Britain’s biggest buy-to-let investors have sold nearly half their £250m property portfolio – Should You?

The Wilsons are an extraordinary couple. Fergus and Judith were both previously maths teachers. But starting in the mid-1990s they built up a buy-to-let property empire that eventually led to them owning 900 houses in Kent.

They put their success down to the appearance of buy-to-let mortgages with favourable terms which enabled them to expand their portfolio quickly. In those days, it was easy to get loans with a high loan-to-value ratio that were also interest-only. In fact Fergus Wilson has claimed in an FT interview that in those days, the only requirement was that you could spell your name and that checks were almost non-existent.

However, recently the couple have sold off about 400 of their properties in Kent, mostly to overseas buyers. Mr Wilson thinks that the era of the amateur landlord is over and that life is much tougher these days for people trying to acquire a buy-to-let property. In the article, he quotes 60% loan to value mortgages as a particular problem.

The FT quotes OneSavings Bank which has decided, since Brexit, to focus on professional buy-to-let investors since it considers that they will be better able to ride out any market volatility. It has also tightened lending criteria for smaller landlords.

Meanwhile Mr Wilson, who one suspects never listened to this kind of advice but ploughed on regardless, is waiting to complete the sales of property within his portfolio, pay off his mortgages and hopefully walk away with £200 million profit.

Although he doesn’t own property in London, he describes a type of overseas buyer who is desperate to obtain a property in the UK. He believes that Brexit will in the short term assist these buyers, as the fall in sterling will help them to afford a property in the UK.

He believes that in the longer term, UK property prices will be underpinned by the shortage of housing and that the developers cannot possibly deliver the numbers of houses that are needed in the next 15 years.

It’s likely that one of the Wilsons’ motivations may be retirement as both are at the age where the challenges of running a large property portfolio may be just a little too much. It’s certain that a new generation of keen private landlords are seeking to replicate their success, no matter what the challenges.

One of the challenges for landlords who are in the business long term is to keep up with the constant changes in legislation that affect the property rental business. This is a key reason to employ an agent who can keep up with them on your behalf and let you know about the issues that are relevant to you.

The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) has apparently said that there are currently 160 regulations that apply to property rental. Add to this the assured landlord schemes and guidance that landlords are supposed to take on board, and you can see how someone who has say, two or three Failsworth lettings, might feel overwhelmed by the level of regulation with which they must comply. What’s more, with the law constantly being challenged by court cases, the interpretation of it can change rapidly.

This is why landlords who don’t want to find themselves on the wrong side of the law employ a professional lettings agent to advise them. Only an agent who has looked at your particular property can advise as to what specific legislation you may need to take into account.

Of course, some new laws can be helpful to landlords. For example, landlords are now able to carry out checks known as “Right To Rent”. This will allow them to check that the person they are thinking of signing up as a tenant has the right to be in the UK. This will help them to avoid the potential £3000 fine for each tenant who is here illegally.

Some commercial finance websites are also reporting that around a half of landlords are intending to raise their rents next year. If returns are falling, many landlords will feel under pressure to increase rents in order to restore some profitability to their portfolio.
The Wilsons may feel that it’s all become too much effort and that now is the time to cash in their portfolio.

Possibly so, but one thing is certain – there will still be plenty of willing buyers out there.

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