Tenants

Property market sentiment improves following Tory election victory

Property market sentiment improves following Tory election victory

The housing market has enjoyed what some are calling a “Boris bounce” following the result of last month’s general election, with confidence in the market hitting a three-year high, according to a new survey.

Zoopla, in partnership with MonkeySeed, surveyed 6,000 people, and over 650 agents from the sales and lettings landscape across the UK, and found that the housing market is seeing some benefit from the greater clarity provided by the decisive election outcome.

Estate agent confidence levels are up, with more than half – 55% – of those surveyed reporting that they feel either ‘very confident’ or ‘somewhat confident’ in the strength of the market during the next year. This follows a three-year consecutive decline in agent confidence.

From a regional perspective, agents in the north are registering the highest levels of confidence in market performance for 2020 at 57%; meanwhile, agents in the south come in at 53% and demonstrate the highest turnaround in sentiment, up from 46% recorded 12 months prior.

Some 52% of agents expect to see an increase in the supply of stock coming onto the market over the next 12-18 months to start meeting buyer and renter demand.

Additionally, 45% of agents believe that there will be an increase in the number of property transactions that take place across the year ahead, in a further sign of renewed market health.

The economic and political landscape, as well as current stock levels, were cited as immediate market challenges; however, the subsequent election outcome is already starting to reshape market dynamics.

Andy Marshall, chief commercial officer at Zoopla, said: “It comes as little surprise that the so-called ‘Boris Bounce’ has already started to reshape the market in the immediate term – particularly amidst reports of improving consumer confidence following the decisive election outcome.

“Without doubt, appetite to buy and sell property has been pent up since the aftermath of the Brexit vote in 2016, and it would now appear that we have the green shoots of a new cycle in the market.

“While we don’t expect runaway prices – indeed we have forecast a modest 3% growth for 2020 – we are definitely heading in the right direction and agents are rightly benefitting from what we hope will become a new dawn.”

Most in demand areas in the UK to rent a property

Most in demand areas in the UK to rent a property

Fresh figures from Howsy has revealed the most in-demand cities to rent property in the United Kingdom, with some surprising findings.

The rental management platform analysed demand across 23 major UK cities as well as each borough of London, based on the proportion of rental listings that had already been snapped up by renters as a percentage of all listings available online.

The study found when it comes to existing demand, Newport is home to the highest level of tenant demand with 35% of all rental homes listed on the major portals already let.

Other highly ranked in-demand cities for rental properties include Bristol at 34%, Nottingham (33%), Cambridge (33%) and Belfast (25%).

Elsewhere, Plymouth (23%), Portsmouth (23%), Bournemouth (23%), Leicester (18%) and Manchester (18%) complete the top 10.

Aberdeen remains the least sought after area for rental properties in the UK with tenant demand at 5% followed by Swansea (8%) and Leeds (9%).

In London, Bexley, Bromley, Sutton and Lewisham are the hottest boroughs for tenants straight off the bat in 2020, with 38% of all rental stock listed online already being snapped up.

Merton (32%), Croydon (31%), Greenwich (30%), Haringey (29%), Enfield (29%) and Kingston (27%) are also amongst the most popular.

The high financial barrier of rental costs is evident at the top end of the ladder with Kensington and Chelsea (7%), Westminster (7%), Camden (11%), the City of London (12%) and Hammersmith and Fulham (13%) all ranking with the lowest number of properties let as a percentage of total properties listed.

Calum Brannan, founder and CEO of Howsy, said: “The buy-to-let sector may have had a rough ride of late but the UK rental market is still heavily relied upon by many in order to put a roof over their head and as a result, many cities still provide a great opportunity for buy-to-let investors due to the lower levels of available stock and consistently high tenant demand.

“When looking to invest, this combination of high demand, an affordable initial cost and a good rental yield should all be considered in order to maximise a return. For those that do their research and tick these boxes, bricks and mortar remains a very sound investment despite attempts to dampen the financial return via stamp duty hikes and changes to tax relief.

“Hopefully, a newly refreshed Government will realise that the buy-to-let landlord is the backbone of the UK rental market and we need to encourage investment into the sector rather than deter it.”

New regulations to combat carbon monoxide poisoning

New regulations to combat carbon monoxide poisoning

An assembly member has welcomed the introduction of legislation for carbon monoxide detectors in rented homes in Wales.

The Welsh Government says new regulations are to be introduced to tackle the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Around 60 people a year are killed by carbon monoxide poisoning in Wales and thousands are hospitalised.

