Will The General Election Bring Joy To Buy To Let?

From a political perspective, UK-based buy-to-let landlords have had little celebrate over recent times. New affordability criteria for (re)mortgaging, the controversial “right-to-rent” scheme, and the tax “triple whammy” have hardly left buy-to-let-investors in the UK filled with good cheer. Nevertheless, the buy-to-let market continues to hold strong, there’s a very simple reason for this. In the UK there is a chronic shortage of housing in general, coupled with a significant percentage of people for whom renting is clearly the best choice for their life stage. The fact that international investors are making the most of the weak pound to buy up UK-based assets is merely a reflection of this, rather than a key driving force for behind the strength of the market. Now we have a forthcoming General Election, could this provide a welcome boost to buy to let? Answering this question requires looking at three others.

What is the impact of having an election?

Elections, fundamentally, are a choice between the status quo (the current government or their direct successors) and change and any time there is the potential for change there is an element of uncertainty. This means that the period just before an election can, in many ways, be the equivalent of a person holding their breath while they wait to see what is going to happen, hopefully followed by a sigh of relief. It’s also worth noting that even when an election result is as widely expected, it can take a little while for people to absorb the fact and decide what, if anything, they need or want to do about it. In the short term, that may mean that the buy-to-let market is “on hold” in many respects, until everyone concerned has a clearer idea where they stand.

Who will win the election?

People may feel cynical about opinion polls these days, but it’s a hard fact that Theresa May had to ask parliament’s permission to call an election about three years earlier than scheduled and therefore it’s a reasonable assumption that she thinks she can win it, or, perhaps it would be better to say, she thinks her opponents can’t. For their part, her opponents, theoretically, have a lot to gain, in that they have at least some sort of chance of taking power, and very little to lose in that the election will only extend the Conservatives’ mandated by another two years, assuming they win. A quick scan of newspaper headlines reveals that this seems to be a widespread assumption even former Labour leader Tony Blair saying that he expected Theresa May to win it.

What is the Conservatives’ attitude to buy-to-let?

If we assume that the Conservatives win the election, then it also seems reasonable to assume that, at least in the beginning, they will carry on along much the same path as they have been on so far. This includes a promise to “fix the broken housing market”. That’s a pretty broad statement, but the last couple of budgets give an indication of what the Conservatives currently see as their preferred approach. There has been money to build more new homes and higher taxation on buy to let. At current time, the government is also discussing a ban on letting agents’ fees to tenants. In short, the government seems to be trying to make it more of a buyers’/renters’ market. The problem is that the main reason housing in the UK has long been a sellers’/landlords’ market is because of the lack of supply and this is highly unlikely to change overnight or even in the next five years. What may well disappear are “amateur” landlords, possibly to be replaced by “buy-to-let” housing funds, which would allow people to invest in the buy-to-let market without actually becoming direct landlords. This would allow for a consolidation and, indeed, professionalisation of the market and perhaps create a more effective industry force to allow landlords to get their point of view across to decision makers. So, in short, although the election may cause some short-term pain in the buy-to-let market, it has the potential to bring a lot of longer-term benefits.

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It’s Not Grim Up North

Data from peer-to-peer lender Kuflink shows that rental yields in the North of England and Scotland have been comfortably beating rental yields in London at 4.3% and 3.2% respectively. While this is, of course, interesting news for (potential) buy-to-let investors, it’s still useful market intelligence for those who prefer to avoid the politics of buy-to-let and invest in the property market through other channels, for example property development.

Takeaway point 1 – There’s a difference between price and value

London and the South East is an expensive place and hence landlords are likely to be able to charge higher rents than they would for equivalent properties in other parts of the country. The flip side of this, however, is that buying the rental property is likely to have cost them more than an equivalent property in another part of the country. There are still plenty of reasons why the Thames Valley area could be a good place to invest in property in some way, but it’s worth remembering that there is strong demand for property in other parts of the UK as well and hence opportunities for investors.

