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Being a landlord can feel like a constant battle

Hands reaching out to a small house

Having just won a legal case against West Brom Mortgage Company, landlord Emma Hughes explains how the buy-to-let property market isn’t all roses.

Landlords in the UK have a certain reputation and face a lot of hostility, especially from people trying to get onto the property ladder. I’m a landlady. Let me make that clear from the start. Now please put all your preconceptions about me to one side while you read my story.

My husband and I own fifteen properties. They all have sizeable mortgages. Most properties were bought for around £50-£70,000. That is the price of small houses in Huddersfield and the rents are between £340 and £540 per calendar month. Factor in buying costs, renovation, insurance, repairs, mortgage payments, gas and electric checks.

You see where I’m going here… the financial returns are small. We raise money for deposits by saving carefully. No fancy holidays, no new cars, and local state schools for the kids.

Impact of higher rates

Now factor in lenders like the West Bromwich Mortgage Company, Bank of Ireland and the Skipton Building Society increasing the rates on some of their buy-to-let, interest-only, base-rate tracker products arbitrarily, even though they were supposed to track the Bank of England base rate, at 0.5% since 2009.

Some of our mortgage payments went from £150 to £300 overnight. My husband and I, along with 300 members of landlord advice site Property118.com, took the West Brom to court, as we felt bullied by the provider.

We’ve just won at the Court of Appeal after a three-year battle. Brilliant.

But being a landlord feels like a constant battle, we’re now dealing with 3% extra stamp duty if we buy another buy-to-let property, and tax relief on interest has been cut. Yet there’s still a lack of affordable housing in Britain.

My tenants are usually young, out of work or in low-paid jobs, and cannot even begin to consider buying a house… in fact I find they want to rent. Does that statement make you angry? If so, why? I live in a rented property, because it suits my family.

The landlord provides a service

Being a landlord means I am part of the service industry. The flexible working hours have allowed me to be there as my kids have grown. I go to my tenants’ houses when they have moved on and repaint, clean the loo, make the oven sparkle. I chat regularly with my tenants. They often can’t pay for a month or two, so I wait patiently for the rent.

Fifteen families rely on me and I take that responsibility seriously. I am not an ogre, just a normal mum, doing a job.

This is a guest post by Emma Hughes, a private landlord from Huddersfield. All opinions are Emma’s own, not necessarily those of Which?

Comments
Guest
Mark Alexander says:
11 July 2016

Hi Emma

It is indeed a constant battle, the restrictions on finance cost relief for individual landlords which kick in from next year being another example. Why does this only apply to private landlords and not every type of business which is reliant upon borrowing money?

With regards to the Bank of Ireland and the Skipton Building Society, The Mail described them as “Sharks” in a This Is Money article today.

As you will know, Property118 action Group has launched a crowdfunding campaign to fight these lenders too. It has already raised over £50,000 and is very easy to find via a Google search for “Property118 Crowdfunder”

Guest

The question I am burning to ask Emma is – Why do you do it? It sounds like a real struggle with not much to show for it.

And on top of all the management problems and new tax rules, are you not also building up CGT and IHT problems for the future?

Guest
Mary Rich says:
11 July 2016

I’m inclined to agree with John Ward – is it really worth the hassle?

Guest

There are no doubt many people who prefer to rent – shared occupation, relatively easy to move if you relocate a job, no responsibility for repairs, and so on. Equally, many people would prefer to buy their own property, with mortgage repayments being cheaper than rent and hopefully an increasing asset you own later. The problems are raising the deposit and the availability of properties. The more that private and public landlords acquire the less are available to those who want to buy. I’m not knocking private or company landlords – we have a free market. But I would like to see more low-cost properties available to purchase by those who wish to.

Guest
Emma Hughes says:
11 July 2016

Thanks for the comments so far. The reason we are landlords is because we are hoping that one day property prices will rise and we will be able to make gains in equity to make up for the fact that we have no pension. At present we make enough to enable me to do it as a job and look after the children, but nothing more. With regards to Malcolm’s comment, I think perhaps it is incorrect to assume that we are taking houses away from people who want to get on the property ladder. I don’t know what area you live in Malcolm, but in West Yorkshire it is fair to say that there are literally thousands of properties available under £100,000 (you only have to look on Rightmove) and the fact is that many of them sit on the market for months if not years. Often it is only landlords who are eventually willing to take on these properties and refurbish them, meaning that in fact we are putting these houses back into use, when they have previously stood empty. I think that it is important that the media and government begin to understand that the story of housing in non-metropolitan areas is completely different to that of London and the big cities. The sooner this is acknowledged the better.

Guest

Emma, I do not criticise what you are doing. In other parts of the country many young people would love to get hold of houses (at a discount) to refurbish, but they are simply scarce now. My first house was in unrefurbished condition and I learned a lot by bringing it to a reasonable standard. I think many others would do the same – my sons certainly did. Many smaller properties, particularly flats, seem to be snapped up because the letting market gives a decent return (compared to other investments) not only in income, but in capital growth.

Guest

I am not surprised it is only the prospect of capital gains that supports the buy-to-let market, given the acknowledged management difficulties and expenses. It is the leverage that enables this: if the monthly BTL mortgage interest payments and management expenses are fully covered by the rental income then the landlord can participate in 100% of any capital appreciation. This will depend on the loan-to-value ratio of the mortgage and lending is stricter nowadays so 100% LTV is less common on new acquisitions.

I am a bit perplexed by Emma’s comments that many of the thousands of properties in West Yorkshire valued at £100,000 or less sit on the market for months. I am aware of this and it occurs in many other parts of the country too, including rural areas. It is related to the strength or otherwise of the local economy and availability of work. Many de-industrialised areas have streets upon street of unwanted property. So why don’t the prices fall to a market equilibrium where supply and demand are in balance? This is needed in order to lubricate the housing market generally and provide opportunities for people to move and release properties elsewhere.

I remain curious to know how the CGT and IHT implications are factored into private landlords’ business plans, especially as their portfolio passes into double figures.

Guest

Hi John. With regard to Capital Gains Tax , the increase in property values in West Yorkshire is really quite low overall, so many of our houses have not increased much in value in ten years…I think when we do eventually sell we will do it bit by bit and just pay what’s due. And as for Inheritance Tax, well hopefully it will all have been sold before that tax is relevant. I think these things would matter much more if we had a very valuable portfolio, but the fact is that one residential house on many London streets would be worth the same as our assets.