The regulations will require landlords in Wales and their agents to install working carbon monoxide alarms, smoke alarms and undertake an electrical safety test at least every five years.

The time frame is not clear at this stage, but it would appear that it will be implemented as part of the introduction of Section 91 of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 and prior to the end of this Assembly term in 2021.

Clwyd West AM Darren Millar previously expressed concerns to the Senedd over the absence of legal requirements for the detectors to be installed in rental properties.

But he has welcomed confirmation that a new section of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 will include additional requirements for landlords to install working carbon monoxide alarms, smoke alarms and undertake an electrical safety test at least every five years.

He said: “I’m absolutely delighted to hear that new regulations will be coming into force to ensure landlords install carbon monoxide testers in their properties and the Minister is committed to ensuring they are implemented by the end of this Assembly term.”

Many people are at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, particularly if they do not have a CO alarm in their property.

In the short-term, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause dizziness, sickness, tiredness and stomach pain, while prolonged exposure can lead to loss of consciousness and have a significant impact on an individual’s mental state, coordination and heart health.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that is produced when fuel does not burn properly – usually from badly fitted or poorly maintained appliances.

Though carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas, it has no smell or taste, so it is not obvious when someone has been exposed to it. Just breathing it in can make somebody very unwell and it can kill if a person is exposed to high levels.

Millar added: Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas, but, being colourless, odourless, tasteless, and initially non-irritating, it is very difficult for people to detect.

“Unfortunately, many people across Wales still do not know enough about its dangers and it continues to claim lives or leave people with long-term chronic health problems.

“Currently 60 people a year are killed by carbon monoxide poisoning and thousands are hospitalised. Hopefully, these new regulations will help to reduce that figure.”

Rental supply shortage set to push up rents

Rental supply shortage set to push up rents Rents look set to rise over the next 12 months as the supply of new rental properties dries up, according to the latest survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

It said small scale landlords are pulling out of the market due to recent tax and legislative changes which have made buy-to-let investments less profitable.

Landlord instructions remain in decline, with this indicator having been stuck in negative territory since 2016.

Going forward, rents are expected to increase as a consequence of the imbalance between rising demand and falling supply.

In the sales market, activity levels are benefiting from greater political certainty following the outcome of last month’s general election.

There has been a notable increase in residential property sales and this trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

The December 2019 RICS Residential Market Survey shows that sales expectations have increased significantly, with a number of other key activity metrics turning positive for the first time in several months.

Sales expectations for the next 12 months have increased to a net balance of +66%, up from +35% in November, following a sharp rise in enquiries from potential buyers.

This change in activity levels is expected to lead to property price growth in the near and longer-term due to continued imbalance in supply.

In December, 17% more survey respondents saw a rise rather than fall in enquiries from new buyers, up from -5% in November, at the headline level across the UK.

Regionally, the majority of areas saw growth in interest from new buyers, with respondents in Wales and the North East in particular reporting solid growth.

Enquiries also rose in London and the South East, marking a noticeable turnaround from the negative results in November.

Aside from a rise in enquiries from buyers, the number of agreed sales edged up at the national level to +9% net balance. This is the first time since May 2019 that the number of agreed sales has shown a positive result.

Agreed sales in London and East Anglia delivered amongst the strongest improvement in sentiment, with net balances of +22% and +23% respectively, while sales reportedly weakened in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Sales expectations for the next three months are also positive, for the third month running, with +31% of respondents anticipating transactions will increase.

This sentiment is mirrored for sales prospects over the 12 twelve months, which have seen an even greater improvement.

A net balance of +66% of survey participants forecast that sales will rise in the year ahead, up from +35% previously. The strongest net balances were returned in Wales and the South West, although all regions are showing strong improvement.

Simon Rubinsohn, RICS chief economist, commented: “The signals from the latest RICS survey provides further evidence that the housing market is seeing some benefit from the greater clarity provided by the decisive election outcome.

“Whether the improvement in sentiment can be sustained remains to be seen given that there is so much work to be done over the course of this year in determining the nature of the eventual Brexit deal.

“However, the sales expectations indicators clearly point to the prospect of more upbeat trend in transactions emerging with potential purchasers being more comfortable in following through on initial enquiries.”

While new instructions picked up at the national level, a net balance of +9% of contributors reported an increase, outside London and the South East, new sales instructions were more or less flat rather than picking up to any degree.

With regards to house prices, the survey’s headline net balance came in at -2%, compared to -11% previously, signalling a broadly flat national trend for the time being.

Going forward, however, near term price expectations were revised higher in all parts of the UK. This indicates a large shift across previously weakening areas, such as London and the South East.

