Friday, 31 March 2017

It's a housing class war as the Tories set their sights on young people

By Dawn Foster

Young people aged 18 to 21 will no longer receive housing benefit towards their rent – but those saving up to buy will get cash from the Treasury. Photograph: Dimitris Legakis/Athena Pictures
With April heralding the new financial year, a number of political fresh starts are due this weekend. One is the removal of housing benefit for 18- to 21-year-olds.

I’ve written about this before. Leaving aside its arbitrary and politically nonsensical rationale, supposedly stopping “dependence on benefits” by starving poor people into economic activity, the costs that the policy incurs will outweigh any potential savings.

Young people will simply not be able to afford their rent, and will turn to loan sharks and the type of high-cost, dodgy credit available to people on low incomes. Or they’ll end up homeless, on the street or relying on the local council to place them in a hostel or temporary accommodation, which invariably costs many times more than the local market rate for a private rented flat.

Now, in addition, the Chartered Institute of Housing has released research which shows that housing is almost totally out of reach for young single people in many areas. Single young people are finding that the gap between how much the cheapest properties in their area are and how much help they get with housing costs through the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) makes housing inaccessible. And a freeze on LHA until 2020 will only make matters worse.

Young tenants can either attempt to find the cash needed to make up their rent from the rest of their budget – skimping on food, fuel and other bills – or will end up in arrears and face potential homelessness. In 50 areas, LHA covers less than a quarter of local rents and, with competition for cheaper properties already high, young people in receipt of benefits often find they aren’t private landlords’ preferred tenants anyway.

So we have very young adults who’ve had housing support completely stripped away, and even on reaching their 21st birthday, there is no relief to be found, only a tough market increasingly squeezing them out. Housing simply isn’t working for millions of young people, and has become a huge source of constant anxiety on a scale it has rarely been in the past.

But it isn’t all bad news for young people. This April the government is also bringing in the “Lifetime ISA”, a tax-free savings account that gives you £1,000 of cash from the government when you save £4,000 a year towards buying your first home. So if you save the maximum for five years, you’ll receive a £5,000 wad from the Treasury. The maximum you can receive is £32,000. This will encourage and help first-time buyers, we’re told.

These policies are completely typical of the Conservative approach, dividing young people and entrenching deep inequality.

The people who need help least, the minted with parental help available for purchasing homes, get a tax-free lump sum to make their lives even easier. The people who need help most are completely cut adrift, and have any hope of becoming solvent and achieving not even comfort but basic shelter destroyed by actively cruel policies.

It’s typical of austerity policies in all its hypocrisy, combined with turbo-charged venom for the poor. After the financial crash, we were repeatedly told that paying wealthy financiers and bankers less, or even scrapping bonuses was out of the question: paying them more would incentivise them to perform far better and benefit everyone. But the poor are a different species to Conservatives: the only way to make them find a home, or a job, or to work harder, is to starve them into action, deny them a roof over their head, and threaten them with sanctions and the withdrawal of subsistence welfare payments.

For years politicians and commentators have argued there is a generational war, shown in the effects of the housing crisis and the erosion of workers’ rights. But old habits die hard. April’s disparate approach to young people over housing shows the Conservative party is still fighting the class war.

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Rental demand in Scotland falls as EU migrants leave

By Marc Da Silva

The rental market north of the border remains strong, but demand fell across all regions, especially in areas with high numbers of migrants from European Union countries as an emerging trend for European Union migrants – particularly from Poland – to leave the country and seek employment elsewhere starts to have an impact across the country, new figures from Your Move Scotland shows.

The average property in Scotland now rents for £575 per calendar month, up from the £571pcm recorded a month earlier, but this headline figure masks divides between the five regions surveyed.

The strongest performance came in the south of Scotland where prices increased by 4.2% in the last 12 months to hit £560pcm.

“The Scottish rental market continues to grow as a whole, despite variations on a regional basis,” said Brian Moran, letting director at Your Move Scotland.

But rental demand across all areas surveyed has weakened, especially in the Glasgow and Clyde and Highlands and Islands regions, which have been particularly affected by this ‘Brexit effect’.

The steepest decline in rental values was seen in the Highlands and Islands region, where rents have now fallen by 3.3% over the past 12 months and now stand at £586pcm.

Aside from a fall in demand from EU migrants, the rental market in the Highlands and Islands region has also been affected by the Scottish government’s LIFT Scheme (Low-cost Initiative for First-Time buyers).

The initiative promotes 0% deposit mortgages and has helped more people move from being renters to homeowners. Some of the most popular areas are within Dingwall and surrounding villages – all of which are within easy reach of the major employment centre of Inverness.

Moran continued: “This month we have continued to see demand reduce in several areas – particularly those with high numbers of migrants from European Union countries,” Moran added.

“Government schemes have also had an impact on the rental market with more people being able to purchase their first home and leave the rental arena.”

The East of Scotland remained the cheapest place to rent in Scotland in February. The average property let for £535 a month – 2.3% higher than the same point in 2016.

Despite the overall dip in rents, yields remain solid, with buy-to-let landlords continuing to see strong returns from the Scottish rental market in February.

The average yield in February was 4.9%, the same level seen both last month and in February last year, Your Move Scotland found.

This yield also compares strongly to property investment in other parts of the UK, with landlords in Scotland continuing to see significantly better returns than the average investor in England and Wales, where the average yield in February stood at 4.1%.

Only landlords in the North East and North West regions of England enjoyed better returns – 5.3% and 5% respectively in February.

“For landlords and investors yields have remained strong – particularly when compared to the returns on property in England and Wales,” Moran added.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Buyers caught out by limits on living

By Felicity Hannah

Growing numbers of house builders are placing restrictions on what buyers can do with their properties, long after the contracts are exchanged. 

The promise of a brand new home could be shattered by a growing trend in restrictive covenants. PA
Imagine spending more than half a million pounds on a new family home only to discover you might not be allowed to bring your dog when you move in.

That’s just one of the cases The Property Ombudsman (TPO) is grappling with, after the buyers of a £550,000 new home were assured they could move their dog in and so paid a £2,000 reservation fee on the property. Two weeks later it emerged that they would need to apply for a dog permit, meaning they had no certainty that their beloved pet could live with them after all.

TPO ensured that the full reservation fee plus £540 extra was paid to the would-be homebuyers, which is reassuring. But few of us realise that a home builder can sell a property but still impose wide range of surprising and sometimes even distressing restrictions that affect how they live long after they receive the keys. And it’s getting worse.

Cats, vans and washing lines

When a property builder places restrictions on what buyers can do with or to their new homes it’s called a restrictive covenant. These are nothing new, builders have often imposed restrictions on what buyers can do with their homes.

However, in recent years a number of covenants have made headlines after developers banned washing lines, cats and even sheds from their new-build estates, even after the homes are all sold.

Neil Stockall, head of residential property at Higgs & Sons Solicitors, says that developers are increasingly keen to retain control of their developments.

“It is very common and they generally last in perpetuity,” he says. “Builders would argue that restrictive covenants are essential in maintaining the aesthetics, layout and use of the development and the dwellings, and should be seen as positively protecting the value of the estate as well as individual homes.

