The power of buy to let

Figures out from the Council of Mortgage Lenders today show that buy to let mortgage lending – mortgages for landlords buying property to rent out – has reached a record high. Now £1 in every £8 of mortgage lending goes to buy to let.

The appeal is obvious. It feels like every week a news story goes out reporting rising rents. And, as research by Jones Lang LaSalle found, many subscribe to the “small island” theory – that Britain is so small that it will never have quite enough homes – and so property investment will always pay off.

With first time buyers fast becoming an endangered species, there’s been a lot of focus on helping more of them get on the property ladder.

But the growth of buy to let threatens to undermine these efforts. NewBuy, Funding for Lending, FirstBuy and now Help to Buy are all aimed at making it easier for first time buyers to borrow and get on the ladder, by under-writing or reducing some of the risk they pose to lenders. As a result of these schemes, some first time buyers can now get a mortgage with only a 10% or 5% deposit.

By contrast, landlords typically put down  20% or 25% deposits to get a buy to let mortgage, meaning they have a lot more cash to invest, can buy a home with less borrowing, and so have lower monthly mortgage costs than first time buyers do.

It’s little wonder then that the 9 million renters in England, most of whom want to buy a home of their own, find that they can’t compete with the buying power of landlords, even if they can raise a 10% or 5% deposit.

The risk issue is significant too. When I was buying my flat I was up against a foreign investor with a big lump sum to put down (yes, even in a less salubrious part of Hackney!). I know that my seller was keen for the swiftest and safest sale, and that my rival’s big deposit was a big attraction for them.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, the Help to Buy scheme actually makes mortgages more expensive for first time buyers, as lower deposits mean more borrowing and higher monthly costs. These put borrowers at greater risk of running into difficulty with their repayments, making the bank more likely to turn down their mortgage application, causing the sale to fall through. Sellers may therefore see landlords as being lower risk, as they are putting down a bigger deposit.

The implication for government is that their current suite of first time buyer policies will be unlikely to open up ownership to a wider group of people, because investors with more cash will have more buying power.

Even if we do finally get round to building the homes we need, a generation of first time buyers may still see the dream of homeownership that their parents achieved so easily slipping away, as investors beat them to it.

The government needs to really think through how its schemes can be made to help more renters compete in this market.  Deposits are only one barrier: ongoing affordability is the real issue, which current initiatives have failed to address.

P.s. if you are interested in this issue, sign up for a debate that the Strategic Society Centre is convening on Help to Buy. It’s free and takes place on 5 June in London.

  1. Sadly most of the housing policies of late are little more than quick fixes rather than long term solutions – the problem itself being generated by a government trying to please all of the people all of the time perhaps?

  2. The amount of landlords buying to let for the first time has increased to 22% so apparently these figures are not distracting people. Lettings are on the rise and we have certainly seen an increase in people buying to let and looking for rented properties. But the people looking seem to outweigh the landlords.

  3. I am a landlord and I certainly am not intereted in buying any more rental properties. The returns are low. Shelter have hyped about rent rises. It is Shelter’s foollish publicity which is attracting newbies to the sector. The reality is there are tenants who don’t pay the rent, tenants who wreck properties and tenants don’t loook after properties. The properties need constant re-investment. Shelter present this fairytale image… It was good in the past, as house prices were going up, so it made it interesting.
    Look at the current market, on a £300,000 property, banks are asking for a 40% deposit from BTL, that it is £120,000 cash deposit. If I had this sort of cash, I rather buy a Ferrari and enjoy my money, rather then in dribes and drabs of monthly rent. Plus, there is a huge risk, with house price collapse…
    Selling a property. Having spoken to a estate agent, I was told owner-occupers tend to pay a better price as BTL want a huge discount off the asking price…

    It is better if Shelter campaign for Capital Gains Tax breaks for private landlords. It means, that if some of us want to sell up, we are not penalised for putting our money elsewhere. It is only fair. Home owners don’t pay any Capital Gains Tax on sales.

  4. Property investment is at its highest

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