Back at the national level, a net balance of +61% of survey participants see prices increasing at the twelve month horizon (a rise from +33% last time). What’s more, the outlook for house price inflation was adjusted higher right across the UK.

Rubinsohn added: “The ongoing lack of stock on the market remains a potential drag on a meaningful uplift in activity although the very modest increase in new instructions in December is an early hopeful sign.

“Given that affordability remains a key issue in many parts of the country, the shift in the mood-music on prices is a concern with even London expectations pointing to a reversal of course both over the coming months and looking further out.

“This highlights the critical importance of the government addressing the challenge around housing supply particularly with the gradual phasing out of the Help to Buy incentive.”

Mandatory electrical safety regulations to be introduced in England

Mandatory electrical safety regulations to be introduced in EnglandThe government plans to introduce mandatory electrical installation inspecting for all rented homes.

Detailed regulations for enforcing compulsory five-year electrical safety checks in the private rented sector from July this year have been put forward and are now subject to parliamentary approval.

The draft regulations propose that, from 1 July 2020, all new private tenancies in England will need to ensure that electrical installations are inspected and tested by a qualified person prior to the start of a new tenancy.

The landlord will then be required to ensure that the installation is inspected and tested at least every five years, and more regularly if the most recent safety report requires it.

A breach of the regulations could see landlords fined up to £30,000.

David Cox, chief executive, ARLA Propertymark, commented: “We are supportive of this concept and believe it will create a level playing field for all agents and landlords as well as ensuring improved safety standards for tenants.

“Mandating electrical testing should have a limited impact on good professional landlords and agents in the market, many of whom already voluntarily undertake these inspections.

“We did raise concerns about the number of engineers available to undertake these reports by the April 2021 deadline but have received assurances from MHCLG about capacity in the supply chain.”

Top tips for new student landlords

Top tips for new student landlords

Student property remains one of the most lucrative investments available to landlords, with sky-high double-digit yields currently on offer in many parts of the country.

With students heading back to university over the next few weeks, demand for student housing is currently high thanks to the growth of international students coming to study in the UK, and rise in UK nationals signing up for higher and further education. It is therefore unsurprising that investing in student property is on the rise – up 17% according to Savills.

But being a landlord is not easy and there are many issues faced, therefore bill-splitting service Glide had created a guide on how to deal with various tenant issues in the best way possible.

Repairs

Although student tenants have a reputation for house parties and late night drinking, that stereotype is perhaps a little outdated.

With the rising cost of student loans and students themselves becoming more money conscious than other generations, ensuring that their deposit is returned to them at the end of term likely a key priority for the majority.

However, as with renting to anyone, wear and tear is to be expected, especially for larger multi-occupancy properties, while any issue with the structure or exterior of the property you are renting out is your responsibility to maintain. Issues relating to  flooring, walls and any sanitaryware, such as toilets, sinks or baths, must also be resolved by you if they break.

But items brought into the property by the tenant are their responsibility to maintain. It’s not the landlord’s responsibility to pay for the repairs on items like TVs which were provided by the occupant.

It is important to remember to take an inventory of the property before tenants begin their occupancy, in order to enable you to tell the difference between repairs which naturally develop and issues that are caused by tenant neglect. Photos of the premises are useful to have in case of dispute.

Utilities 

As a landlord, you are responsible for ensuring that all gas and electric appliances are safe in the property, and a gas safety check is required every year. It is also your duty to install smoke alarms on every floor of the building – and carbon monoxide alarms in every room where a fuel burning appliance is situated.

But while it is down to the landlord to ensure the safety of these features, if appliances provided by the tenant break, or light bulbs need replacing, that’s down to the tenant to replace themselves. It is important to clarify these terms in the lease agreement to avoid any disagreements.

Making sure the boiler works and is regularly serviced to maintain the constant and safe supply of hot water for an occupant is also a non-negotiable. Should a boiler break, or if any leaks in the water supply occur, it is the landlord’s responsibility to get these fixed as soon as possible. It is also worth checking with your tenants how long the property will be empty during the Christmas break – if the boiler is switched off for extended periods during a particularly cold spell, there is a risk that the pipes will freeze, which could lead to central heating issues when tenants return in January.

A landlord must keep the general state of the property to a level which is deemed to be fit for habitation. This essentially means they must be kept clean, tidy and without any health and safety hazards for when the tenant moves in.

From there, it is the occupant who is responsible for the upkeep of the home, including features such as the gardens. However, issues like mould, damp and pests – such as rats – must be resolved by the landlord if they  result from general wear and tear.