“They want to ensure that whilst they are developing the estate they have control on how the built areas are used so that they don’t impact on the sale of subsequent plots.”

Richard Freshwater, director at property firm Cheffins, agrees that there’s been an increase in the number of covenants enforced on new build schemes.

“This increase can partly be attributed to the increase in competition for developers and as more new schemes are built, their overall appearance is important to set themselves above the rest.

“Once a scheme is fully sold, these covenants will often still apply and this is partly due to the developer trying to protect their reputation. Should the scheme then be surrounded by caravans, commercial vans and washing lines, this will not reflect favourably on the reputation of the development in general.”

Rover's refusal

A restrictive covenant preventing near neighbours from having a cockerel in the garden might make sense but many would-be buyers will be surprised to learn that the builder might stop them bringing their dog.

Managing director of Bewley Homes Andrew Brooks, explains: “The restriction of pets in properties tends to apply to those properties with shared communal areas, such as apartment blocks or multi-floor developments without private garden space.”

And he is keen to defend homebuilders’ decisions to impose other restrictions on the homes they create. “As developers, we have a duty of care to think about this in conjunction with the long-term aesthetic impact our developments are going to have on the environments in which they are built – an environment which is very important to our clients when making the biggest investment of their lives.  One way in which we can protect this environment is by putting restrictive covenants in place.

“In the main, restrictive covenants are built into the deed of a property and will last in perpetuity.”

A force for good

While some restrictive covenants may protect buyers from neighbours devaluing their homes or developers’ reputations, some do more. For example, Pocket is a developer that builds starter homes for first-time buyers at 20% less than the going market rate.

It imposes a covenant on buyers that restricts who they can sell their home onto and for how much, to ensure it remains affordable for medium-income buyers.

Pocket CEO Marc Vlessing says: “Restrictive covenants can be a force for good if they help homes stay affordable in perpetuity. Pocket’s homes are sold with a restrictive covenant which ensures they remain affordable for local first-time buyers forever.”

Whatever the reason for the restrictive covenant, if buyers don’t know to look for clauses then they risk being caught out.

Paula Higgins, chief executive of the Homeowners Alliance, says: “We would always advise anyone looking to buy a new-build home to check their contract closely and have their conveyancer do the same. These restrictions must be included in the contract in order to be adhered to and if you spot them in time you can challenge the developer.

“Too many buyers take an almost nonchalant approach when buying a new build under the misguided illusion that since it is a new build property there'll be little of any concern. Obviously this is not the case.

“Employ the services of a good solicitor (don't use your builder's preferred choice) and read the small print in the glossy brochure as well as the contract.”

Cancelling the covenant

Homeowners who find a restrictive covenant irksome can challenge it. Gideon Sumption of Stacks Property Search says: “if the covenant no longer serves a useful purpose, namely that it is of no tangible benefit to the land or buildings that the covenant was created to enhance, then it can be challenged via the Lands Tribunal.

“A good example is the frequently found restrictive covenant imposed by the Church of England on the sale of redundant rectories, that they may not be used as a public house. Attitudes to drinking have changed since these covenants were imposed and it is highly likely such a covenant could be removed, in the event that you wanted to turn your old rectory into a pub…”

However, plenty of homeowners simply ignore the restrictions, hoping that once the builder has packed up and left there will be no one around who cares enough to enforce it.

Freshwater adds: “When it comes to getting around these covenants, we have seen that sometimes they are simply ignored by purchasers. For example, there is a series of flats in Cambridge which have covenants against them being rented out, these have been completely ignored by purchasers and there has been such a blanket breach of the covenant that it is no longer enforceable.”

Greater protection for landlords as CMP to be made compulsory for letting agents

By Marc Da Silva

There was good news for landlords and tenants yesterday after the government took measures to prevent rogue letting agents stealing your money by agreeing to make it mandatory for all agents to put cash in Client Money Protection (CMP) accounts.

The change will mean that if any letting agent goes bust or makes off, the money belonging to landlords will remain safe.

Under the new plans, agents found to be handling client money without having CMP will be fined at least £5,000 or potentially shut down.

A government working group, chaired by Lib Dem Lord Palmer and Labour shadow minister Baroness Hayter, looked carefully at the existing and concluded that CMP should be mandatory for all agents handling client money.

“The evidence was overwhelming, and we recommended the government use its reserve powers to implement this,” said Baroness Hayter. “We are therefore delighted that the government has accepted our recommendation as it will ensure tenants and landlords alike are provided with extra security in the lettings process.”

Alan Ward, chairman of the Residential Landlords Association (RLA), added: “This is great news for landlords and tenants alike.

“Landlords should be concerned about agents having control over money due to them and formal schemes offer protection against any criminal activity that would deprive them of this cash.”

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Landlords optimistic about future of buy to let in the UK

Buy to let is still regarded as an attractive long term investment in the UK with new research showing that landlords are more optimistic about the outlook for the private rented sector than a year ago.

Some 37% of landlords anticipate growing rents over the next six months, a year in year increase of 36%, and 44% of landlords had good or very good expectations for their own letting portfolio over the next three months.

However, the research from independent property consultancy Allsop also shows that the percentage of landlords intending to purchase one or more property in the next 12 months fell to 16%, the lowest level in just over four years.

And the Rent Check Rent report on the rental market in England and Wales published with BDRC Continental, reveals that the majority, some 83% of landlords, reported that obtaining buy to let finance had become more difficult in the last six months.

The report calculates the estimated annual return for three, five and 10 year periods after tax for basic rate 20% tax payers and 40% tax payers, and analyses rental yields, house price growth and running, finance and legal costs.

Using Office for Budget Responsibility national forecasts for wage growth and house prices, the top performing regions for indicative returns are the East Midlands and Yorkshire, with returns of 11.25% per annum over a five year period for a 20% tax payer, and 9% per annum for a 40% tax payer.

Using the same national analysis, London was the worst performing region at a still respectable 5.75% per annum for 20% tax payer and 4.75% per annum for a 40% tax payer over the same period. Of the landlords polled, 45% were higher rate income tax payers.

‘For those with equity to invest, buy TO let returns still have the potential to outstrip savings accounts over the long term. Whilst tax changes and toughening lending criteria is challenging landlords, most are in it for the long term and we still only expect a small minority to exit as the tax changes feed through,’ said Paul Winstanley, partner at Allsop.

‘With no quick solutions to the housing crisis, long term private landlords providing decent accommodation will continue to play an important role in housing our population. As long as there are no new tax rises targeting landlords, buy to let will remain a stable and attractive sector for the long term,’ he added.

The Guardian view on house prices: the government lacks the political will to fix the broken market

It has taken only tentative steps towards reforming the land market and improving tenants’ rights. Young people without family wealth will pay the price

Home ownership offers a stability and financial security simply unavailable to those who rent. Photograph: Alamy
If the price of milk had risen in line with average house prices over the past 40 years, consumers would now be shelling out more than £10 for a four-pint carton: a sobering reminder of just how broken Britain’s housing market is. With price increases like these, it is little surprise the number of first-time buyers relying on family loans is now at a historic high, according to new research from the Social Mobility Commission: one in three rely on family help, and the proportion of 25- to 29-year-olds who own their home has almost halved since 1990.

