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Why are landlords selling when rents are high?

There isn't exactly a flood of landlords selling, but given demand is strong and rents are high it's curious nonetheless, says Lorna Bourke

Why are landlords selling when rents are high?

There is an interesting comment in the latest survey of the rental market from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics). The survey reports that demand for rental property continues to outpace supply as an increasing number of would-be first time buyers are forced to continue renting.

But it then mentions, almost as an aside, that ‘surveyors report that where tenancies are coming up for renewal, some landlords  – particularly those in London and the South East – are now choosing to put their properties on the sales market, leaving fewer rental properties available.’ Given that rents are rising in the face of increased demand this is surprising. 

Why are landlords selling?

As Rics spokesperson James Scott-Lee points out, ‘the combination of strong tenant demand and a limited stock of good quality properties on offer is pushing rents ever higher across much of the country. This is the case both for houses and flats. Moreover, with mortgage finance for first-time buyers likely to remain in short supply for some time to come, this imbalance is set to persist. The inevitable outcome is that rents will continue to increase.’ So why are landlords selling?

It isn’t exactly a flood of sellers but curious nonetheless, given that demand is strong, voids are short and rents are rising. ‘We don’t really know,’ is the response from Simon Rubinsohn, chief economist at the Rics. ‘Whether it was because there was an opportunity to sell and landlords are taking it, or whether they are taking a view on the market is difficult to know.’

There could be a number of reasons but the most likely is that the small landlords who financed their buy-to-let purchases with loans of 75% or more in the dog days of the market boom in 2007 are now coming up to remortgage their properties and cannot find a deal that stacks up – or even any deal at all.

They may now have very little equity left in the property – not enough to qualify for a remortgage – and with the possibility of further falls in house prices prefer to sell now, even if they have lost some capital, rather than struggle on. Latest figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders show that 65% of buy-to-let mortgages are remortgages.

Some landlords could be coming up to retirement and want to realise their investments while they still have a profit and before the market falls further. Many of the baby-boomers have now reached this point. Others could be suffering arrears or outright defaults and are fed up with the hassle.

Property is not an easy ride

Property is not a trouble-free asset and demands maintenance as well as time and trouble spent on tenants. These landlords could be struggling to meet mortgage repayments if rental income is suffering a shortfall or has dried up entirely. CML figures show that arrears are running at 2% of loans but repossessions have risen by 9% from 1,700 in the first quarter, to 1,900 in the second quarter of 2011 out of a total buy to let loans of 1.34 million.

The latest survey from the Association of Residential Letting Agents (Arla) for the first half of this year reveals that more than four out of ten Arla members’ offices (42%) said that they had seen an increase in the number of tenants struggling to meet rental payments in the last six months.

‘The last time we saw a sell-off by landlords was the fourth quarter of 2007 as the crisis (credit crunch) began to unfold – then we saw landlords selling with 6.5% responding to our survey saying they were looking to sell,’ says Rubinsohn. The latest figures from the Rics show that 3.6% are contemplating a sale so it isn’t a flood of sellers – but it does seem something of an anomaly.

‘A lot of landlords saw substantial capital growth over a ten-year period and they are not seeing that anymore,’ says Lee Grandin, managing director of Landlord Mortgages. ‘Now they are not seeing much future growth and are cashing up. Others have been a bit burnt by the experience and there is a shortage of good buy to let deals.’ He could be right.


39 comments so far. Why not have your say?

Dislexic Landlord

Sep 02, 2011 at 06:13

I personaly never sell and never will ???

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Philip Clift

Sep 02, 2011 at 07:01

The "retirement" possibility seems to make most sense, followed closely by the "fed up of the hassle" argument.

If I had cash floating around looking for an investment home right now, I'd have steamed into UK bank shares about a week ago! Far more remunerative than BTL.

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Dislexic Landlord

Sep 02, 2011 at 07:10

every body to there own Cliff

One a swallow dosent me its a summer

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Martin Drew

Sep 02, 2011 at 07:25

Stockmartket very low, some say close to bottom, house prices unlikely to recover anytime soon, if you have several properties selling one or two and switching to equities might well give faster capital appreciation over the next 4 or 5 years.