As the owner, you are entitled to inspect the property as many times as you like, but tenants must be given at least 24 hours written notice advising of your intentions to enter the premises.

Bills and payments

The collection of rent payment is a concern, especially for student tenants, who may not be used to the responsibility of regular payments and arranging bills. However, the stigma around students being irresponsible with money is outdated and not reflective of the current generation.

CPS Homes of Cardiff said that “Students make for reliable, almost guaranteed tenants each year due to the academic cycle. You know that if the current tenants are planning to leave at the end of their tenancy a new group is just around the corner, ready and waiting to move in at the start of the next academic year.

“And contrary to the beliefs of many, they are usually very prompt payers of rent because they’re in receipt of a student loan that they receive termly.

“Having confirmation of this student loan is far stronger than an employment reference because people are far more likely to quit or lose their job than drop out of University.

“If they ever do get into trouble with their rent payments, a parent or guardian will have usually agreed to act as a financial guarantor at the start of the tenancy. This means a landlord can approach said person and demand full payment of the balance owed.”

If you are the landlord of a shared property, it is not up to you to organise the payment of rent and utility bills.

This is the responsibility of the occupants, as the money is ultimately to be paid to you, while any disputes should be settled between tenants.

However, encouraging your tenants to sign up to a bill splitting service takes the headache out of arranging bill payments – each tenant receives a bill for their share of the utilities, meaning no-one is stuck chasing for payments and all potential arguments are negated.

Landlords urged to prepare for new MEES regulations in April

Landlords urged to prepare for new MEES regulations in April

Landlords of the draughtiest homes in England and Wales will be required to upgrade their properties ahead of new rules requiring the installation of energy efficiency measures.

Since April 2018, new rules have been in place across England and Wales, setting out minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES).

These regulations made it unlawful for landlords to grant a new lease for properties that have an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating below E, from 1 April 2018, unless the property is registered as an exemption.

While April 2018 heralded an initial change in the rules regarding energy efficiency standards, the bigger picture will see regulations that affect all rental properties, irrespective of the length of tenancy, in April 2020, when it will become unlawful to rent any property that has an existing or continuing tenancy that fails to meet the minimum required energy rating.

What’s more, the government is considering raising this target in another couple of years, at which point ‘D’ is expected to be the minimum EPC rating, so it is worth getting your properties up to scratch now to prevent even more work later.

To help landlords understand the rule changes, Fladgate, a City law firm, has shared some information below to allow them to understand what precautionary measures they should take and the consequences of not complying with MEES.

Do I benefit from an exemption?

If your property is caught by the EPC regime, you must comply with the MEES Regulations, unless you can rely on one of a few exemptions available to landlords, including but not limited to:

1.       Exemption due to devaluation – a temporary exemption of 5 years will apply if a landlord can demonstrate that the installation of energy efficiency measures would reduce the market value of the property by more than 5%;

2.       Exemption for new landlords – if a person becomes a landlord recently or suddenly in specified circumstances under the MEES Regulations, a temporary exemption of six months will apply; and/or

3.       Third party consent – if a landlord cannot obtain necessary third party consents to improve the EPC rating of the property (including but not limited to lender consent, superior landlord consent and/or tenant consent), then a landlord may let a “sub-standard” property.

A landlord wishing to rely upon an exemption must register an exemption on the online Private Rented Sector Exemptions Register. Local authorities give and keep these fines and so are incentivised to enforce the legislation.

What if I don’t comply with the MEES Regulations?

If a landlord fails to comply with the MEES Regulations, there are financial penalties, which vary depending upon the length of the breach.

A landlord renting out a “non-compliant” property (less than three months in breach) may be fined up to either £5,000 or 10% of a rateable value up to a maximum of £50,000, whichever is greater.

A landlord renting out a “non-compliant” property (three months or more in breach) may be fined up to either £10,000 or 20% of the rateable value up to a maximum of £150,000, whichever is greater.

There is also a fine of up to £5,000 for providing false or misleading information, or failing to comply with a compliance notice.

What should I do? 

The tightening of the MEES Regulations imposes further onerous obligations on landlords operating within the private rented sector.

If you have a property with an EPC rating of F or G then unless one of the exemptions referred to above applies, you should begin preparing now for the extension of the regulations to existing tenancies to take effect on 1st April 2020.