A world where a growing proportion of young people can only afford to buy a home with family support makes a mockery of equal opportunity. Home ownership matters in Britain: yes, as oft remarked, it is a cultural aspiration; but one that is underpinned by rational financial interests. Home ownership provides a stability and financial security simply unavailable to those who rent, thanks to house price growth that benefits owners but drives up rents, and our very weak framework of tenants’ rights.

The success of government attempts to improve housing policy should be judged by a simple indicator: price. For decades, governments have rolled out policies aimed at improving affordability and helping people to get on the ladder, but at the same time long-term house price growth has far outpaced any increase in wages. What’s gone wrong?

The biggest problem is a land market that serves landowners and developers at the expense of buyers. Land is a fixed commodity and a public good: its sale should be highly regulated. Yet our planning system delivers huge windfall gains to landowners in areas of high demand: giving agricultural land residential planning status increases its value on average by a factor of 328. Landowners sell to developers offering the highest price, who maximise profit by slowly releasing houses on to the market to fuel further price growth, skimping on build quality and affordable housing.

This is a distortion relatively easily fixed. As Shelter has argued, local authorities and public development corporations should be given the power to buy undeveloped land based on its existing value: a power widely used across much of Europe. They could then sell land on to developers who commit to building affordable housing of better quality for quick release. This should be accompanied by tax reform – council tax is a hugely regressive property tax based on property values from 1990 – and stronger rights for tenants in the private rented sector, including caps on rent rises and longer-term minimum tenancies of at least five years.

This package of reforms would slow house price growth while increasing security for renters. But it is one the government shied away from in its recent white paper: it took only the most tentative of steps towards land market reform and improving tenants’ rights. Instead it has lifted regulations on minimum home sizes, paving the way for a flurry of tiny “rabbit hutch” homes to come on to the market. It is focusing the bulk of its political capital on deregulatory planning reforms, unlikely to have much impact given that planning permission has already been granted for almost half a million homes yet to be built.

The problem is not a lack of solutions, but a lack of political will. This is an area where ministers fear their own success. What government truly wants to preside over years of flatlining house prices at the expense of relatively affluent homeowners in the south-east? Almost 10 years after the financial crisis, economic growth remains too fuelled by the consumer debt enabled by rising house prices, and too little by long-term investment. And so the charade continues: politicians tout over-ambitious house building targets while tinkering at the margins, avoiding the market intervention needed to truly put a brake on price growth. It is young people without family wealth who will pay the price.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Show your fees! Campaign to get letting agents to obey law steps into second phase

By Rosalind Renshaw

Almost 180 letting agents in parts of Berkshire and Hampshire are now being targeted in a campaign to find out if they are displaying fees correctly.

In the second phase of a campaign being conducted jointly by The Property Ombudsman and the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, 179 letting agents in and around the Basingstoke and Reading areas are being targeted as from yesterday.

They are being asked to provide photographic evidence of their compliance with the law, which requires fees to be displayed both in the branch and on the company website.

This is phase two of a campaign which follows on from the end of the first phase, where out of 266 TPO letting agents in Swansea and Dorset, 99% were found to be compliant.

All had been asked for similar photographic evidence.

Agents found to be displaying the required information incorrectly were then given the chance to amend it and re-submit their evidence.

The campaign found that just two agents failed to comply, either by not responding or not addressing inaccuracies which had been flagged up. Both will now be referred to TPO’s disciplinary and standards committee for further investigation.

This committee is independent, and has the power to fine, suspend, or expel an agent from TPO, plus refer it to Trading Standards officers who can impose fines of up to £4,000.

Letting agents are required to display fees, along with membership details of redress and Client Money Protection schemes.

Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman, said: “TPO has seen an increase in the number of enquiries about fees from tenants in recent weeks.

“It is essential that agents provide clarity and transparency about what fees are being charged for what service so that all parties understand the commitments they are entering into.”

The campaign continues while details of a consultation on a ban on letting agent fees charged to tenants have yet to be announced.

Letting agents and tenants to suffer because of fees confusion

By Graham Norwood

A leading insurance company says letting agents and tenants alike will suffer if the government’s proposed ban on fees levied on renters comes into effect in England.

Endsleigh is telling today’s ARLA Propertymark conference in London that agents, their partners and the government must work together to bring clarity to the proposals, which were announced in last year’s Autumn Statement.

The firm claims referencing and insurance are two areas likely to be impacted by the ban.

“The private rental sector is currently in limbo waiting for further details on the fee ban but the topic appears to have fallen off the agenda, causing confusion for both letting agents and tenants” says David Hadden, head of Endsleigh Let.

“Our lettings customers have told us how concerned they are about these changes and what it means for the private rental sector. Poor quality referencing could lead to higher eviction numbers and longer void periods. This, in turn, could affect connected insurances such as rent guarantee, with the likelihood of claims to be perceived as increasing, premiums would surely follow suit” he adds.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Official house price figures 'overstate' growth, say property experts

By Isabelle Fraser

The ONS revised down house price growth in November and December
The benchmark house price index from the Office for National Statistics overstates growth and is unreliable, property experts have warned.

The index, which the ONS describes as “experimental”, revised down the previous two months’ house price growth significantly last week. The annual rate in December, initially reported as 7.2pc, was scaled back to 5.7pc.

Lucian Cook, head of residential research at Savills, said: “The ONS index was trailed as a single definitive index for the UK housing market, providing more detailed information on transactions and house price movements at a local level and between different parts of the market. This was always going to be a huge undertaking, fraught with difficulty.

“However it continues to be blighted by issues around accuracy and reliability. These have been sharply brought into focus by the growing discrepancy in reported transactions numbers compared to figures coming out of HMRC.”

Last week’s release by the ONS said that transactions had fallen 21.2pc in England in the 12 months to November 2016; HMRC’s record of the same sales volume reported the number had fallen by just 7.1pc.

Capital Economics said the index is “likely to be overstating house price pressures”, partly due to a suggestion that the price of new build homes has surged, at 29pc in the year to January, compared to 5pc for existing homes.

“The new build figures are strange relative to what we understand is going on in the market,” said Neal Hudson of Resi Analysts. This overexagerration in the index is due to a lag in the time the Land Registry logs such transactions, creating an upward bias on a smaller sample size of new build properties.

Mr Cook added: “As it relies on information from the Land Registry which takes time to be accumulated, recent figures are constantly being reviewed as more data becomes available.  Local level results are particularly volatile and can show significant swings in price movement, especially where transaction levels are low.

“That means some of the results are more of a reflection of the robustness of the index rather than what is actually going on in the market at a local level. So it continues to be important to look at a range of measures to understand what today’s market.” Mr Hudson added: “The ONS needs to be more explicit with what the known issues are.”

An ONS spokesman said: “Homes can only appear in the index once the purchases have been registered with the Land Registry. Due to the delay that can occur between purchase and registration, this can lead to initial house price estimates being revised, though the revisions are usually small.

“Changing the current revisions policy would affect the number of transactions recorded but would usually have little impact on average prices. ONS is reviewing its revisions policy to ensure all transactions are recorded.

“While revisions can be in both directions, over the last six months they have tended to be downward.”

