Roy Armitage

The rise of the professional landlord?

The government recently published its English Private Landlord Survey, a study carried out last year looking in depth at the make-up of the nation’s landlords for the first time since 2010.

The results of the survey perhaps start to indicate the degree to which the government’s attempts to ‘professionalise’ the sector have started to work, ie introducing higher rates of stamp duty for property investments, to stripping back the tax reliefs available to personal landlords and the tightening of underwriting standards by virtue of the PRA policy statement in SS13/16.

For example, the survey shows that there has been a significant shift away from small landlords, who perhaps have one or two properties in their portfolio, towards those for whom property is a greater part of their business plan.

The study found that around 45% of landlords own one property. That’s a sharp fall from 2010 when more than three-quarters of landlords (78%) focused their energies on a single investment property. Meanwhile, the proportion of landlords with five or more properties has jumped from 5% of the market to 17%, representing 48% of the sector.

However, what we could question is the number of properties owned by a landlord being a reliable indicator of professionalism on its own. The number of properties under management certainly means landlords will be more experienced in property management, but professionalism surely includes a range of different measures such as:

  • the fair treatment of tenants and their deposits
  • compliance with national and local licensing requirements
  • the speed at which property maintenance is carried out
  • the type of tenancies offered
  • the level of income derived from being a landlord

Given ‘professionalism’ is often regarded as someone whose occupation is fully engaged in the subject matter, the survey suggests there is some way to go to achieve this. For example, only 29% of tenancies were managed by full-time employed landlords, the largest sector, however, was represented by the retired sector at 33%, representing 28% of all tenancies. This point is further illustrated when the motivation for being a landlord is considered, with 59% of tenancies the result of a long-term investment decision to support pension provision. For the avoidance of doubt, there is no suggestion that landlords who use property letting to support pension provision are not professional, but the percentage of the market they represent is significant.

The potential change to this mix of landlords, and indeed the amount of property in the private rented sector, is indicated by the future intentions of landlords, no doubt driven by the tax changes already mentioned and a more subdued housing market generally. For example, while 64% of landlords either intend to increase or sustain their current level of properties, 15% intend to reduce or sell down their portfolios, representing 23% of all tenancies. It can be reasonably assumed those leaving the market are those who operate at the margins where the reduced net yield and low capital gain makes being a landlord unattractive.

What is less clear with growing tenant demand is exactly how the potential 23% reduction in the tenancy market will be filled.

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