Also, with unemployment rising, there is always the possibility that a tenant goes out of work and you find yourself in the housing benefit nightmare.

I am not selling, but I can see good reasons why some people might well decide to at this time.

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Sep 02, 2011 at 07:27

3.6% contemplating selling? How many are actually selling, and how does this compare with other periods? How many are contemplating buying - perhaps even those same landlords are just "churning" property?

Incomplete presentation of data doesn't allow any conclusion to be drawn and is not helpful.

However, inevitably there must come a time when the baby boomers want to sell and this is a scary prospect for prices. The exit doors are never wide enough when there's a rush.


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Truffle Hunter

Sep 02, 2011 at 07:37

The REAL value of property when measured against gold, silver, oil, corn, wheat coffee is falling. Indeed it is crashing especially in terms of real money ie gold.

Family budgets are being squeezed by rising food and energy. Banks are still bust. The balance sheet recession is in full swing with everyone cutting their cloth to the new realities. It is not much of a puzzle that some landlords are selling up. It is part of the big correction in the mad property binge that has played out over a couple or more decades. The correction in REAL prices will last a period commensurate with the period of madness.

Crowds go mad; but, come to their senses one by one.


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Andrew 2

Sep 02, 2011 at 07:46

Come Chaps, and Chapesses, Think outside the box.

Tax revenues in serious decline

BTL blight on the younger generation

CGT up from 18% to 28%. Next stop 40%, then 50%

Property values to slide for the next 5 to 10 years. If we get a right wing governement, (likely) immigrantes leave as benefits dry up.

Add the observations above.

Now what would I do? Yes I 've already done it!. Don't own a brick!!

Now let's see what happens this Autumn.

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Robert Court

Sep 02, 2011 at 07:47

I disagree.

Soon the banks will be back to their normal lending policy; within a decade or so people will be able to borrow a million pounds with an annual income of only three shillings and sixpence.

They didn't learn in the late 1980's or early 1990's.

They did the same recently and shall do the same again in the not too distanr future..

It's the same old bank herding instinct.

'These loans looks a bit dodgy but other banks are lending so we better had as well or lose out on short term paper profits - and if everybody else is lending even though it can't be economically viable we can't get the blame ..........'

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Andrew 2

Sep 02, 2011 at 07:59

Come on Think outside the box!!

Prices sliding for 5- 10 years,

Increased tenant default

Tax revenues falling fast

CGT up from 18% to 28%, next stop 40% and then 50%

Right wing government like to be voted in next time, (Anytime) Immigrants leave en masse as Benefit dry up.

What would I do? Yes I've already done it. Don't own a brick

Just watch what happens this autumn!!!!

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alan franklin

Sep 02, 2011 at 08:01

I agree it's not a time to buy with huge loans. However, if you know an area very well, take your time and pick and choose the bargains, property purchase still makes sense - but only as part of a wider portfolio. And that would certainly include gold holdings.

The real value of homes is likely to fall, but in pound terms inflation will probably keep the headline prices much the same or heading up. Governments always solve their debt problems by inflating the currency.

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Daye Tucker

Sep 02, 2011 at 08:41

I take it the "Landlord" statistics for "rental properties" include commercial properties? That sections value on paper bears no relation to what they would achieve if they sold. There is a huge disconnect because of the way property is valued and what it can earn in rent.

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Dislexic Landlord

Sep 02, 2011 at 09:09

this is an intresting blog

Ive been a landlord for a very long time ive seen the ups and the downs

I would like to make this point as far as income goes from BTL Ive never been better off

I have been buying since the crash started and ive made very good money

This market is great for me Im buying good property at nearly 50% lower values than 2007

Rent demand is through the roof I can charge 15% more this year than I did last year than last year when I have voids

Voids are about 28days on avarage


There is very good money to be made at present if you know what you doing

i would like to put money in the stock market ive tried and normaly lost its just not my cake if my penison fund is a reflection of stock market performance its not very good

in fact i wish i had never seen a pension fund

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Robert Court

Sep 02, 2011 at 09:14

alan franklin

I like what you write.