Landlords at risk of non-compliance due to buy-to-let tax changes

By Marc Da Silva

Landlords are under mounting pressure which is making them vulnerable to non-compliance in their accounting following a raft of changes, including tax measures, in the buy-to-let sector, according to Visionbase Software.

The change to mortgage interest relief, which was first announced in the 2015 emergency Budget, will be introduced gradually from 6 April, restricting relief for finance costs on residential properties to the basic rate of income tax.

However, with recent research from the Council of Mortgage Lenders showing that a third of buy-to-let landlords in the UK do not understand that their ability to offset mortgage interest payments against tax is being scaled back, Paul Oxley, managing director of Visionbase Software, has expressed his concern that many landlords could soon find themselves falling foul of the rules.

He said: “Most landlords will be looking at ways to minimise the tax changes to protect their profits. While the most obvious plan is to raise rents, other options open to landlords include transferring property ownership into a corporate structure, or to a partner who pays a lower income tax rate.

“All these new tax measures, combined with mounting legislation, is putting landlords under huge pressure. It can be overwhelming to keep up and failure to do so, can lead to fines and loss of licence.”

Oxley advises buy-to-let landlords to take advantage of the various advanced property management software products available on the market, including unsurprisingly his firm’s own Decorus for Sage system which offers landlords the ability to easily generate financial reports, forecast future income and expenditure accurately and budgeting for maintenance work, to help them manage the raft of changes for their property portfolio.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Changes to Letting Agent Today: more information, easier to navigate

By Graham Norwood

You may have noticed some subtle changes to Letting Agent Today in recent weeks, aimed at improving the ‘user experience’ we offer to readers.

Firstly on each Breaking News page you can see links to today’s other news in a special column while across the whole site there’s a ‘tickertape’ rolling news bar at the bottom of the screen - all aimed at making it much easier to navigate between important stories.

Secondly, there are ‘related articles’ listed beneath many stories - these are reports on similar subjects which you may be interested in reading too. This section is populated via a tagging system which identifies stories featuring the same topics, companies and people in order to provide further reading for those who always want to know more.

Meanwhile, to make it even easier to catch up on all the current industry news, there are ‘Next’ and ‘Previous’ buttons on stories - again to make it easy to navigate through the site.

Yet another new feature is the 'trending' and 'most commented' panel, located on the right-hand side of each news article. The 'trending' tab denotes the top three most read stories of the last 30 days, while 'most commented' shows the three stories that have generated the most debate among readers in the last 30 days.

Finally, over on Estate Agent Today, there’s the addition of regional UK market statistics provided by the respected industry data company Dataloft. The first analysis looks at Peterborough and the East of England; Dataloft will look at a new region every two weeks.

"We're always looking to evolve our websites and I'm pleased to be able to share these changes with our readership. It's clear agents who consume industry news are serious about staying on top of the biggest trade issues and hopefully these new features will go some way to making sure our readers never miss a story” explains Nat Daniels, chief executive of Angels Media and publisher of Letting Agent Today and Estate Agent Today.

"As agents know, content is all-important these days. We're extremely proud of the volume and quality of the content we produce on a daily basis and these updates have been designed to aid readers' navigation around all that we have to offer" adds Daniels.

"I hope agents find these tweaks useful when reading our content and we're looking forward to introducing more updates and features as 2017 progresses."

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Coming soon, my interview with Julian Maurice, on how to increase profits through design

Angry buy to let investors launch petition against council licensing

By Graham Norwood

Angry landlords in Shropshire have set up an online petition against local council proposals to introduce selective licensing.

The Wrekin Landlords Association says Telford and Wrekin council’s scheme to licence private landlords in seven locations - at £160 a time - will raise £1.2m for the authority but will ultimately be paid by tenants because rents will have to increase as a result.

“The council appears to be blaming private landlords for anti social behaviour and littering which is a nonsense. The council should concentrate on identifying the perpetrators who litter and carry out anti social behaviour and use the laws that are already here to deal with it” says Bernie Lewis, association spokesman, in an article in the Shropshire Star.

“Hard hit local private residential landlords have had enough. Many are planning to get out of the business. It has all become too much for many small landlords” he says.

Under the scheme, landlords and letting agents in Hadley, Leegomery, Malinslee, Hollinswood, Brookside, Sutton Hill and Woodside would be required to apply for a five year licence. Landlords face up to a £20,000 fine if they don’t comply.

The petition - which you can see here - claims the proposal is a form of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

“The Equality act clearly states that it is illegal to discriminate against a person in their work place or when buying or renting property. The council has failed to prove the need for the license to every landlord therefore they are discriminating against those landlords who clearly do not need to be licensed. Many of the proposed items are already covered by law and therefore the licence is not needed” the petition claims.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Tenant referencing firm celebrates helping millionth tenant move home

By Marc Da Silva

Rent4sure made history last week when they helped their one millionth tenant move property.

The tenant referencing company, which now helps over 30,000 tenants a month with referencing, currently works with around 6,000 letting agents nationwide.

Since processing its first reference in 2009, the business has expanded from an initial team of five to employing more than 100 people across three offices in Dover, Reigate and Norwich, and yet the company plans to expand further by recruiting 30 more people across its offices this year.

“These are exciting times for Rent4sure as agents are actively searching for reliable support services due to the continual growth and regulation changes within the lettings market,” said Luke Burton, sales and marketing director at Rent4sure

Rent4sure provides a range of support, services and systems to the letting industry, including tenant referencing and credit checking, Right to Rent checks, tenant and landlord insurance, as well as rent protection and legal expense insurance.

The cloud based platform, from which all aspects of the business are run, is now one of the most modern and user friendly platforms in the industry.

We all know that landlords need to be wary of unscrupulous tenants, and that really is where tenant referencing firms can help, according to Lindsay Baker of Reigate-based estate agents Lewis White.

“At Lewis White we always strive to find the best possible tenants for our landlords,” she said. “A huge part of this is the detailed referencing process that ensures tenants are able to meet their financial responsibilities.”

MPs call for greater powers to ‘clamp down’ on illegal lets in London

By Marc Da Silva

With a growing number of buy-to-let landlords in London now using short-term letting platforms like Airbnb to breach the rules for letting properties, MPs are calling for greater powers to crackdown on abuses of existing legislation that permit homes to be rented out short-term for up to 90 days a year.

Addressing Parliament yesterday, Westminster North Labour MP Karen Buck, supported by nine other MPs, said that landlords should have to notify councils of the dates that their property is being used for short-letting.

According to Buck, Westminster council, alone, is currently investigating more than 1,100 properties which are believed to have been in breach of the 90-night limit.

She said that she welcomed the “freedom for homeowners to let their properties”, but insisted that “without excessive bureaucratic interference” it is hard for “cash-strapped councils to police the rules”.

“Alongside the responsible owner-occupiers are irresponsible ones, illegal sub-letters and an increasingly significant commercial operation, seeking to take advantage of potentially higher yields,” she added.

Earlier this month, the Mayor of London urged short-term agents operating in London, including Veeve, One Fine Stay, Wimdu,, HomeAway and Airsorted, to block hosts from renting out homes in the capital for more than 90 days.

But until there is a change in the existing rules to monitor activity levels in the market, Field insisted that “a free-for-all in short-term lets” will keep “causing misery for thousands of our constituents”.

