By Jamie Johnson, CEO of FJP Investment
Throughout 2020, investors have had to navigate increasingly treacherous and volatile market conditions as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. No country has been immune to the coronavirus outbreak, particularly here in the UK.
Yet even as the country enters another phased lockdown of sorts, demand for UK property has remained strong. After a brief period of suppressed demand after initial lockdown measures were introduced in late March, the UK’s implementation of the stamp duty land tax (SDLT) holiday triggered a rush in demand for bricks and mortar. As a result, both house prices and transactional activity is rising.
With this new surge in demand resulting in an 18-year-high of UK house price growth, according to the Royal Institute of Charted Surveyors, buy-to-let (BTL) investments have also substantially increased in popularity.
It’s easy to understand why. BTL investments offer landlords both long-term capital growth and regular returns in the form of rental payments. And now, as the SDLT holiday deadline beckons closer, investors keen on taking advantage of the comparative discounts on offer must act quickly.
My advice to those considering a BTL investment in the UK is to understand and appreciate the longstanding market changes that have been brought about by COVID-19. Traditional BTL hotspots are being challenged by a rise in tenant demand for real estate in up-and-coming cities and regions.
For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the majority of the workforce working remotely from home. Recent data from property listing site Rightmove makes clear the shift in demand away from central London and towards less densely populated regions; with areas like Cambridge and Oxford seeing 76% and 64% more rental searches respectively and searches in areas like Earl’s Court dropping by 40%.
This is the clear result of previously London-based professionals realising the benefits of working from home. As businesses identify the financial drawbacks and COVID contagion risks of having all their staff physically present five days a week, employers will seek out smaller commercial workspaces.
At the same time, we are also seeing workers looking to rent larger, cheaper properties that might be further away from their office. This is due to the fact that they are unlikely to need to commute every working day to their office, even once the COVID-19 outbreak has been contained.
But, where exactly are the best larger, cheaper properties to be found? Where are the UK’s emerging BTL hotspots that need to be on the radar of prospective investors? I explore these pertinent questions below.
Those who have been closely following the UK’s housing market will know just how primed Liverpool is for BTL investment. As a key recipient of the UK Government’s Northern Powerhouse funding, and with massive developments like Liverpool Waters and Wirral Waters soon to be completed, the city’s housing supply is ready to meet the demands of those taking part in the aforementioned London professional exodus.
With Liverpool constantly ranking No.1 in rankings of UK cities for BTL investment, it’s evident why investors would be keen on completing purchases of Liverpool property before the end of the SDLT holiday. Though even after the SDLT holiday ends, there’re still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Liverpudlian BTL investment. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is firmly committed to ‘levelling up’ the North of England through regional regeneration, and planned high speed rail connections between Liverpool and other northern cities will only add to the investment potential of the city.
Although Liverpool boasts the highest rental yields for BTL landlords in real terms, Leeds was recently named the most profitable city to become a landlord in the whole of the UK by CIA landlord. By evaluating numerous metrics; including mortgage costs, average rent, average monthly landlord costs and average property prices, they determined that Leeds was the best city for potential buyers to make their first foray into BTL investment.
And, looking at recent trends, it’s easy to see why. Leeds may benefit more from the London exodus than other cities due to its unique position of being a ‘brain gain city’, i.e. one where more students remain after graduation than move away. As a result, it boasts the largest financial services sector in the nation after London, making it an ideal locale for employers in the financial services sector who are seeking cheaper commercial rent outside of London; likely bringing investment and employees with them.
With its strong urban economy likely to be bolstered by its designation as a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ leading business hub, Leeds is ideally positioned for BTL investment over the long-term.
And finally, the capital of Wales brings much to the table when deciding between different BTL investment destinations. With a metropolitan area population of over 1.1 million residents, forecasted to grow by 20% by 2035, demand for property in the city is set to rapidly increase over the next decade. Those able to capitalise on this population growth will be able to access considerable long-term investment opportunities – as recent reports suggest.
Thankfully, it’s unlikely that there’ll be any shortage of housing supply in Cardiff for BTL investors to invest in. Cardiff Bay has emerged as Europe’s largest waterfront development, and the upcoming Central Quay and £500m coastal developments will assist in attracting further investment into the city.
BTL remains a sound investment opportunity
COVID-19 has made evident just how resilient British real estate is as an investment asset. By offering the best of both worlds, namely long-term capital growth and regular rental returns, BTL has successfully remained an attractive and popular investment choice. And, with demand for housing still outstripping supply, the market need for rental accommodation looks set to only grow.
COVID-19 has permanently changed the UK’s housing market and, as explained above, new BTL hotspots are surely due to emerge over the next year. With renters seeking out larger homes in cheaper areas, flexible working patterns will forever change the landscape of the UK’s residential real estate market, and those able to capitalise on it may benefit hugely as a result.