Four alternative ways to profit from investing in property

alternative-property-investments
  • Still potential in property market but investors must hone strategy
  • Peer-to-peer, crowdfunding and student property good options
  • Residential property may not be best for income seekers

Bricks and mortar have long been one of the nation's favourite investments. But over the past year, the prospect of becoming a buy-to-let landlord has become markedly less attractive in the aftermath of a 3 per cent stamp duty hike and the government's announcement that mortgage interest relief will be slashed from next April.

If you don't want the hassle associated with property management, the risk of rental void periods or the worry that the sums won't now add up, a few other options offer exposure to the residential property market.

PROPERTY FUNDS

Most property funds focus on the commercial sector, but one or two residential funds are also available. In comparison to buy to let, you don't have to stump up a deposit or manage the properties you invest in, and the sums required are much smaller than those needed for buy to let.

Christopher Down, chief executive at Hearthstone Property Investments, which offers a UK residential property fund with a minimum £1,000 lump sum investment, argues that the impact of the Brexit vote will be far more substantial on commercial property than on residential property.

He says: 'Companies in downturns tend to minimise new office space commitments, while retailers may seek reductions in their lease costs. In contrast, demand for housing remains strong, since people still need the same amount of space as before.'

London Central Portfolio's closed-ended investments, although technically not funds, hold around 50 rental properties in Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster.

The current offering is London Central Apartments III. LCP buys small blocks of flats (each flat is worth less than £1 million), renovates them and rents them out, holding them for four to six years.

The minimum investment is £75,000 (£25,000 in some circumstances). LCP expects a return of more than 10 per cent a year by the end of the investment period, from development uplift, capital growth and rental income. But the Brexit vote may hit the London residential market.

Some mainly commercial property funds also have residential holdings. One example is the open-ended Premier Pan European Property Share fund, which accesses real estate through property company shares rather than direct property.

It has about 20 per cent invested in residential property, mainly in German rented real estate. The European spread provides tenant diversification and uncorrelated real estate cycles, says fund manager Alex Ross.

STUDENT PROPERTY

Funds investing in purpose-built student accommodation have formed a successful niche variation on the theme of residential property funds. One example is GCP Student Living investment trust.

The trust invests in student accommodation 'in locations strongly positioned to benefit from supply/demand imbalances'. It owns more than 500 studio bedrooms in east London.

Students have become increasingly globally mobile, and the UK has the second largest population of international students in the world, according to the OECD.

Asked about the possible effects of the leave vote on student property in the UK, the trust's co-manager, Nick Barker, says: 'We believe London will remain resilient as a market for overseas students from the EU and beyond, relative to the rest of the UK, given the international perception of London as a cosmopolitan, multicultural centre of learning.'

It is not clear, however, how well the status of UK higher education or London's multicultural appeal would survive a Brexit.

Various academics, including Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London, have pointed out that the implications of Brexit for UK science and higher education are immense.

With diminished cross-border cooperation in the academic world, the reputation of UK higher education will suffer and attract fewer foreign students. Student accommodation investors' returns may therefore diminish.

PEER TO PEER

Another way to invest in property is through peer-to-peer (P2P) deals that bring investors together to lend money to property buyers. The borrower buys a rental property and pays investors monthly interest. At the end of the term the capital is repaid.

P2P lender Landbay offers a rate of interest of 3.35 per cent above Libor, after fees, to investors. Mortgages tend to last for five to 10 years. The minimum investment is £100. Investors can exit early only if Landbay can find an investor on the secondary market to replace them.

As investors don't have a share in the residential property itself, they don't benefit any capital gain. However, they still receive interest if the property falls vacant, and if the landlord goes bust, the property goes to the lenders.

P2P lender Assetz Capital also offers instant access accounts returning about 4 per cent. The minimum investment is £1.

Chief executive Stuart Law argues that the Bank of England and UK government will protect house prices - through underwriting, creating mortgages and initiatives such as Help to Buy - otherwise the banking system would collapse.

CROWDFUNDING

Crowdfunding involves investors pooling money to buy a share in a buy-to-let property. In return, they receive regular rental income returns and benefit from any rise in the value of the property.

Pre-Brexit returns at crowdfunding platform Property Moose were about 5.5 per cent net. Investors do not have to stump up a deposit and ongoing maintenance costs are shared. The property is sold after two or three years.

Investors can invest as little as £10. They pay an upfront fee of 5 per cent, plus a property management charge of 10 per cent of rental income. When the property is sold, Property Moose takes 15 per cent of net capital growth.

The charges are high, but if you buy several smaller investments, you can sell them in different years to take advantage of several years of capital gains tax allowances.

POSSIBLE EFFECTS OF THE BREXIT BID

The multi-million-dollar question for UK property investors is how values might be affected by Brexit.

Susan Emmett, director of residential research at Savills, says: 'While financial markets have reacted instantly to the referendum result, we will need to wait for a clearer picture of how this will affect the housing market.'

Michael Holmes, spokesperson for the Homebuilding & Renovating Show, says: 'A significant reduction in immigration would reduce demand for housing and most likely lead to a fall in rents and house prices. This is likely to have a negative effect on the UK economy.'

He adds that reducing immigration could also starve the construction industry of much needed skilled workers from overseas.

Commenting on the residential property market in London, Hugh Best, director at London Central Portfolio, says: 'New-build property and high-end stock have been crucified by new taxes.'

However, Best says he has noticed recent interest from investors who have seen the depreciation of sterling and want to repatriate some money as a result. Within 72 hours of the referendum result, he received inquiries from investors in the Middle East and Asia looking to capitalise on sterling's fall.

He says: 'In times of economic uncertainty, residential property in central London reacts in the same way as gold. It's seen as a tangible safe haven.'

However, Michael Ball, professor of urban and property economics at Henley Business School, says: 'Historically, that is simply untrue.' He argues that London has historically had a more volatile housing market than the rest of the UK, bar the post-2008 period.

Commercial property funds: why it's not 2008 all over again

However, in contrast to that period, foreign investors today face severe political risks in addition to economic risks, and London will be as badly if not worse affected than the rest of the UK over the mid-term.

He predicts poorer growth, lower employment, weaker confidence, higher interest rates and greater volatility as a result of Brexit. This is going to mean poor housing conditions for more people as their economic situations worsen and the housing shortage continues.

However, Ball adds that we haven't left the EU yet, and it's hard to know what the final settlement might be.


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