“We want the local council to have effective powers to clamp down on this,” she added.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Utopian thinking: to ‘take back control’ of England, we must find out who owns it

By Guy Shrubsole

The Ministry of Defence owns 750,000 acres of land
in England Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer
The ownership of land,” wrote the 19th-century radical economist Henry George, “is the great fundamental fact which ultimately determines the social, the political and … the moral condition of a people.”

Who owns land matters. Landowners get to choose how their land is used, and that has big implications for almost everything: where we build our homes, how we grow our food, how much space we set aside for nature. Owning land confers wealth, status and often political power.

Margaret Thatcher’s ambition was to create a “property-owning democracy”. But like many members of Generation Rent, I don’t own a single square inch of the country of which I am a citizen. Even homeowners own only a small fraction of our island: urban areas cover just 10% of England and Wales. So, then: who actually owns this place? That’s what I’ve set out to investigate with my blog, Who Owns England?. I started it last summer, post-referendum, determined that if Brexit really meant “taking back control of our country”, then I’d like at least to know who owns it.

But the answer has turned out to be fiendishly difficult to find. It’s taken dozens of freedom of information requests and hours of poring over maps to even begin piecing together the jigsaw. I now know that the Ministry of Defence owns 750,000 acres, that the aristocratic Grosvenor Estate has 140,000 acres, and that grouse moor estates cover an area of England the size of Greater London. It’s very clear that land ownership in England is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy few: the investigative journalist Kevin Cahill has estimated that just 36,000 individuals own half of the UK’s rural land. But no one seems to have the full picture.

Understanding who owns this country has been a utopian project for at least a century and a half. In 1872, in an effort to disprove radicals’ claims that only a tiny elite dominated the landed wealth of the nation, Lord Derby – a major landowner himself – asked the government to undertake a proper survey. The Return of Owners of Land – or “Modern Domesday”, as it became known – was the first comprehensive assessment of land ownership in Britain since William the Conqueror’s swag list after the Norman conquest. But far from dousing the demands of the radical land reformers, the survey lit a fire under the issue.

The Return showed that just 710 aristocratic individuals owned a quarter of the entire country. Popularised by the author and socialite John Bateman in a bestselling book, The Acre-Ocracy of England, who owned land suddenly became the talk of the town. But it wasn’t just the gentry keeping up with the Joneses; land reform had become the political issue du jour. After all, this was a time when you couldn’t vote unless you owned property; when tenant farmers were struggling under a severe agricultural depression; and when the urban poor were crammed into overcrowded slums, at the mercy of grasping landlords.

Into this potentially revolutionary situation walked Henry George, an American economist with a radical new solution for the ills of the world. He proposed a land value tax – a tax on rent-seeking landowners who got rich simply by owning land in valuable locations and allowing it to accrue in value. In order to levy such a tax, it would first be necessary to survey all landowners and carry out a valuation of their property.

George’s utopian ideas inspired a generation of radicals, spanning all parties – from socialists to Liberals and even radical Tories such as Theresa May’s political inspiration, Joseph Chamberlain, who ran for election on the promise to secure for all farmers “three acres and a cow”. Yet English land reform was a dream that soon faded. The Modern Domesday was forgotten, George’s land tax dismissed as too radical, and all that the land reformers achieved was some legislation to create allotments. (A later push for land reform in the Edwardian period was first defeated by the landowning interest in the House of Lords and then cut short by the first world war.)

But spool forward to the present, and there are plenty of fresh reasons for wanting to know who owns our land. We face a housing crisis of epic proportions, caused at least partly by housing developers’ “stranglehold” on land supply, as the communities secretary puts it. As Brexit looms, we need to completely overhaul our broken system of farm subsidies, which for too long has rewarded landowners simply for owning vast estates, rather than providing public goods.

We face the existential threats of climate change and a potential mass extinction event, both demanding that we rethink our relationship with the land in order to restore nature and make ourselves more resilient against worsening flooding. And if we’re to reduce spiralling inequalities in wealth, we might well start by addressing landed wealth. Land, after all, is inherently scarce and prone to monopoly; as Mark Twain once observed, “they aren’t making it any more”.

Fixing all of these requires first knowing who owns our land. It’s something that should unite the most radical activist with the mildest reformer. Whether you’re a conservative aspiring to create a property-owning democracy, an anarchist who believes all property is theft, or a Georgist campaigning for land value tax, the first step is finding out who owns it all currently.

So if the answer to who owns England isn’t available from existing public data, how to find out? Well, the Victorian land reformers did leave us one other legacy: the Land Registry, whose job it is to gradually register who owns all land in England and Wales. Yet 150 years after it was founded, it’s still not completed its task – around a fifth of all land remains unregistered. And though the Land Registry has thankfully just survived a government attempt to privatise it, it remains a very closed public service: you have to pay £3 just to find out who owns a single field. Paying to find out who owns the whole country would cost a fortune.

It’s high time, therefore, to open up the Land Registry and mandate its completion. In the era of the internet, open data and GIS mapping, it’s frankly archaic for the Land Registry to hide its secrets behind a paywall. If Companies House can drop its search fees and open up its wealth of information for free, so can the Land Registry.

The government’s recent housing white paper heralded some welcome steps in this direction – announcing that the Land Registry would soon make freely available its datasets on land owned by UK companies and offshore firms. But that’s only a fraction of the total. Aristocratic families, who almost certainly still own the great majority of England, will be exempt – since their huge estates are invariably registered in an individual’s name, if they’re registered at all.

“Who owns England?” is a beguilingly simple question, but finding an answer to it would be genuinely utopian. Knowledge, after all, is power: and knowing who owns our land would be a first, crucial step towards really taking back control of our country.

Estate agency industry suffers ‘worst staff shortages’ in a generation – despite branch closures

By Rosalind Renshaw

An estate agent recruitment consultancy says that the sector is experiencing the worst staff shortages in a generation.

Cutbacks made by firms last summer look to have been premature, as they may have driven good people out of the industry, and are said to be responsible for the shortage this spring.

Property Personnel managing director Anthony Hesse says that the number of residential sales vacancies registered with the company in the first quarter of this year has more than doubled compared to the same period last year.

This is despite redundancies and branch closures – most notably by Countrywide, which has reported shutting 200 outlets in the last year, while LSL has closed 21.

Hesse said: “It’s a really strange market out there in estate agency at the moment – but the lack of available recruits is a defining factor.

“One of our clients has over 100 vacancies they are unable to fill; another has 46 property manager vacancies that they can’t find suitable candidates for.

“I would say that the struggle to fill vacancies is currently second only to the difficulties estate agencies are experiencing financially.”

We asked Hess if there was any trend towards candidates not wanting to work for corporates, but he told EYE: “I don’t think so. In fact, we make as many placements with independents and small boutique agencies as we do the large corporates. This trend seems to be happening across the board.

“The belief that the ‘grass is always greener’ means that we get people at large corporates who want to go and work for small independents, as well as people at small independents who want to go and work for large corporates – in almost equal measure.

“The truth is, the low availability of candidates is down to the agencies stopping recruiting last summer. The impact of that is starting to filter through now. Added to which, despite Brexit, there’s a genuine feeling of optimism out there. And we’re working hard to secure placements wherever we can.”

