In the free-wheeling days of the UK property market, where prices were going up like an out of control escalator to the sky, the rush for buy-to-let property became an all-out stampede.
But in the last few years, the stampede has lost much of its pace and has started to retreat.
The media still highlight stories of buy-to-let landlords taking home wheelbarrows full of cash from their expanding buy-to-let empire, but less reported are the challenges of life as a buy-to-let landlord. Here are the 5 to consider before you consider becoming one.
1 – Being On Call 24/7
The most overlooked element of the equation is the mental load of always being on the clock. During my time as a landlord, I had calls at all times of the day for issues as wide ranging as a leak coming from the flat upstairs, a boiler issue, lock problems and a solitary mouse being spotted. These problems always seem to crop up when you are busy with other things, so it’s additional stress, time and additional cost.
2 – Trust
Another mental factor is the trust that you have to be willing to have give to your tenants. In my experience, they have been largely respectful of my property, but we have all heard horror stories of properties being left in a pitiful condition by departing tenants. The deposit will only go so far to protect you from a tenant with ill-intent.
3 – Illiquidity
The nature of property assets is that they are not quick, easy or cheap to buy and sell. This means that if your finances take a turn for the worse or tax changes make owning a buy-to-let property less lucrative, you can’t run for the hills and sell your property overnight.
It is also a very concentrated asset. This is great during the boom times when prices are rising, but when times take a turn for the worse you are very exposed to it and there is no quick way out.
4 – Tax Incentives
Buy-to-let landlords used to enjoy all manner of government incentives to make the industry as attractive as possible.
However, with continually increasing house prices, political pressure has been ramping up for years to make it easier for first time buyers to afford a home. This has finally resulted in the gradual removal of these benefits. The most significant of which is that landlords will no longer be able to claim back the interest they pay on any buy-to-let mortgage.
What’s more, there is now a 3% additional charge added to the stamp duty bill of those buying second properties. This makes buy-to-let investing much less of a one-way bet that it used to be.
Since these changes have taken effect, house price growth has stopped. It’s almost as if the generous tax incentives that the buy-to-let landlords enjoyed had forced prices up to unsustainable levels. How curious.
5 – Empty Periods
Never overlook the impact of your property being left empty for any period of time. This might be just for a few days between one tenant moving out and another moving in, or for a longer period of time while you are searching for a new tenant.
Either way, the mortgage will still need to be paid whether you have a tenant or not. Just see how quickly the stress builds when you don’t know where your next paying tenant is coming from. So, to avoid a nasty surprise, plan for your property to be empty 10% of the time in your affordability calculations.
One way bets never stay that way forever. Buy-to-let is no longer the land of milk and honey.