A good portfolio is a balanced portfolio and a small exposure to gold WHEN the market is on the up is a good hedge against it falling, but I feel now is too late to invest in gold and I lost the bandwagon.

Unless a super landlord with at least double digit property ownership all with zero mortgages and no big deal if 20% of properties were empty at any point in timeI'd prefer not to have more than 10% invested in property and only 5 to 10% invested in gold.

80+% of my investments shall remain in my good old friends that look after in good times and bad - the corporate bond market.

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Anonymous 1 needed this 'off the record'

Sep 02, 2011 at 09:47

It's all very simple, a lot of these landlords over geared and were financed on short term interest only deals with the Banks. These 3-5 year deals have expired, and despite rents increasing these landlords are still too overgeared to be able to repay their IO loand over a reasonable investment period (say 20 years) therefore the Banks have told them to sell up.

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Dislexic Landlord

Sep 02, 2011 at 10:03

Anon 1

your so right

I like to borrow on 5 year fixed and even now so as i talk now i have over 50% of my properties on fixed rate

and when i buy more they will be on fixed rate too

its common sence spread the risk you might pay more intrest but its tax deductable

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pedant landlord

Sep 02, 2011 at 10:16

Yes, there must be others in our position. We only started buying in our sixties when we paid off the mortgage on our home, as we're cautious and risk averse. On the advice of brokers and research having revealed that historically property prices had doubled every ten years, we took 85% BTL mortrgages. The 10 year mortgages will mature in the next few years and, because we're now over 70 we aren't eligible to remortrgage. Far from doubling in price, these properties will now make less than we paid before the improvements we've made. The tenants struggle to pay the same rent we were getting 8 years or so ago. Despite having savings, we shall need to sell some properties to pay off mortgages.

Furthermore, the value of one-bedroom properties has really crashed in this area since housing benefit tenants under 35 are no longer eligible for this accommodation, and half of our properties are on-bed flats! Yes, we were prudent and took advice but the banking crisis and alterations in government policy have exacerbated the effects of unemployment to make it inevitable that some BTL landlords will sell.

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Sep 02, 2011 at 10:17

I can only speak about a zone of property in the North East. Other areas, such as inner London are a different ball park. In the ten years prior to 2007 capital values of residential properties rose sharply , during this time landlords competed with first time buyers to buy the lowest grade of houses.

I would place "Landlords" into four catergories.

(1) Businesses: whose stock in trade is a portfolio of lettable properties contained within a locally defined area.

(2) Builders: who have refurbished properties and decided to let them so that the increase in value can be treated as capital rather than income.

(3) Speculators: People who have considered property as having capital growth and income potential as a means by which they can make their money earn the most return.

(4) Owners of houses who urgently needed to relocate and could not sell at a price that would release them from mortgage contracts.

Previous to the credit crunch all were thriving merrily. The situation today however is very different. The speculators were the first to suffer. Many of them were absentees, living many miles away, who left it to agents to find them tenants. As time has progressed a sucession of irresponsible occupants have rendered some of these properties needing major repairs. Many jobbing builders in my area have found it harder to find work and have laid off employees, so they too have been prompted to cash in their chips. The property businesses however have not been subject to these pressures, as they have long standing recommendations, have formulated their own tentant vetting procedures and usually only buy properties in a well defined local area that they have detailed knowledge of.

The shortage of mortgage finance, lack of jobs, and a static house building programme has conspired together to cause substantial falls in the capital value of terraced houses in the north east. I cannot envisage anything other than a slow recovery.

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pedant landlord

Sep 02, 2011 at 10:18

Shame I didn't proof read my comment for typos before posting!

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Anonymous 2 needed this 'off the record'

Sep 02, 2011 at 10:28

If you over leveraged during the boom you are probably in trouble as a landlord.

There is some hassle in BTL most brought about by Labour Government enacted regulation like the DPS, Gas Certificates, EPC's, difficulty of eviction for non paying or disruptive behavior etc....