Hesse’s comments echo broader observations made by Recruitment and Employment Confederation chief executive Kevin Green, who said: “Although permanent placements have hit a 12-month high, businesses across the UK are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit for permanent roles.

“The big question still remains about how employers will fill their vacancies.”

Hesse added: “After nearly 30 years of placing personnel in all areas of residential estate agency, the number of vacancies registered with us is a good indication of confidence in the sector.

“So in many ways, this is an excellent time for people who are prepared to move jobs, as those hiring them compete to secure the talent available.

“It’s also a good time to welcome people into estate agency for the first time. Last year, 36% of our placements were people with no experience in estate agency whatsoever.

“And this year, around a third of our clients would consider candidates with a similar background.

“So the opportunities are definitely out there for those who want to discover what a dynamic and exciting industry this is.”

Whilst the number of sales vacancies registered with Property Personnel has more than doubled, the number of lettings vacancies has remained stable in comparison.

Hesse said: “The three months after the referendum saw a significant drop in the number of vacancies available – especially in residential sales, but also a slight dip in lettings. However, on the sales side, nine months later, there are scores of jobs available out there.”

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

London house prices hit record high: the average asking price for a home in the capital reaches £650k - despite imminent Article 50 trigger

By Prudence Ivey

Record house prices in the capital are being bolstered by increased demand in mid- and lower-priced outer London boroughs.

Average asking prices in London have hit a record high of £650,000, with price growth driven by rising demand in the outer boroughs.

Buyers priced out of more central London locations because house price growth has vastly outpaced wage rises since the 2008 property crash have been increasingly searching for better value and more spacious homes on the capital's fringes.

Increased demand in these outer suburban boroughs has led to London house prices rising by an average of 1.4 per cent – or more than £8,500 – in the last month alone.

This growth has come despite the widely-reported market uncertainty since Brexit was announced in June last year, and the expectation that Article 50 will be triggered imminently.

Annual house price changes in London
Hover over each borough for average price for March 2017 and a comparison with 12 months previously and last month

Source: London Evening Standard graphic: Rightmove House Price Index for March 2017
London's "most affordable" boroughs
All 12 boroughs where average asking prices are below £500,000 – just over a third of local authorities – have seen annual price growth, according to the latest house price index from Rightmove.

Prices in Enfield in north London, where areas like Cockfosters and Palmers Green attract commuters looking for more spacious family homes, rose by 8.2 per cent annually, hitting £485,000. In the south eastern borough of Greenwich, prices hit £477,000, up 6.7 per cent year on year; and in Croydon, on the capital’s southern fringe, prices rose 6.1 per cent to £430,000.

The five boroughs with the highest monthly rises were also all in outer London – Ealing (6.3pc), Harrow (4.8pc), Kingston-upon Thames (3.9pc), Barnet (3.8pc) and Brent (3.7pc).

“Whilst people are now more likely to hold out for that second or third bedroom rather than get a smaller place and move again a few years down the line, they are prepared to stretch more to get that home they will “grow into, rather than grow out of” and move a bit further out in the process to find the extra space," says Jack Malnick, sales director of estate agent Chelsea Square in Cricklewood and West and South Hampstead.

“This of course drives up the volume of people looking in the areas we cover in Brent and Barnet which logically, when demand is higher, means a rise in prices.”

Prime central London
Meanwhile some of the most expensive boroughs continue to be hit with falling prices. Kensington & Chelsea, formerly the most expensive borough in London, saw house prices drop by 19.4 per cent, pushing the average asking price below £2 million for the first time in nearly two years.

As a result, Westminster is now home to the highest average house price in London.

“Outer London continues to out-perform inner London in the price-rise stakes, and it is this trend of buyers looking further afield for value that is pushing up demand and therefore prices in many outer boroughs," says Rightmove director Miles Shipside.

“This has helped to push the overall average price of newly-marketed property in Greater London to a record high. With nine months having elapsed since the referendum and stronger demand returning to the market, there are signs that prices are becoming more resilient.”

Landlords will still use letting agents after fees ban - claim

By Graham Norwood

The substantial majority of landlords who now use letting agents will continue to do so even if they see their premiums rise following a ban on tenant fees, according to a survey.

The research, from UK Association of Letting Agents and the National Landlords Association, shows that 79 per cent of landlords think their letting agents will increase fees as a result of the proposal to ban charges to tenants, as announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement last year.

However, just nine per cent of landlords say they will part ways with their agents if their premiums rise.

The ban is criticised by UKALA, which says affordability in the private rental sector cannot be addressed by preventing agents from charging for legitimate business services, and that the costs will eventually be passed on to tenants in the long-term.

In response to a potential increase in agent fees following a ban, the research shows:

- 22 per cent said they would look to shop around for a better deal;

- 13 per cent would attempt to negotiate or refuse to pay;

- nine per cent would pay the additional fees;

- nine per cent would leave their agent;

- seven per cent were unsure.

“The ban on tenant fees could leave hundreds of professional businesses with no other option than to increase fees for their landlord clients. This research is reassuring for agents in some ways as it shows the majority of landlords will retain their services even if they have to pay more – which is testament to the essential role that agents play” says Richard Price, executive director of UKALA.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Rental market slows in February as supply crunch continues

By Marc Da Silva

The UK’s rental market showed signs of weakness last month, as the number of homes to let fell as uncertainty and a lack of supply restricted choice for potential renters.

The latest Property Activity Index from Agency Express shows that there were lower levels of activity in the private rented market in February.

Across the UK, the number of new listing ‘to let’ sat at -13.8%, marking the largest month-on-month decline for February since the index’s first records in 2012.

The data appears consistent with the Council of Mortgage Lenders director general Paul Smee’s view that buy-to-let property purchase activity "continues to be weak".

But properties ‘let’ during the period did rise, sitting at 3.4%. However, looking back over the Index’s historical data, records show figures in previous years were more robust, sitting at 4.5% in 2016 and 5.5% in 2015.

Looking at performance across the UK, only two of the 12 regions recorded by the Property Activity Index reported increases in new listings ‘to let’, while five regions reported increases in properties ‘let’.

Properties ‘To Let’
•    East Midlands 10%
•    West Midlands 3%

Properties ‘Let By’
•    South East 40.2%
•    West Midlands 7.6%
•    Scotland 6.3%

The West Midlands was the only region in this month’s index to record increases in both new listings at 7.6% and properties ‘let’ at 3%.

The largest decline in this month’s Index was recorded in East Anglia. Figures for new listing ‘for sale’ dropped to sit at -25.5%.

Stephen Watson, managing director of Agency Express, said: “The Property Activity Index historically shows us a drop in figures throughout February. However, this month we have seen a greater fall than in years previous, an impact of the buy-to-let changes which will undoubtedly affect the market ongoing.”

Equity release becoming more mainstream for home owners in UK

A record breaking year for equity release in the UK in 2016 saw lifetime mortgages become the fastest growing product in terms of customer numbers, according to the data.

The volume of lifetime mortgage customers grew by 22% in 2016 with a total of 27,534 new plans agreed, the figures from the spring 2017 equity release market report from the Equity Release Council shows.

