Source: Investors Chronicle
Potential housebuyers in the UK seem to be sitting on their hands right now, and you can guess any number of reasons why, from Brexit to interest rate worries or concerns over the health of the UK economy. Overseas buyers don’t quite see it that way, and this year a third of all homes bought in the UK for £1m or more were snapped up by foreign investors as second homes.
Forget about higher stamp duty and capital gains liabilities, investors from Russia, the Middle East and the Far East especially are homing in on the UK and London in particular. Some of the attraction comes from the fact that expensive homes have fallen in value, which for an overseas buyer comes on top of sterling weakness. So, it’s good news at the Treasury because in the past year the percentage of stamp duty income gathered from second home buyers in this price bracket has jumped from just under 30 per cent to 50 per cent. In fact, income generated through the additional 3 per cent stamp duty has risen by over 20 per cent in 2018 so far to over £4bn. And if you include houses in all price brackets, over 40 per cent of total receipts came from second home purchases.
London has always been seen as a handy place to park funds because it is relatively safe both politically and economically. But these funds are also being put to work because three-quarters of overseas purchases were made for buy-to-let. More than a quarter of second homes worth over £1m were bought in London, with the largest amount of stamp duty generated in Westminster at £594m.
Back in the real world, the number of existing homes coming on to the market is very close to an all-time low, with sales volume either flat or negative across 11 of the UK’s 12 regions. At the same time, tenant demand for rented properties is holding up well, but rents could be pushed higher because the number of landlord instructions has continued to fall, recording the 10th straight quarter of decline, the longest negative stretch since the series was created in 1999, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
Looking a little further back, however, shows that real rents adjusted for inflation have fallen 2.2 per cent in the past 10 years, according to Countrywide (CWD) subsidiary Hamptons International. In that time, rents have risen by 22 per cent but inflation has climbed 24 per cent. That inflation outpaced rental growth to some extent reflects the fact that the start of the 10-year period covered the wake of the financial crash, which gave landlords little opportunity to push rents higher. The east of England and London are the only regions where rental growth has outpaced inflation, whereas in the Midlands real rents over the 10-year period fell by 7.8 per cent. However, rental growth on new-let properties reached 2 per cent in October this year, the highest level since February, as every region recorded a rise in rents. The biggest gain came in the east of England at 3.9 per cent. And even London chipped in with the second monthly gains in a row, giving a year-on-year increase of 1.4 per cent.
Given the current atmosphere of uncertainty, the gains may seem puzzling, but the reality could be that rents are climbing because supply is falling. As more small landlords exit the market following heavier taxation, the number of homes for rent is falling just at the same time as demand is increasing.
It may well be that the government is leaning towards bigger corporate landlords making up the shortfall, and steps have also been taken to stimulate more government-funded social housing. Major housebuilders are also getting in on the act, by forming partnerships with local authorities to build on council-owned land, while a number of private institutions are forging ahead with build-to-rent schemes through forward funding arrangements with housebuilders. The big question now is whether this will all be enough to fill the gap. With supply in continued decline, rents are forecast to rise by 15 per cent over the next five years, which is generally bad news for tenants. Especially so because since 1991 the number of homeowners between the ages of 16 and 34 has dropped from 51 per cent to just 24 per cent, while renters in the same age group have risen from 56 per cent to 73 per cent.