Prudent Landlords who have the leeway to reject dodgy tenants, maintain homes well and had read the macro economic interest rate scenario by opting for trackers are doing very well and just sitting back waiting for the projected 20% increase to take place when banks and the economies of the world recover.

Renting is here to stay, Rents are going up, youngsters must learn like my generation did that you can have a house OR a car OR a GAP Year or sex, booze and rock n roll.

Dream on those who predict property armageddon. I have seen several booms and busts and the property I bought in 1974 for £30,000 is now worth around £1million. I was told £30K was too much at the time! True I spent a bit (say £70,000) on extending and maintaining it over the years but it's still a good long term return and I get to live in it rent free along with my wife and her horses!

PS Lorna seems to have a soured view of property as an investment and dare I say Landlords!

PPS Companies go bust and shareholders get nothing....

Equitable Life went bust really and the poors WPA's are still waiting for HMG promised compensation whilst Bank of England pensioners get RPI pensions. Such greed and piggerry. I would say the governor should resign in this clearly "Austerity for Some UK except he is on-site in keeping bank rate low. But then this is to wipe out government debt by ignoring inflation.

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Dislexic Landlord

Sep 02, 2011 at 10:30

Pendant Landlord

Just a small note to you dont forget you have the banks money just because the term end dosent mean you have a problem the bank has a problem if you can see my meaning

if you are paying the mortgage on time every month it will be in there intrest to help you through the problem

as long as you can rent the properties you did buy i would not think you have a problem

best of luck DL

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Sep 02, 2011 at 10:40

Some just might have seen the writing on the wall with the Localisation Bill and the changes in the Planning Laws.

When the building starts house prices will fall, particularly in London and the SE.

It will also become even more unpleasant to live there as more and more green space is gobbled up for housing. First time buyers will be able to get back on the ladder and rental prices will fall.

A Mansion tax is on the cards as well, which will wipe out the London and SE windfall

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Robert Court

Sep 02, 2011 at 10:50

I believe BTL mortgages now demand a 25% deposit; this seems quite sensible.

With £100k one could buy two £50k properties outright (in, for example, Swansea, South Wales) and get a rental income of £450 per month; £10.8k gross per annum (and maybe as much as £8k net before tax = 8% after repairs and empty periods taken into account).


With 75% mortgages one could buy eight £50k properties and have a gross rental income of £43.2k and, assuming mortgages average 5%, £43.2k - £15k = £28.2k and maybe a net £21.15k before tax which equates to a 21.15% return on your income without taking into consideration any future gain in the value of the properties.

But is it worth all the hassle?

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Robert Court

Sep 02, 2011 at 10:51

'21.15% p.a. return on your CAPITAL' not income (sorry)

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Dislexic Landlord

Sep 02, 2011 at 11:26

FAO Robert

You need to love being a landlord its far from an easy ride but anything worth havein is never easy

so yes its worth it

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Robert Court

Sep 02, 2011 at 11:42

Dislexic Landlord,

I take my hat off to you; it's only through chance that I'm renting out my UK property and paying a leasing agent 10% of the gross.

All I know is that it seems a lot better than leaving it empty or having even more hassle trying to sell it in the present climate.

I have met several successful landlords who have built up mini property empires over several decades. They are all very hard-working and decent people and I believe they do their best for their tenants (within reason of course) out of calculated self-interest.

No, definitely not an easy ride and I'm sure you've not succeeded without having a real passion for your bricks and mortar and all the associated challenges you must have faced.

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Bill lawson

Sep 02, 2011 at 12:26

Could it be interest rates are about to increase?

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Sep 02, 2011 at 14:13

As a tiny landlord who's getting on a bit (66 years), I've contemplated selling one of my places which has had the most hassle. Can I be bothered with neighbour trouble, or breakdowns when I'm on holiday? My company shares never phone me up to complain that something's goone wrong with the shower!. On the other hand, I'm getting a good income from the properties, and since the credit crunch, quite frankly have never had it so good. Low SVR rate and tenants aren't moving as they find it difficult to get finance so it's more profitable than ever. My inclination is to let things be for another few years.

As for the current article: I still reckon there's some sensationalism here as usual from Lorna. 3.6% of landlords selling sounds like a very small percentage to me, and not indicative of any real movement.