Meanwhile buy to let remortgaging, the second fastest growing mortgage segment, saw an increase of 16%, having recorded the biggest annual growth rate in the previous three years.

Other segments of the mortgage market had a mixed year in 2016. While remortgaging numbers grew 14% and first time buyer numbers by 8%, the volume of home mover mortgages fell by 2% while buy to let purchase mortgages fell 13% from 2015.

Equity release remains a small segment of the overall market, yet the second half of 2016 saw a record £1.24 billion of housing wealth unlocked with total lending for the year reaching an unprecedented £2.15 billion. The growth rate of lending between 2015 and 2016 was 34%, more than double the 16% seen from 2014 to 2015.

The council explained that recent years have seen the equity release market become increasingly competitive, as new providers enter the market looking to serve increased demand among older homeowners to access their housing wealth.

This has resulted in a significant fall in average equity release rates of 51 basis points (bps) between July 2016 and January 2017 to 5.45%, with many providers offering rates below 5%.

At the same time, the number of products available to customers has continued to rise along with the flexibilities these offer, including downsizing protection, capped variable interest rates, and options to make monthly interest payments or annual capital repayments without incurring a charge.

Drawdown mortgage products continued to be the most popular type of equity release plan in 2016, with 65% of new customers opting for drawdown compared to 35% opting for lump sum mortgages. A small number took out home reversion plans. However, over the course of the year the proportion of lump sum customers increased slightly, from 33% in the first half H1 to 37% in the second half.

The average age of equity release customers increased slightly in the second half of 2016, rising from 69.9 to 70.1 years old. The most popular age bracket to take out equity release products remains between 65 and 74, accounting for 54.5% of all customers in the second half of the year, which is typically the first decade of retirement. However, this is below the 57.9% recorded in the first half.

The market report also shows that the proportion of older equity release customers is rising, with those aged 75 to 84 up from 19.4% to 20.2%, while the proportion aged 85 and above increased from 3% to 4.1%. The proportion of customers aged 55 to 64 remained relatively stable, rising from 21.2% to 21.3%.

‘2016 was a hugely significant year for the equity release sector. The value of lending has nearly tripled in the five years from 2011 to surpass the £2 billion mark and we also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the industry standards which have been fundamental to establishing a safe and reliable market for consumers,’ said Nigel Waterson, chairman of the Equity Release Council.

‘The sector is becoming increasingly mainstream amid growing appetite from older homeowners, reflected by the fact that lifetime products were the fastest growing segment of the mortgage market last year. Older home owners are increasingly realising that there are a number of potential uses for their housing wealth beyond supplementing their retirement income, including re-investing in their homes and helping younger family members by providing a living inheritance,’ he pointed out.

‘Greater flexibilities and growing competition mean the equity release product range continues to evolve, and the council and its growing membership remain steadfastly committed to ensuring best practice in advice and product delivery to ensure good outcomes for consumers,’ he added.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

RICS issues Brexit skills shortage warning

By March Shoffman
The UK construction industry could lose almost 200,000 EU workers post-Brexit should Britain lose access to the single market, RICS has warned.

The surveyor trade body highlighted figures showing 8% of the UK’s construction workers are EU nationals, accounting for some 176,500 people, while 35% of construction professionals surveyed revealed that hiring non-UK workers was important to the success of their businesses.

The organisation is warning that losing these skills would put some of the country’s biggest infrastructure and construction projects under threat.

RICS has cautioned that for Brexit to succeed, it is essential to secure continued access to the EU Single Market or to put alternative plans in place to safeguard the future of the property and construction sectors in the UK.

Suggestions include allowing skilled workers from outside the UK to be able to ‘passport’ their services in, similar to the way international financial services firms work.

RICS is also calling for construction professions such as quantity surveyors to feature on the Shortage Occupations List, making it easier for them to be allowed to work in the UK.

Jeremy Blackburn, head of policy for RICS, said: “A simple first step would be to ensure that construction professions such as quantity surveyors feature on the Shortage Occupations List. Ballet dancers won’t improve our infrastructure or solve the housing crisis, yet their skills are currently viewed as essential, whereas construction professionals are not.

“Of course, we must also address the need to deliver a construction and property industry that is resilient to future change, and can withstand the impact of any future political or economic shocks.

“Key to that will be growing the domestic skills base. As the industry’s professional body, we are working with Government and industry to develop that skills base, building vital initiatives, such as degree apprenticeships, in our sector to drive the talent pipeline forward.

“This survey reveals that more work needs to be done to promote the indisputable benefits of these schemes to industry, and RICS intends to take this forward as a priority.”

Additional £7.2m investment for rental transaction platform

By Graham Norwood

Cloud-based rental transaction platform Goodlord - already used by some agencies in the UK including Strutt & Parker and Remax - has raised £7.2m in additional funding.

The funding has come from Silicon Valley fintech investor Ribbit Capital and existing investors LocalGlobe and Global Founders Capital.

The platform claims to make the rental transaction quicker and more transparent: agents can smooth the process of finding and securing a home for tenants, ensure landlords receive tenants’ references quickly and collect deposits and rent online.

It says it saves agents 50 to 75 per cent of their administration costs with additional services aimed at landlords and tenants launched each week.

By the middle of the year the London-based firm aims to have 117 developers, engineers and salespeople.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Property prices in England and Wales up 0.6% in February, annual growth down

Property prices in England and Wales increased by 0.6% in February but the annual rate of growth fell to 2.4%, the lowest since 2013, although some parts of the country are seeing stronger growth.

Indeed the highest price growth for a year was recorded in Merseyside and Birmingham with new peaks of 5% and 6.2% respectively, according to the latest Your Move index.

The average price of a house is now £297,832 and there are signs that London and the South East are now pulling down the national average as when they are excluded from the calculation the annual growth is 3.1%.

While there was a strong performance in the East of England, it was Merseyside that set a new peak price in January with the report suggesting that heavy demand for apartments in Liverpool from both young professionals and buy to let investors renting to students has seen prices rise in Merseyside by 5% in the last year.

Birmingham in the West Midlands also set a new peak in the month and the reports says that ongoing regeneration of the city centre, good connections by rail and road, and expansion of a number of large employers is giving the city renewed confidence. Prices in the area were up 0.4% monthly and 6.2% year on year.

Oliver Blake, managing director of Your Move and Reeds Rains estate agents, believes that it has been an encouraging start to 2017. We’ve seen the strongest house price growth in a year, the emergence of the promised Northern Powerhouse and the first tentative signs of a recovery in the highest priced properties in London,’ he said.

He pointed out that the strong start to the year for house prices isn’t yet reflected in annual figures, which suffer from comparison to price spikes ahead of the last April’s stamp duty hike.

‘When these drop out of the calculation in a couple of months, though, we hope to see the more positive trend. As the recent English Housing Survey shows, the market is supported by increasing numbers of first time buyers and rising transactions in the last year. The increasing contribution of a strong North Western market centred on Manchester, meanwhile, gives hope for more balanced, if modest, price growth going forward,’ Blake added.

The data also shows that the 11 most expensive of London’s 33 boroughs registered an average increase of 0.8% in prices over January, double the average for London as a whole, rising by £7,473.

