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How to get a (much) better return on buy-to-let property

Not all property is created equal. Investing in the right kind of property can boost returns by over 100%.

“Is this guy for real?” you might be wondering. I can’t say I’d blame you because Landlords have taken a bit of a beating over the last year or so.

First, the lovely people over at Number 10 decided to hike up our stamp duty payments. Then, I s’pose over a G&T after work, they continued chatting and decided our mortgage interest tax relief should go too.

In January they introduced tighter lender criteria for buy-to-let landlords. And – because that obviously wasn’t enough – they’re about to introduce a load more red tape for landlords to tackle, all of which are scaring property investors off.

Yet here I am dropping in on Landlord Blogger, suggesting you can still get a very attractive return on property.

But please bear with me!

Not all property is created equal. If you know where to invest your money, there are some sizeable returns waiting to be had.

Different properties offer different returns

As you probably know, different properties can be let in different ways, and each offers different rental yields. The list of options is fairly lengthy, but most people investing in residential property go for one of the following

  • A single let (the traditional buy-to-let)
  • An apartment (technically still a single let, but with important differences)
  • A holiday let
  • An HMO (a single property let to three or more separate tenants, such as young professionals or students)

The difference in return for each makes for some surprising reading.

Returns from single lets

Single lets sound like a property let to a single person. Not so.

Single lets are actually a property let to just one family unit. That could well be to a single person (and, presumably, her three cats) but it could also be a couple or a family with children. The key point is that contractually there is one tenant.

Letting to just one family unit makes single lets relatively passive investments. If you’re willing to use an agent -and thus accept a slightly lower return- single lets require very little management whatsoever (although you still have legal obligations as landlord).

On the flip side, letting to one family unit almost always artificially caps your return.

Ultimately, rents are determined by supply and demand – and demand itself is determined by household income. When letting to a single family unit, household income is typically restricted to no more than two wage earners, which limits the rent they can afford, and your yield in turn.

Yields have been a consistent 5 – 6% over the past 8 years.

Source: Mortgages for Business Complex Buy to Let Index

Don’t get me wrong, compared to even a generous saving account, a return of more than 5% might seem pretty attractive. But why stop there?

Returns from leasehold apartments

Leasehold apartments are a lot like the single lets described above, only with one key difference: you don’t actually buy the entire property. Instead, you buy the right to lease the apartment on a long-term basis from whoever owns the building the apartment sits within.

This creates the potential for maintenance issues to be outside your control.

Also, the length of the leasehold ticks down as time goes on. Renewing it is a legal right, but it costs money. Whilst the value of the property itself may appreciate, the value of your leasehold, if let to run down substantially will depreciate until you pay to renew it.

If that all sounds pretty terrible, leasehold apartments come with benefits.

For a start, they can be a little cheaper to acquire (making them more accessible to investors). Generally speaking, they’re smaller and newer so don’t always need a great deal of maintenance.

So long as the location is right (think major cities with strong economies) tenant demand can be high – which makes void periods infrequent and capital growth strong on what is, again, a relatively passive investment.

That all makes leasehold apartments a viable option if you’re just setting out but there’s a definite trade off.

If you’re lucky, yields from a leasehold apartment can outstrip those of standard single lets, but when it comes to maximising rental yields, your capital can work harder elsewhere.

Where specifically?

Returns from holiday lets

Although they’re rarely regarded as mainstream investment vehicles, holiday lets actually crank things up a notch.

Bag yourself the right holiday let and you can expect gross rental yields to jump up more than a percentage point or two.

According to Second Estates, The average income for a week in peak season is now £1,200. But remember that’s gross, and this sector is seasonal- don’t expect that week in week out. Overall however the average income from a typical holiday property is just over £22,000.

Why is this?

Management of holiday lets is fairly intensive. If you’re changing sheets and greeting new guests every few days (or, more likely, paying someone to do so on your behalf), the market is going to reward your additional effort/outlay.

Plus, the weak pound following the Brexit vote and recent election brings a double whammy bonus to the holiday property investor: More Brits on staycations (up 24% according to Sojern) and more foreign tourists attracted by the strength of their currency (up 19 % according to Visit Britain). The demand side of the equation is increasing faster than supply.

Airbnb has of course popularised the short term letting phenomenon and also brought it out of the typical tourist spots and into the ‘regular’ towns and cities. There are even now management companies dedicated to running your Airbnb profile and taking care of check-ins and check-outs for you.

Now, one of the major benefits of a furnished holiday let is that the mortgage interest relief (the removal of which has spoiled the party for so many) still stands. This is a significant tax benefit not to be overlooked…although you would probably be wise not to rely on that forevermore given the recent changes.

But there’s more risk with holiday lets. Such short term letting periods coupled with the potential for seasonal lulls can result in unpredictable and potentially substantial void periods.

If you’re purchasing with cash, you can run your property how you like. But, if you’re relying on a mortgage there are a relatively limited number of mortgage products that cater to the holiday property.

Most buy to let mortgages expressly prohibit short term lets, so you can’t simply purchase as a regular buy to let then pop it on Airbnb. Many apartment blocks also prohibit short term lets in the lease covenants (whether explicitly or implicitly).

Acquiring a holiday property is therefore something that needs careful consideration.

So where does that leave us?

Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs)

A house in multiple occupation is a single property that’s let to 3 or more tenants from different families – think houses shared by young professionals or students.

There is a renaissance happening in the HMO market at present. Well designed, high quality and high spec properties for discerning tenants are beginning to distance themselves from the average house share or ‘student digs’ of yesteryear.

For the most part, these tenants value the social connectivity and flexibility that come with sharing, or co-living as it is becoming known. Unwilling to settle, they rent out of choice, yet the quality HMOs they’re after are in short supply.

With short supply and high demand the market is set for higher rents, but only if household budgets allow. Fortunately for all parties, HMO household budgets are abnormally high.

That’s not necessarily because tenants are abnormally wealthy. Instead, it’s because HMOs house a wage earner in each bedroom. That might mean five or six wage earners, for example, as opposed to the one or two associated with single lets.

Per tenant they pay significantly less than they would living alone, but still that lesser amount, multiplied by the 5 or 6 tenants in a HMO, can double a property’s rental income compared to it’s use as a single let.

It’s a match that makes HMOs particularly attractive to both tenants and landlords alike:

Tenants get flexibility, companionship and lower rents. Landlords benefit from yields that outstrip those of a single let by almost 2:1.

Source: Mortgages for Business Complex Buy to Let Index

All that said, HMOs cost more to maintain, require more management and really do require you to vet tenants properly. A passive investment HMOs are not.

But for those with a taste for an active investment, – or for those willing to find and use a reputable agent – sizeable returns usually mean HMOs warrant serious consideration.

How to get a (much) better return on buy-to-let property

So let’s compare the two ends of the spectrum. Over the past 8 years a single let has returned on average 5.7%. Over the same period an HMO has returned on average 9.6%. The right holiday let will do similar.

In my eyes, you’re looking at almost doubling your return while reducing void periods with an HMO and for more information on how HMO’s reduce void periods you need to read this).

Despite unfavourable government regulation, there are still clear and sizeable returns to be made from property.

The trick, of course, is knowing where to invest.

 

This article was supplied to us courtesy of Tom Charrier who is the Director of Living Space Property who can be contacted for more information by emailing tom@livingspaceproperty.uk

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