Where Now For Buy To Let

After a series of five interest rate rises in eleven months buy to let lenders are still insisting that buy to let even today is still a sound bet. Should consumers be viewing this as merely feelgood propaganda in a time of uncertainty and should the realisation of the bandwagon having passed by that it may well be too late, or does the great British love affair with property underpin the whole ideal.
The buy to let positives can be typically drawn from lenders commentaries and confirm that the average total return for a buy to let investor was 13.0 per cent over the past year to June 2007, exclusive of fees and mortgage interest costs. The price of the typical buy to let property in the UK increased by 7.3 per cent over the year to June 2007 and house price growth rose slightly over the past year from 6.0 per cent in June 2006.
UK Buy To Let rental yields have fallen marginally over the past year to 5.5 per cent in June 2007 from 5.7 per cent in June 2006. Nationally, the average rent increased to £651 per month in June 2007, compared with £623 per month in June 2006.
By region, total returns for BTL investors were highest in Northern Ireland over the year to June 2007, followed by Scotland and the South East. The lowest returns seen in the East Midlands. rental voids (the time a property is without tenants) have fallen for the last nine months and is at 2.8% confirming strong tenant demand. Voids have remained somewhat stable between 2.6 and 3.0 weeks for the majority of the last four years but have declined over the first half of 2006.
Most Investors though simply want to cover costs as their property investments are seen as long-term. Intimating that an investment into bricks and mortar is the preferred route than into a pension. Accepting that there will always be peaks and troughs and to weather the storm. Landlords who bought ten years ago will no doubt be more comfortable with this scenario than novice landlords. Landlords entering the market today will also be greeted with lender arrangement fees of up to 2.5% of the advance compared with a standard arrangement fee over a year ago of between £300 to £500.
More lenders have also entered the market with relaxed criteria increasing loans to 90% of the property value and reducing rental income cover in some cases to between 100% and 115%. One lender no longer looks at rental income at all and/or earned income, justifying the decision by saying rental income was not a robust test, as many lenders accepted the word of a letting agent on rental achieved.
Tenant deposit protection schemes were launched on Friday 6 April. Under new regulations, all landlords will be required to protect their tenants’ deposit using one of three government-authorised schemes alongside two insurance-based schemes which allow landlords to retain the full deposit amount themselves. These schemes require a fee to join, and a premium is payable for each protected deposit. Only any disputed amount is passed to the scheme at the end of the tenancy period.   Landlords of properties that house five or more tenants and are at least three storeys high (House of multiple occupancy) from April 6 2006 have to apply for a mandatory licence from their local authority and meet a raft of criteria. Including upgrading fire and safety regulations to installing wash basins in every bedroom, this latter criteria was branded as ‘daft’ by the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML). The licence fee is set by individual councils and will not be uniform. Around 10 per cent of the 2.6m private rented UK households are defined as houses of multiple occupancy.
Reports also suggest that Revenue & Customs are stalking 80,000 landlords over incorrect payment of tax. The buy-to-let market is coming under fire for rendering the housing market even more unattainable for first time buyers. In its annual plan for 2005-06 the OFT identified and prioritised attention to landlords who ignore legislation. The OFT guidance outlines why some standard contract terms used in tenancy agreements are considered to be potentially unfair. While landlords also have a potential green tax to look forward to in 2008.
Many entrepreneurial landlords are now looking further afield to enjoy the previous returns while also securing their own piece of paradise. Current developments in Thailand and The Dominican Republic offer guaranteed rental yields of 8% and ten years of tax incentives and no purchase tax. while the term ‘off plan’ within the UK property market may well have lost some resonance and compounded by the wettest summer since records began, the incentives along with sharing paradise with 10 people per acre is realising significant demand.