Time To Exit The Property Market?

During the 2016 Christmas break I put some time aside to think about whether my strategy still makes sense given the new risks and opportunities that have recently appeared.

My strategy is simple: to grow my net worth at an average rate over a long period of time that exceeds the return I could get from doing nothing. If I cannot do this, then I should not bother running a business – simply investing my funds into a low cost stock market tracker fund, say an ETF, would deliver better results for less risk and no work. Smart investors estimate a long term return from the stock market of 6%-7%.  That would turn £100,000 into £1.8-£2.9m over 50 years. A return of 12% would instead result in £28.9m. No wonder Einstein once said “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it.”

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Since most people prefer high returns to low, especially in a low interest rate environment, so the competition for deals must increase. This has led to prices for many investments spiralling out of any sensible bounds that a value investor would consider paying given the likely long term return and risks involved. Property prices for example have increased much further and faster than rents suggesting a high level of speculation (people buying because they think market values will continue to increase).

screenshot-2016-12-31-at-17-08-56
Source: FT

One vivid example… An old Severn Trent water pumping station near me recently went to auction. The property had the potential for conversion and extension to form a block of flats. Severn Trent sold the property on the basis that the buyer would give ST a range of pretty restrictive rights, for example the permission to dig anywhere around the perimeter at any time they wished. They also wanted a share of any planning permission uplift for a long period of time, over 30 years I believe.

I figured there could be an investment here at the right price, having taken the challenges into account. I valued the property at only £45k to account for the risks involved. The eventual buyer went to the auction expecting to buy something else, missed out, then blindly bidded for this and wound up paying £92k. The story doesn’t finish there… Having realised his mistake, he then put the property straight back into a different auction and sold it to someone else for £128,500! Another friend recently put a property on the market expecting £250k, maybe £300k at a push… He sold it for £450k – way over it’s investment value. I can think of many other examples – we went for a property and it sold for way more than we thought it was worth.

This disconnect between risk and return, must indicate that inexperienced investors are actively buying, since they are less likely to understand what can go wrong and account for that by insisting on a margin of safety. Low interest rates are pushing them into risky assets that will perform poorly should market conditions deteriorate. This phenomenon is not just limited to property – it is pervasive.

Recent changes affecting investors – 3% stamp duty surcharge, loss of mortgage interest relief, wear and tear allowance changes etc.

There are around 2m landlords in the UK, who own around 5m properties. About 65% of all these properties are owned entirely mortgage free. The remaining 1.75m are mortgaged at only around 46% on average. So, overall, the changes to mortgage interest relief are going to disproportionately affect the small subset of property investors who are entering the market at high LTV’s, purchased relatively recently with a high LTV mortgage, or refinanced to the same position. Newer entrants are much more likely to be on interest only loans, which are a new invention, and since they are not paying down the debt over time they are going to be doubly hit.

The 3% stamp duty surcharge will only affect those entering the market or adding to their existing portfolios. True long term investors will simply factor the 3% into their calculations and try to negotiate a discount on the purchase price, or swallow it since the long term return, which includes all net rental income received and capital gains, is hardly affected. New entrants to the market are more likely to be put off.

These changes discourage entry to the market which helps not hinders long term investors.

These legislative changes can only be good news for experienced investors who leverage their investments sensibly and manage their properties intensively. Since just 1% of the UK’s housing stock is owned by institutions, compared to 13% in the US, 17% in Germany and 37% in the Netherlands, it seems likely these are the types of investors these Government interventions have been designed to encourage.

Should property investors get out of the market? 

An uncomfortable fact: the vast majority of renters would prefer to own a house than rent one. However, out of control property prices have resulted in their ability to buy becoming greatly diminished, impossible in many cases. This does not make landlords as a whole particularly popular (only 2% of the population owns more than one property). This is why we are vulnerable to changes in government policy – nobody really cares about us (did your tenants send you Christmas cards?)

By reading Internet comments related to property articles, it is clear that (rightly or wrongly) some people resent how investors are making it hard for them to get on the ladder. I think the issue could be deserved vs undeserved wealth. I do not think people generally have a problem with deserved wealth (nobody seems to mind when an Olympic cyclist makes a packet for example), but wealth generated by people who do not seem to have worked very hard for it angers people.

Let’s face it, many property investors have been lucky. I do not recall speaking to anybody or reading anywhere, that properties purchased in London in 2011 in London were going to skyrocket in value over the next 5 years but that is pretty much what happened. Those who had the ability to buy, and did so, did very well.

Lucky we have been, but will it continue? The current property price trends do not look sustainable – prices can diverge away from average income for only so long and the UK is way out in front for expensive property on this measure:

screenshot-2016-12-31-at-18-33-27
Source: Economist.com

An adjustment in prices, assuming people who currently rent and have deposits to buy could buy, would be good for everybody and what we should be hoping for. And lets not forget, there is the side benefit of long term investors being able to buy a few more investment properties.

In the meantime, I will continue to buy and sell.

 

Parmdeep Vadesha

P.S. Housebuilders are finding this a good time to buy and sell judging by their profit margins – they are back to where they were when the market last crashed.. Food for thought:

image-1Source: Annual reports, Persimmon & Barratt

P.P.S. If you have development deals that you want to JV on, or you want to invest in some of our projects (please note there is a waiting list for investors as we generally have more money than deals) then visit this site to find out more http://www.hawkblue.com/

Comments

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7 thoughts on “Time To Exit The Property Market?

  1. Good thoughts and well presented Parmdeep!

    I am a bit surprised you did not mention the word “Brexit” in your post and it is not just you I see 9 out of 10 experienced property professionals seem to kind of pretend it doesn’t exist at all. May be it is the human tendency to get the rate race going even if you see a hazy big hard rock in front of you because none else around you is stopping … if you did, waited, watched and analysed the situation… may be you will be left behind in that meantime and who wants that!? Probably it is this social/group insecurity which lets people to at times ignore the fairly clear signals of warning and plod on anyway.

    I find it astonishing when people make such property investments as you mentioned in your example completely ignoring the big elephant called ‘Brexit’ standing at your door step. I guess these are probably the early signs of what is going to happen in future for a smart/long term view investor. As you sate rightly, there are many of such inexperienced/impatient in the market currently so we probably know what is going to happen to them in next year or two (plus potentially the Brexit) which in turn will define what will happen to the market too. But that will be good for the market overall.

    Thanks,

    1. I am not sure that Brexit is all too relevant. House prices are essentially based on supply and demand. We are living longer, have net immigration and people are getting divorced/separated (which is a factor on housing demand that is waayyyyy bigger than immigration). I really don’t see Brexit making any impact on any of these. After hard Brexit, shutting out skilled workers will only make it more expensive to build and develop houses. That cuts supply further and pushes house prices up further. Allowing free movement of people (soft Brexit) will still result in large net immigration = more demand = higher house prices. To me it seems simple: Buy and hold (unless selling AMV in order to release cash to buy BMV).

  2. Hi, Deep,

    Very nice to catch too up and great post!
    I should say a big THANK YOU around 5-6years ago, I learned a lot of property business from you, and I am one of the lucky ones did buy property close to London, they both have doubled their values. I am not sure this will happen again, but it gives me the confidence to continue purchase more!

    You are such a good mentor, and probably have shared your knowledge with many many people. I will always appreciate your guidance. Will look forward to hearing from you.

  3. Hi Deep,

    Some very interesting and thought provoking points you made there, the BTL model is now floating in unchartered waters with so many potential events that can happen at any time and turn the whole property market on it’s head.

    Thanks
    Mike

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