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51Degrees North

Sep 02, 2011 at 15:15

Since it takes two to tango, if landlords are selling then who is doing the buying?

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Sep 02, 2011 at 15:43

You lot all forget how cyclical the property market is. When I bought my first property in 1978 mortgages were like hen's teeth. I'd had a Halifax savings account for 10 years, and they offered me a 75% mortgage - I needed 90%, and they just laughed.

I eventually got one though a mortgage broker by a very devious and possibly illegal route - the flat was in Crystal Palace and I had to apply to Bromley Council (nowhere near the same area) for a mortgage - they said no, as the broker knew they would, but passed me on to the Bromley branch of the Leicester, who gave me my 90% mortgage. It had to be an endowment mortgage, of course. Can't help thinking somebody got a back-hander along the way - not from me, though . . . .

Three years later I sold the flat for double what I paid for it, and the endowment paid out rather more than I had paid into it - I've no idea why.

So let's not have all this doom and gloom. In three years' time things might be very different.

If what I hear on the grapevine is true, the percentage of landlords selling in my area (South Coast) is a lot higher than 3.6%.

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Sep 02, 2011 at 15:58

Hotrod- there is another category of buy to let owner - those who do not have private pensions - many of them women who worked part time or for a number of different employers. OK, buy to let isn't the highest income, but you don't have to pay an 'adviser', and it is much easier to assess the value of a property in an area you know than to evaluate shares. The capital value may fluctuate a bit but you can at least see what you have bought. I know many retired women who own one or two flats which supplement their state pension- and the rents tend to go up with inflation, as will the property values in the long run - much better value than buying an annuity and easier to understand than stocks and shares.

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Sep 02, 2011 at 18:31

Please forgive my ignorance, but I don't know how you would set about evaluating a flat as an appreciating asset.

My understanding is that the title of ownership consists of a leasehold contract which entitles the holder to occupy the property for a specified number of years. Also included in the contract is an agreement to pay ground rent and charges relating to the maintenance and upkeep of the building's structure. To my mind that can only be accounted for as depreciation.

I fully understand that in an inflationary environment this cost can be offset against revisory rents (sub-leases) but in the final analysis a lease expires worthless. I also understand that in this situation there is legislation whereby the holders of such leases have the right of first refusal the buy the freehold land on which the properties stand, but what is that right worth?, given that not all of the co-leaseholders would be in a position to buy it, and the value at the time the leases expire is unknown.

Also I don't fully comprehend the reasoning for buying properties with borrowed money (mortgages) where there is an established downtrend in expected resale value, other than to provide a home for yourself.

In the first analysis it has to be understood that the mortgager has the right to freehold title until such time that the mortgage is fully paid off. In the meantime the mortgagee is responsible for the full extent of the loan regardless of the saleable value.

In the case of a landlord taking out a succession of mortgages for properties which are declining in capital value despite the rental income from them increasing, it seems to me that a tipping point will be reached because the sums repayable to the banks will not be covered by the intrinsic value of the underlying assets.

Landlords may think that they are sitting pretty because their businesses provide a healthy cashflow, and can be valued as a going concern, but what would the enterprise be worth if a solvency test was applied and the net tangible assets were valued after all debts had been settled.

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Anonymous 3 needed this 'off the record'

Sep 02, 2011 at 21:04

Great comments. What im seeing as an estate agent, are indeed rising rents, and I do think there will be a point where rent arrears becomes a problem. But here in West London some landlords are indeed selling, and the ones who are taking substantial hits, ie selling for 30-40k less than they paid are I guess because they have to.

Buyers of smaller flats are far and few, deposit levels is the main problem, so while houses are doing very well, many flats will only sell at 20% below or more, their 2007 peak. And while rents stay high how does anyone afford to save? So unless 100% mortgages make a come back, many landlords are in for a choppy time.

House prices have not always risen so quickly, it has only been recent times, and its all about when you bought.

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paul tenant

Sep 02, 2011 at 21:04

Just like to say that I'm a first time buyer who tried to buy a flat but was out bidded by landlords. This happened several times. My wife and me both earn more than average but as we have a baby so can just about afford to rent a 2 bed flat 1 hour commute to London where I work.

