seemed like a stable and potentially lucrative avenue to achieve financial independence. He was fed up with other people deciding when he was going to work, and when he wasn’t. We decided to take control of our own destiny and increased our portfolio by 66% within 12 months. I was incredibly risk averse back then, however other investor landlords joined us when they watched our journey and on the back of that, I founded Aqua Lettings in 2015, on the dining room table. Hearing about success stories and investing in many mentors meant we heard about the potential and pitfalls of property investment and we decided to take the risk.

Can you share the story behind the creation of Aqua Lettings and the principles that have contributed to its outstanding reputation in the North East?

The creation of Aqua Lettings and its outstanding reputation in the North East can be attributed to a combination of personal motivations, and adherence to core principles that prioritise quality service and community engagement.  I noticed a significant gap in the market for a reliable and customer-focused letting agency in the North East. Many property owners and tenants were dissatisfied with the existing services, and we saw an opportunity to make a positive impact. Our personal experiences with property investment had given us a deep understanding of the needs and challenges faced by landlords and tenants. We were passionate about real estate and wanted to leverage our knowledge to provide an exceptional service. 

My ethos, during setting up Aqua Lettings, was to get to know the tenants and Landlords alike.  Relationships, to me, are the key to a successful business.  We genuinely care about people and being landlords ourselves, realise it is a fine balance to provide safe houses, at reasonable cost.  We now manage almost 150 properties and have opened an office in Chester le Street, County Durham.

 We have invested in state-of-the-art property management software, set up a user-friendly website, and developed efficient processes for handling tenant inquiries, property listings, and maintenance requests.  We believe in conducting business with honesty and integrity; Transparent communication, fair pricing, and ethical practices are the foundation of our operations. This builds trust and fosters long-term relationships with our clients. We are actively involved in the local community and co-host The Property Investors North East networking event. This includes supporting local events, participating in community projects, and maintaining strong relationships with local businesses and organisations. Our engagement fosters goodwill and strengthens Aqua’s reputation. In summary, the creation of Aqua Lettings was driven by a desire to fill a market gap with a customer-centric, transparent, and community-focused approach. Our commitment to these core principles has contributed to our outstanding reputation in the North East, ensuring long-term success and satisfaction for both property owners and tenants.

As a Property Mentor, what are the key pieces of advice you give to those who are just starting out in the property industry, and how do you tailor your guidance to meet the diverse needs of your mentees?

I work closely with my mentees to establish their strategy.   They have my 25+ years of property and housing management experience and I am there to support and guide and hold them accountable. Peter and I work closely together and have a wealth of experience in single lets, HMOs and commercial developments.  Failure is not an option. Depending on where the mentee is on their journey, and where they aspire to be, depends on what we concentrate on first. Each mentee has unique goals, financial situations, and levels of experience. I start by understanding their specific objectives, background, and concerns to tailor my advice accordingly.

The first thing I always say to people is ‘the journey is not easy’.  There will be days when you just want to give up, but that’s when you need your support, and that’s what I’m there for. As a mentor of mine once said ‘team work makes the dream work’.  Initially mentees need to define what they want to achieve with their property investments. Whether it’s generating passive income, achieving capital growth, or securing financial independence.  It is so important to have  clear goals. Assess and determine budget – so important when planning investments. Start small so not to get overwhelmed.  Establish a good network of professionals who will provide valuable insights, support and opportunities. Always do due diligence on properties, people and assess all potential risks and returns. Property investment is a long-term game. I tell them, be patient, stay committed to your goals, and be prepared to weather any storms.

How do you balance your professional commitments with your extensive community engagement and advocacy work, and why is it important for you to support vulnerable groups and the local community?

It’s not easy, as you can imagine.  There are only 24 hours in everyone’s days.  I involve my family where I can, and leverage things that I’m not so good at to my team.  I have brilliant teams around me, without whom I could not achieve anything. I rely on them, delegating tasks and trusting my team allows me to focus on high-impact activities and ensures that various initiatives continue smoothly in my absence.

