British residential property has long been viewed as a very strong asset class for investment. While there have been ups and downs along the way, such as the price crash in the early 90s, it has generally offered excellent long-term returns.
The market’s reputation has taken something of a knock recently, however, which has been driven by Brexit-related uncertainty and a slight cooling in price growth. This is a temporary blip and is unlikely to dampen the market in the long-run. Rather than be deterred, I firmly believe that investors should embrace some of the excellent opportunities this market presents.
The Brexit vote in June 2016 is the starting point for this slight faltering of faith in the residential market. In the run up to the referendum vote, both house prices and foreign investment in the UK were at record highs. However, a somewhat surprise result signified a break with the status quo and ushered in economic uncertainty, and this soon led to concerns about whether price growth could be sustained.
However, these anticipated shockwaves failed to materialize. House prices have continued to rise ever since the referendum, illustrating that demand for residential property remains high and providing investors with strong capital returns. Rental yields across much of the country have also continued to perform well, with ever greater numbers of tenants looking to the private rented sector to meet their needs.
For some investors, the vote has actually opened up new opportunities. The devaluation of Sterling against currencies like the Euro, Dollar, and Renminbi has meant that UK assets offer better value than they did before the vote. This provides overseas investors with excellent value for money, and has also kept important capital flowing into the country’s property market – ensuring that developers can successfully finance the projects that increase the UK’s housing stock. Similarly, a sustained low Bank Rate has also kept investors’ mortgage costs down.
While Brexit might not have been the doomsday event for the property that some expected, there are also concerns in several quarters that the market has run out of steam. There has been some evidence that the London market has cooled off slightly in recent months – particularly at the upper-end, which has been heavily affected by the changes to stamp duty on second homes. However, other parts of the country also offer world class property investment opportunities. Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds continue to provide strong returns, and our recent Global Real Estate Outlook found that Birmingham is set to become a global property investment hotspot. This is due to a combination of low prices, high yields, and a rapidly growing local economy. The UK residential property market therefore continues to offer investors with a variety of different portfolio sizes, risk appetites and capital availabilities a diverse range of different propositions.
While the additional stamp duty levy on second properties and recent changes to landlords’ tax relief remain in place, the political environment towards property investment is less highly-charged than it was pre-Brexit. The recent Autumn Statement, for example, was notable for the absence of significant policies directed at landlords. While punitive pre-Brexit policies remain in place, policymakers’ attentions now appear to be more focused on improving first-time buyers’ prospects and increasing housebuilding than cracking down on investment portfolios.
Looking forward, there are a few risks facing the UK’s residential sector, but many of these look increasingly unlikely to come to fruition. While economic turbulence resulting from the UK and EU failing to agree upon a divorce bill could have derailed the economy, it now appears that a reasonable deal that works for both parties in in sight. This will encourage stability in the market. Furthermore, the imbalance between supply and demand in the property market will support both a baseline of rental yields and house prices. With the UK’s population continuing to grow, this trend is unlikely to be reversed anytime soon.
Although the economic outlook often changes in the short-term, the reality is that the UK will continue to be a great long-term destination for residential property investment for some time.
Hamish Pound is head of investment at IP Global.
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