It costs per month £1000 to rent +£60 bills + £120 council tax + £160 tube + car costs to drop daughter off at nursery + £90 student loan. Our baby in nursery costs £1000. My partner pays £150 to travel to work, £70 a week in shopping plus money on baby stuff.

My Land Lord wants to increase the rent inline with other Land Lords by 15%. So we have to move out into a 1 bed flat.

So you can see why I am against Landlords and people with second homes. All I want is a normal size house and a garden for my baby to play in but thanks to everyones greed we can't aspire to even this.

I feel like a loser. Lost out on ever owning my own home. It causes so many arguments between me and my wife which I'm sure affects our baby. I went to uni and worked hard for nothing.

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stiff watt

Sep 02, 2011 at 21:06

i always like to read dislexic lord Lan

I like to hear from someone who's done it

quick off the mark at 6 o'clock!

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Sep 02, 2011 at 21:10

Ideally you buy a flat with a share of the freehold. Otherwise, as you say, you have to reset the lease at some point in the future, if you keep the flat that long - depends how long the lease is. The cost of maintenance can be offset against income, as can ground rent which is usually pretty minimal. OK it sets the income down,but you don't have to call it depreciation unless you want to. I am not talking about people buying with a mortgage, they are women who have saved during their lives or have downsized from a larger property (divorce and widowhood) and need to supplement their incomes. To buy an annuity you kiss goodbye to the capital, to buy shares you have to be prepared to take an interest in the market etc, to buy a property in an area you have lived in for years and understand is much less challenginging. After management fees etc you will get circa 4% per annum, and provided you buy a suitable property - close to transport, shops, etc it will increase in value to keep pace with inflation and the rent will also increase with inflation. There will be fluctuations but you have an income you can rely on and a capital asset which you can sell in the future if you need to or leave to your heirs. It may not be the most ambitious programme but it is pretty stress free - as long as you buy a well built flat in a suitable area which appeals to working people - close to public transport and shops and with parking.

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Sep 03, 2011 at 08:00

Ines makes good points, but I believe most BTL landlords take out mortgages of various sizes, sometimes recklessly large. Anyone doing that should bear in mind that the wealth and income generated is produced with leverage and therefore has a corresponding risk. People are willing to do this only because they believe the housing market will go up in time. The same people would never dream of borrowing money to buy shares, because they are reckoned to be more volatile.

Anyone in BTL should be aware of the risks of high leverage and plan accordingly. Those who migrated to property having been stung by shares after year 1999 may well be disappointed again if the leverage is too high. The only sensible way to proceed is a spread of different assets and keep the leverage as low a practicable.


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Robert Court

Sep 04, 2011 at 11:23


The sanest post yet.

I believe that sensible linear growth is the only way to create genuine real wealth.

Exponential growth is always possible but it poses so many risks that there is also the possibility of being reduced to impoverished bankruptcy faster than the speed of light.

The sure way for 99% of the population to have an ever increasing income is to always invest a set percentage of their income and then they are bound to become at least millionaires over a long period of time of about three decades.

Of course, a million in 30 years time will probably be worth less than 100,000 now but it's better than nowt as they say.

I like to look at it this way:

Start of by making a million pennies - i.e. £10,000

A million pennies is already 1% of the way to making a million pounds and if you can make that first step the other 99 steps will surely get easier and not harder.

And for those already millionaires wanting to keep ahead of inflation once you have a million you can surely make 20 million and then have enough to retire on for several years to come even if you only get a mere 5% net return on your capital.

I'm feeling good today!

Where are my meds?

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mark douglas

Sep 04, 2011 at 16:22

Quoting a true US southern Lady who was referring to some group or another.

"There is always a smart rat or two"

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Sep 05, 2011 at 22:25

I think everybody before me has covered the main reasons why Landlords are selling. except, those that fear a large price drop is coming along as is widely predicted by some financial experts. Is it a good time to get out??

I'm a property investor and know from agents in West London sales at all levels have slowed to a snails pace.

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