By contrast, inflation in the cheapest third of boroughs, which drove growth for much of last year, was subdued. Only Havering with growth of 1.7% and the cheapest borough Barking and Dagenham, up 1.1%, recorded growth above 1%. The latter has still posted double digit annual growth at 11.8%.

The report points out that Greater London market still faces challenges and from January 2016 to January 2017 average prices are up only 2.1%, the lowest rise in almost five years. Every borough has also seen a reduction in transactions for the three months to the end of January, compared to a year before, and London has seen the largest drop in transactions in the country with a fall of 22%.

Despite a slowdown, with prices up just 0.1% over the month, the East of England continues to top the table for annual growth, up 5.9%. The London commuter hotspots of Luton, growing 10.4% in the last year, and Essex with a rise of 6% both set new peak prices month on month.

Indeed, with the exception of London, Southern regions are once again driving price inflation in England and Wales. The South East was up 0.6% monthly and 5.2% annually and the South West up 0.6% and 4.7%, meaning are both closing the gap on the East of England.

Rental growth stalls as letting market dragged down by London

By Isabelle Fraser

Falling rents in London dragged down average UK rental growth
Falling rents in London and the South East are dragging down the UK's rental growth, according to estate agency Countrywide.

Across the country the average rent was £921 per month in February, 0.6pc lower than a year before, the first fall since November 2010.

The average rent in London fell by 4.7pc, and in the South East it slumped 2.6pc. This was partly caused by a 9pc boost to the number of properties on the market across the country, with 18pc more homes on the market in the capital compared to last year. However, Countrywide warned that this would not last.

London and the South East both had more properties, and also fewer tenants looking for homes.  Every other region of the UK saw a rise in rent, but at a slower pace than in previous months.

Johnny Morris, research director at Countrywide, said: “ Recent falls in London and the South East are small in the context growth in recent years.  Rents are a third higher in London and the South East than in 2007.

“Early signs point towards 2017 being a rare year where rents rise faster in the north of the country than in the south. While rents are likely to track any increase in earnings, affordability in London and the South East remains stretched. That is likely to limit rental growth.”

It comes as an online petition passed the 100,000 signatures threshold, calling for the Government to make mortgage lenders to accept that paying rent as proof of being able to make mortgage repayments.

It has been signed by more than 140,000 people, which means it can be debated in Parliament. The Government has yet to respond to it.

The issue is an acute one, as by 2025 there will be an estimated 7.2m households in the UK which are privately rented, up from 5.4m in 2015. Last week, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said that despite the current falls in rents, they are predicted to rise by more than 20pc in the next five years, pushing homeless people and those on housing benefits out of the private rented sector.

Pete Ball, head of personal finance at specialist lender Together, said: "As this petition clearly demonstrates, there is a need to compile more detailed data on the credit profile of these individuals, which will then help lenders to assess their applications when they look to obtain a mortgage.

"If there is a debate following the petition and it leads to new and improved measures in this space, that will be a positive step for both lenders and these aspiring homeowners.”

Monday, 13 March 2017

Buy-to-let landlord sentenced for tax fraud and fined £200,000

By Marc Da Silva

A London based landlord has been given a suspended two-year prison sentence for tax fraud, following a Revenue and Customs investigation that discovered £281,000 in unpaid taxes.

Property developer and landlord Michael Charles Waddingham, 44, was sentenced on Friday at Kingston Crown Court after pleading guilty to evading the large sum in taxes and has been ordered to pay a fine of £200,000 within the next six months, in addition to the £281,000 tax he has already repaid.

An HMRC investigation found he had not submitted tax returns between 2008 and 2012; failing to declare rental income, that he had been a director of seven land and property development companies and had income above £100,000 per year due to the directorships.

Waddingham, who lives in Teddington, will also have to undertake 200-hours community work over the next 12 months, honour a six-month curfew between the hours of 8pm and 5am with electronic tag and pay a victim’s support charge of £425.

UK average annual rents fall for first time in six years

By Patrick Collinson

Buying frenzy ahead of 2016 stamp duty hike pushed up supply of new homes for letting by 10%, Countrywide figures show

Rents are falling fastest in London, down 4.3% over the year to an average of £1,246 a month. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA
Rents in Britain have recorded their first annual drop for six years, according to the UK’s biggest estate and lettings agency.

In February, the average rent in Britain was £921 a month, £5 lower than a year earlier, and the first annual decrease since 2011. Countrywide, which compiled the figures, said the buying frenzy ahead of the hike in stamp duty last year pushed up the supply of new homes for letting by 10%. Meanwhile tenant demand has been dropping, particularly in London, possibly related to Brexit.

Rents are falling fastest in the capital, down 4.3% over the year to an average of £1,246 a month. It means tenants are now typically paying £63 a month less to secure an apartment compared to last year.

Rents in the south-east have also dropped, by an average of 2.6%, but in other parts of the UK they are still rising. Countrywide said rents in Wales were up 5.3% over the last 12 months to an average of £636 per month, while in the east of England they rose 3.1% to £945.

In London, the supply of new homes to let is up 18%, but the number of tenants looking for properties has fallen by 3%. Tenant demand is also falling in the south-east, but in other parts of the UK it continues to rise.

Johnny Morris, research director at Countrywide, said: “Economic and housing sentiment – both in sales and rental markets – has been affected by our vote to leave the EU, in London more than anywhere else. This uncertainty causes tenants to be more cautious, meaning less likely to move and more likely to look for cheaper accommodation, eg sharing. With the private rented sector home to around three-quarters of new migrants, any future substantial shift in migration patterns would likely have a knock-on effect on rents.”

Guardian graphic | Source: Countrywide
Any falls in rents will come as welcome relief to tenants after years of rises. Despite the small decrease over the past 12 months, the average rent in Britain is still £112 higher than the previous peak in 2007, even though average incomes have only edged ahead since the financial crisis.

The government’s white paper on housing last month acknowledged that England’s housing market is “broken”, with the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, telling the House of Commons that rents in many places swallow more than half of take-home pay.

Separate figures from LSL Property Services, which includes estate agents Your Move and Reeds Rain, paint a similar picture of a slow market in the south and much busier activity in the Midlands and north. It said annual house price growth dropped to 2.4% in February from 3.9% the month before, the 12th month in a row that the annual rate of inflation has fallen. It said London had been the most challenging market.

“Every borough [of London] has seen a reduction in transactions for the three months to the end of January, compared to a year before, and London has seen the largest drop in transactions in the country, down 22%,” LSL said. Prices in once-booming markets such as Camden, Hackney, Fulham and Richmond have all fallen over the past year said LSL, although they are currently falling fastest in Tower Hamlets, home to Canary Wharf’s skyscrapers and residential tower developments.

In contrast, it said house prices in Birmingham and Merseyside had hit a new peak. Average prices in Birmingham have hit £190,504, up 6.2% on the year. However the location with the biggest percentage price rise over the past 12 months is Merthyr Tydfil, normally a byword for property depression. Homes in the former mining town have jumped in price by 12.7% over the past year but, at an average of £120,682, are still among the cheapest in the UK. LSL added that a low volume of transactions in the area makes price reports highly volatile.

Nationally, turnover in the property market has been falling, with the number of transactions down 9% on the year. Flats had the biggest reduction in sales volumes, falling 15%.