Is buy to let past its sell-by date? With the Stamp Duty holiday due to expire in April 2021, some tough questions are being asked about the longer-term outlook for the buy to let market.
Back in July 2020, the UK’s buy to let market was handed a surprise boost by the Chancellor after he announced that the newly-introduced stamp duty holiday would also apply to buy to let investors. The tax holiday meant that buy to let investors buying a £500,000 property would have the rate of stamp duty halved from £30,000 to £15,000.
In recent years, the government has been focused on first-time buyers and encouraging homeownership, and measures affecting the private rental market such as mortgage interest tax reform or changes to private residence relief and tenancy regulations have been put in place to make buy to let – and being a landlord – much more difficult and significantly less profitable. The ‘surprise’ therefore was that the stamp duty move treated first-time buyers and experienced landlords alike. The decision to create a level playing field has proven largely successful, in terms of stabilising house prices and boosting transactions during the pandemic.
The post-COVID landscape
The buy to let sector was already facing challenges before COVID hit, particularly due to the new regulations being implemented during the current tax year. The coronavirus has simply added to the uncertainty. But as the government has continued to exert pressure on landlords down the years, many have started questioning whether the negatives of owning buy to let properties now outweigh the benefits.
It’s worth noting that the economic outlook for 2021 remains uncertain, and although the pandemic itself might begin to dissipate, the economic impacts are likely to be around for much longer. It’s no surprise that confidence among landlords is low. According to research published in October by the National Residential Landlords Association, almost two-thirds of private landlords in England and Wales expect rentals to continue to be negatively impacted by COVID-19. Despite efforts by the government to protect homeowners, landlords have been forced to confront a sudden drop in demand for rental property or to have difficult conversations with tenants who may not be in a position to make rental payments, due to redundancies and other challenges.
The supply/demand characteristics of the UK property market are also shifting, thanks to COVID-19. So many people have learned to adapt to working from home, and London, which was once considered a prime buy to let location – thanks to its high rental income and stellar capital growth – has seen a rapid exodus of business professionals who are willing to give up city life and instead find larger properties outside of the capital. Since June, the number of monthly London lettings has been down by a quarter compared to last year, according to LonRes, and London landlords have been slashing rental prices by 20% to secure new tenants.
So, what are the alternatives?
Setting aside the incentive of owning property, it’s a good idea to think about the investment returns that a buy to let traditionally offers – a reliable stream of income that should rise slowly over time, combined with long-term capital growth. The downside includes increased costs and higher taxes, lower returns as rental yields fall, an increased likelihood of renter defaults or the property being empty for longer periods, and the added hassle of managing the property.
You might want to consider whether it would be better to find alternative investments that offer reliable income and capital growth, without the other burdens. For example, you could want to steer clear of volatility, bond funds can offer a steady income with a much lower likelihood of default. If you’re after growth, you might want to think about investing in funds that focus on dividend growth, which offer a combination of rising income and capital appreciation over time. On a global basis, dividend-paying companies have done surprisingly well this year.
Has buy to let had its day?
The impending demise of the UK buy to let market has been signalled countless times before – and yet has managed to carry on regardless. After all, for most Britons, bricks and mortar will always be viewed as a ‘safe as houses’ long-term investment. But COVID-19 has created new challenges that may be the final nail in the coffin for landlords already unhappy with the obstacles they have to face.
Until it expires on March 31st 2021, the stamp duty holiday will continue to control the direction of the UK’s property market and bolster house price growth. The question is whether buy to let still looks like a solid investment thereafter. It’s just possible that 2020 may well prove to be the peak of our fascination with buy to let.
If you would like to discuss your investment opportunities please get in touch with one of our experienced financial planners here.
The value of your investment and income from it can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Investing in shares should be regarded as a long-term investment and should fit in with your overall attitude to risk and financial circumstances.