Ask the agent: Is buy-to-let still a good investment in London?

Simon Gerrard

Simon Gerrard - Credit: Archant

The president of the National Association of Estate Agents, Simon Gerrard, answers your questions on buying a buy-to-let property in north London.

Q I am thinking of buying my first property to let. Have I missed the boat? Any tips?

A Although property prices have increased over the past few years, the private rented sector is most definitely here to stay (rather than being a passing phase) with the average age of first time buyers having risen to around 35. As a result the letting market in north and north west London remains in excellent health, with the demand for all types and sizes of property throughout 2014 showing no sign of diminishing as we move into 2015.

This continued need for rented property will remain, the average age of first time buyers does not alter the fact that those entering the workforce and leaving university prefer not to live at home, the need for a mobile workforce, while others choose renting as a lifestyle choice. When you also consider the population of the UK is predicted to rise by 10 million by 2037, while an increase in single person households is predicted to rise by 61,000 by 2021 - demand for good quality property to rent is not going away, and continues a good return on investment.

For many buying a property to generate regular income and as a long term investment has become a popular option. The past year has seen a resurgence of lenders who have regained confidence in this sector of the market and brought out competitive mortgage products. The total of new buy to let lending in 2014 is expected to have reached £25 billion, a 20 per cent increase on 2013.

Here are some of the basic points you need to consider when looking for an investment property.

Do the maths

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Consider all the costs involved. Not just the purchase price. There are running and ongoing costs such as insurance, property maintenance, service charges, fees and tax obligations. Tax is payable on the profit made from a letting but there are many deductions that can be made to offset the tax liability, so make sure you take proper professional advice.

You should also remember there may be void periods – where the property is empty between tenants – where you won’t be receiving any rent. You may also need to spend money updating the property before you rent it. A clean, modern property will be the easier to rent and should achieve the best price.

Do your research

Decide where you want to buy. Ideally choose an area you know. Then decide what sector of the rental market you are aiming for, students, young professionals, families. What will each demand from a property, what will they pay for and what won’t they pay for.

Check that the kind of property is in demand and the actual rental prices being achieved (rather than just looking at the asking prices, which some agencies may inflate to gain an instruction) in the area you are looking in. Ensure that there is interest from potential tenants for the type and size of property you are thinking of buying.

Landlord’s legal obligations

There is a significant amount of regulation that a landlord must comply with, such as the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994, the Furniture & Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 and tenants deposit protection legislation to name but a few.

The legal requirements can be a minefield for an unwary landlord. However if you use the services of a Licensed member of ARLA, they can easily guide you and make sure you and your property fully comply.

Furnished or unfurnished

One of the most important things to remember is that you should look on Buy-to-Let as a business. Don’t make the mistake of decorating and furnishing the property to your own tastes - keep it simple. You are there to make money out of the property, so keep your target market in mind. This also applies to furnishing. Many tenants have their own furniture and just require the basics, i.e. washing machine, cooker, fridge/freezer etc. So don’t fill your property with too much furniture as it can seriously affect the number of tenants you are likely to attract.

As an investor you need to be certain of the level of your return, and even seasoned landlords must do their homework and seek expert advice before making an investment decision.

Your local NAEA member agent will have experts on hand who can help you every step of the way. They will be happy to explain the pros and cons of your local market and help you find the right property for your needs to help you to maximise the return on your investment.

Next fortnight Simon will be answering your property queries. Email your questions to ham& or tweet @HamHighProperty. Simon is managing director of north London estate agents Martyn Gerrard.