Investing in property

The British love affair with property investing has been very evident over the past decade and despite a tougher market, those looking to get into the market should beware of easy buy-to-let deals and still make sure their investment meets a strict checklist, or dreams of property riches may turn into financial disaster.

Remember, buying a buy-to-let property is a business decision, and you must ensure the figures add up, no matter how desperate you are to invest in property. The 1988 Housing Act made investment in residential property more attractive to landlords when it introduced a new type of tenancy giving landlords more control over their properties. The increased availability of loans at attractive rates of interest for buy-to-let purchasers increased the appeal of owning rental property.
When you buy a property to let out, you are becoming a landlord. And owning investment property is not like owning your own home. Instead you are effectively running a small business.

Before you choose a property and arrange the finance to purchase it, there are a number of factors you should look into.

Choosing a property

Researching your market
You should carefully research the market where you want to buy your property. You can either do this yourself or employ a specialist letting agent to help you find the area and property you are looking for. If you research the market yourself, you will need to gather information from estate agents, local papers, local employers and even the local authority, about the demand for and supply of, rented housing.

Finding your tenants
You will also want to think about the type of tenant you are aiming to attract. Are you hoping to attract single people, or families, as they will have different requirements. It is important to remember your property should have features that are attractive to would-be tenants, rather than would-be purchasers.

Choosing your location
You should also look at how close the property is to local amenities such as shops, transport and schools, and are these the type of amenities that are important to your tenants? So, if you are aiming to let your property to say a family with school-age children, how close the nearest schools are, will be an important influence on where they choose to rent.

Choosing your property’s size and condition
Equally, you should think carefully about buying a property whose size is attractive to households looking for rented accommodation in that location. As well as the size, type and location of your property, what about its condition? Have you assessed whether the property will require expensive maintenance? Generally speaking, older homes require more attention.

Choosing a property you can afford
Obviously, the size of mortgage you can afford will have a major influence on the size and location of your property. You also need to considers how much to spend on a property and should bear in mind that as well as increasing in value, your property can also fall in value.

Managing your property

Your responsibilities
When you have chosen a property, you will need to decide who will manage it for you.

If you manage it yourself, you will be responsible for:

finding tenants
checking tenants’ references
collecting the rent and maintaining the property
and dealing with problems

Your legal responsibilities
You will also need to be aware of your legal responsibilities as a landlord such as:

carrying out repairs

ensuring the safety of gas and electrical appliances

and ensuring that the furniture and furnishings meet fire safety requirements

You should also consider familiarising yourself with landlord and tenant law, to understand your responsibilities as a landlord, and the rights your tenants enjoy. This is an area you may wish to take legal advice about. The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) have published a useful free guide for landlords in England and Wales called “Assured and assured shorthold tenancies: a guide for landlords.”

When your property is empty
You should remember there may be periods when you are unable to find tenants for your property and it will be empty, with no rental income coming in. Obviously you will still be expected to continue repaying your mortgage so you will need to think about how you will meet your mortgage repayments in these circumstances. This could particularly apply if you choose a property in an area where the supply of rental property exceeds demand from tenants.

Maintaining your property
As well as managing your property, you will be responsible for maintaining it. Besides repairs and regular maintenance, properties can benefit from routine improvements which maintain their attractiveness with would-be tenants. You may find that your property is in need of an overhaul after a tenancy finishes. Naturally, you will have to finance this yourself. What is more, your property is likely to be empty and you will not receive a rental income, while your property is being improved.

Using a managing agent
Given the number of different responsibilities you face as a landlord and the limitations on your own time, you may wish to use a managing agent to look after your property for you. This could cost you approximately 10 per cent to 15 per cent of your monthly rental income.

Choosing a mortgage

Paying for your property 
Obviously, when you choose a property, you will need to ask yourself how much you can afford to pay, and how you will pay for it? If you take out a mortgage, you should work out what percentage of the value of the property you need to borrow. The size of the loan is usually linked to the expected rental income. As a guide, your lender will expect your monthly rental income to be 25 per cent to 50 per cent greater than your monthly mortgage payments.

Your choice of mortgage
When you choose a mortgage, your choice will be between a repayment mortgage or an interest-only loan. With an interest only mortgage, some lenders may require you to have a suitable investment product. If you have a repayment mortgage, some lenders may also advise you to arrange life insurance alongside your loan. You may be able to choose between fixed rate and variable rate mortgages. Fixed rate loans will give you some certainty about your mortgage repayments whilst variable rate loans could move up or down. You should also remember that your mortgage payments could rise if interest rates rise, depending on the type of mortgage you have.

What will your costs be?

As well as your mortgage payments, you will need to pay for:

buildings insurance

consider contents cover, if your property is furnished

maintenance costs

periods when you are receiving no rental income because the property is empty or the tenants have fallen behind with their payments

mortgage repayment increases because of interest rate rises, which you may not be able to recover immediately from rent increases

Your tax liability
Before you can calculate what your income from your property will be after taking into account all necessary expenditure, you should recognise that the profits from renting property are taxable. However, you will be able to offset some of the costs you incur as a landlord against tax. You will have to pay the following taxes:

Income tax

Stamp Duty when you buy your property

Capital Gains Tax when you sell it