Takeaway point 2 – It’s always worth looking out for up-and-coming areas

According to Kuflink, Manchester and Salford provided rental yields of 6.7% and 6.6% respectively whereas Cambridge was a mere 2.7%. The data did not analyse why this was so, but one very feasible explanation is that Manchester and its neighbour Salford have both been in a process of regeneration over recent years, with the BBC making news itself by moving some of its production to Salford back in 2012. The availability of work attracts people to an area, particularly young adults, for whom renting is likely to be the most appropriate option, even if they have the funds to buy. The combination of relatively low house prices (compared to London) and increased demand for rental properties makes for good rental yield. It also offers good opportunities for other forms of property investment since many of the people who arrive as renters will ultimately settle down and buy property in the area. Cambridge, by contrast, is a mature market. As a University town, it has a pretty much guaranteed market for rental properties and as a research centre it also has a demand for property to buy, but there is nothing new about any of this and so the opportunity to invest at the start of an upward trend is really long gone. The North of England and Scotland have both been benefitting from improved infrastructure (particularly transport links and broadband internet) and as they are outside the “city” zone, they have less reason to be concerned about the prospect of some financial service roles being moved out of the UK due to Brexit.

Takeaway point 3 – Quality matters

The fact that in the UK there is always a strong demand for housing is hardly a secret and a quick scan of a newspaper website will probably reveal plenty of articles about landlords and home builders taking advantage of desperate renters or buyers. While there is certainly an element of truth in this, the simple fact is that the fundamentals of business also apply to the property market, even though it generally moves at a slower pace. Companies (or individuals) who supply shoddy goods and/or poor customer service may make a quick short-term profit, but over the long term they tend to get found out and weeded out. Because of this, anyone looking to make meaningful, long-term returns from property, whether that’s as a landlord or as an investor in property development, is well advised to be very selective about their purchases and only put money into high-quality builds.

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Top 5 Property Development Mistakes

If daytime TV is to be believed, anyone can make a career in property development and can somehow managed to turn in a respectable profit on a property in spite of costs and building time both being substantially higher than expected. In the real world, most people realise that if it was that easy, everyone would be doing it. If, however, you do want to develop a property yourself, either as a career or as a one-off project, here are the top mistakes to avoid.

Buying unsuitable property or land

If you fall in love with a place to live and you want to develop it yourself from start to finish to be your dream home, then what you buy can be guided entirely by your own preferences. If, however, you want to make a profit out of the development then you need to ensure that any property or land you buy has decent commercial prospects. Often this means making yourself thoroughly familiar with the local area as a whole and understanding what the future is likely to bring.

Over-leveraging

In principle a lender should pick up on whether or not you are over-stretching your finances, but at the end of the day, it is your responsibility to manage your money. Starting out on a stretched budget before you’ve even started your project is, quite bluntly, a way to set yourself up for heartache and wallet ache.

Underestimating the money and/or time required

Learning to price developments accurately is vital for anyone who wants to make a career as a property developer and is still hugely important to anyone taking on a property development project for their own interest. Property development companies check their figures very carefully before committing to any commercial project, they also have extensive experience to guide their judgement. Amateurs are probably best advised to check their figures as best as they can and allow themselves a substantial financial cash cushion in case of error. Similar comments apply to estimating the amount of time required for a project. Getting this wrong can seriously damage your budget.

Failing to understand the importance of a professional and independent architect.

As a rule of thumb, if a project is substantial enough to need planning permission, it probably needs an architect’s involvement and even if it isn’t an architect could still be very useful. Employing an architect directly means that their only responsibility is to you, their client. Using a builder’s architectural services can set up a conflict of interest since the decisions which make the highest level of profit for the builder may actually be the wrong ones for your property and unless you really know your way around property development well enough to pick up on this, you may wind up spending a lot of money for little to no return.

Getting the wrong builder

Sadly, cowboy builders are a fact of life rather than just a TV fable. It’s vital to avoid them (an architect can also come in useful here as they often know their way around local construction companies).

Trying to pack too much into too little

This is another mistake, which may be down to the influence of daytime television. In a densely-populated country such as the UK, space is at a premium and therefore, on a like for like basis, the more people who can share a space, the more economical that space becomes. Hence people who already own homes they like may well try to squeeze a little more usability out of the space they have so they can avoid having to move (or at least delay the move). The key point to remember, however, is that spaces need to be liveable. Multifunction furniture and modern technology may have made it possible to live, comfortably, in smaller spaces, but there are still limits and this needs to be recognised.

Certainly it’s worth talking to a professional development company, it could save you a lot of the heartache but still give you similar or even better returns.

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