Helping vulnerable groups and contributing to the local community gives me a deep sense of personal fulfillment. It aligns with my values and provides a sense of purpose beyond professional achievements. I’ve always been one to give back.  When my sons were born, I needed an emergency C Section with my eldest and he was found to have a Cardiac Fibroma.  My 2nd son has one too.  For all 3 of my children’s christenings, we raised money for Ward 23 Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne.  

During COVID, I tried to keep in touch with all my tenants regularly as some felt so isolated.  I raised money for the NHS by doing a sponsored hair shave.  It was a live event and 220 people tuned in to watch. Almost £1500 was raised.  Strong communities are the foundation of everything. Financial contributions to charities and non-profit organizations are a key part of my community engagement. I support causes that align with my values and have a meaningful impact.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of co-hosting the Property Investors North East (PINE) monthly meetings, and how do these meetings contribute to the growth and success of participants?

PINE meetings provide an excellent platform for networking. Participants can connect with potential business partners, mentors, and other industry professionals, fostering relationships that can lead to collaborative ventures and new opportunities. Watching collaborations and seeing people having ‘light bulb’ moments when they listen to our speakers is priceless. The in person event, after COVID, had 5 members attending, and we’ve recently had a room full of 90 people. We have an active WhatsApp group with over 400 active members and a Facebook group with over 1200 which provides invaluable help and advice. Watching participants grow, gain confidence, and achieve their investment goals is immensely satisfying. Knowing that the meetings have played a part in their success makes the effort worthwhile. The meetings create a supportive atmosphere where participants feel comfortable discussing their challenges and seeking advice. This support network is invaluable, particularly for newcomers who may feel overwhelmed by the complexities of property investment.  Regularly attending PINE meetings keeps participants motivated and focused on their investment goals. Hearing success stories and receiving encouragement from peers and mentors can boost their confidence and drive. We also now offer a ‘Deal Clinic’ Zoom event monthly too, to answer any questions anyone has. This gives another safe space for someone to ask questions. 

As a best-selling co-author and public speaker, how do you use your platform to inspire and educate others, and what topics do you feel most passionate about sharing? 

I am living proof that mindset gets you through anything.  I am there to demonstrate that there are genuine folk out there who want to help and see people achieve with no ulterior motive. My life is an open book.  I share my soul with those who need it. I share my personal journey, including the challenges I’ve faced and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. By being open and honest about my experiences, I aim to connect with my audience on a deeper level and show that success is possible despite setbacks. I emphasise the importance of self-belief, resilience, and perseverance. By sharing stories of overcoming adversity, I aim to empower others to believe in their potential and persist in the face of challenges. Sharing strategies and techniques for personal growth, including goal setting, time management, and overcoming obstacles. I believe in empowering individuals to become the best versions of themselves. Advocating for mental health awareness and sharing tools for maintaining emotional well-being. This encompasses stress management, work-life balance, and the importance of mindfulness and self-care. Encouraging continuous learning and education as a lifelong journey. I discuss the importance of staying curious, adapting to change, and embracing new knowledge and skills. Through sharing personal anecdotes and success stories that illustrate key lessons and principles. This approach helps to humanise the message and make it more relatable. My aim is to create a positive impact on individuals and communities, helping them to thrive and reach their full potential.

With numerous accolades and a successful career, what are your future goals and aspirations both professionally and personally, and how do you plan to continue making a positive impact on others?

My aim is to scale Aqua Lettings and provide more homes to those who need them.  I would love to expand and create comprehensive educational programs and workshops that can be delivered both online and in-person; to enhance and grow my mentorship program, provide more coaching, and create resources and tools to support mentees’ growth and development.

My goal would be to speak on stage internationally.  Tell people my story, my journey and how I’ve overcome things; share my personal experiences and lessons learned to inspire and motivate others.

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