As the deadline fast approaches, landlords would be well advised to consider the following, in order to protect their assets:

1.       Review your property or property portfolios to identify whether or not properties are compliant;

2.       Consider the cost and extent of any works required;

3.       Consider access to the properties (lease terms permitting) to carry out works required to bring the properties up to the minimum ‘E’ rating; and

4.       Consider whether any exemptions may be relied upon.

Failure to do so will impact upon landlords’ abilities to market and deal with their properties.

There is speculation that MEES will rise again in 2022, making ‘C’ or ‘D’ the new minimum requirement. When considering any works to upgrade a property to comply with the MEES Regulations for April 2020, landlords should also bear in bind the potential future impact of the regulations.

The Guild supports clampdown on rogue landlords

The Guild supports clampdown on rogue landlords

The government’s decision to invest an additional £4m in funding for local councils to tackle criminal landlords and letting agents has been warmly welcomed by The Guild of Property Professionals.

The housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, announced on Friday that he has pledged new funding to be used to clamp down on rogue landlords, with the money set to be shared between more than 100 councils across England

He commented: “Councils already have strong powers to force landlords to make necessary improvements to a property through the use of a range of measures, including civil penalties and banning orders for the worst offenders.

“The grants will support a range of projects to enable councils to make the best use of these powers. This will include trialling innovative ideas, sharing best practice and targeted enforcement where we know landlords shirk their responsibilities.”

There are more than 4.5 million households in the private rented sector in England, with recent statistics showing that 82% of private renters are satisfied with their accommodation, which although impressive, does suggest that there is room for improvement

The Guild’s inhouse Compliance Officer, Paul Offley, said: “We fully support this initiative as it will ensure that rogue landlords and letting agents are punished for breaking the law and it will also ensure that more tenants are treated fairly.

“With the funding providing councils with a means to crack down on illegal activity in the lettings market, tenants will have more protection and the standards of the rental sector will be raised.”

“An environment where exploitative landlords are stamped out will enable good landlords and letting agents to thrive,” he added.

But the government funding to root out criminal landlords has been described by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) as inadequate to tackle the scale of the problem.

David Smith, policy director for the RLA, said: “We welcome the government’s focus on rooting out criminal landlords. For too long the debate has been driven by ideological calls for more regulation of the sector. What is needed is better enforcement of the powers already available to tackle the minority who bring the sector into disrepute.

“The funding though is nowhere near enough. Instead of offering inadequate and sporadic pots of money, it is critical that the government provides proper, multi-year funding to enable councils to plan and prepare workable strategies to find the criminal landlords. This should be supported by councils having the political will to prioritise enforcement against the crooks rather than tying good landlords up in licensing schemes which do nothing to protect tenants.”

A fall in available rental stock would see ‘increased competition and higher rents’

A fall in available rental stock would see ‘increased competition and higher rents’

Greater confidence and more certainty in the housing market following last month’s Tory election victory looks set to boost the housing market and unleash pent-up buyer demand from property buyers, including buy-to-let investors, in the early part of 2020, analysts predict.

But Anton Frost, a partner at Carter Jonas letting agents, believes that continued political uncertainties, in particular, the deadline for Brexit rade talks at the end of the year, will keep a lid on activity levels in the housing market, including the buy-to-let sector.

He said: “2020 may begin with a new government but the familiar uncertainty over our departure from the EU will remain, and there is no doubt that this year will see the lettings market continuing to navigate through what has been a turbulent period.”

Frost, like many letting specialist, is concerned that tax and regulatory changes will dampen landlords’ appetites to invest and expand their property portfolios, with many consolidating their assets, or opting to flee the sector altogether.

Frost commented: “Policy changes and financial pressures on landlords has left many concerned that their investments are no longer viable. We’ve already seen the tenant fee ban and continuation of tax relief changes deter investors from the market in 2019, and this may well continue into 2020.

“With less stock comes increased competition and higher rents, and without legislative changes that can stabilise the landlord market, the tenant struggle for the right home at an affordable price may go unchanged.

“That said, no matter what picture the political landscape paints, people need to move and there has and always be a healthy level of activity in the rental market. Yield potential and tenant affordability are problems that remain paramount, but the market will always be transactional.

“Landlords are dubious about what 2020 holds, but clarity over if, how and when Britain leaves the EU should see an overall sense of stability return to the market, which can only be a positive thing.”

Court delays causing ‘extreme stress’ for landlords

Court delays causing ‘extreme stress’ for landlords

Under-resourced county courts are struggling to cope with the number of possession claims being put forward, ‘causing misery for landlords’ not to mention costly delays, according to Landlord Action.

The vast majority of residential possession claims are dealt with in the county courts and enforced by county court bailiffs. But government spending cuts, an increasing number of possession cases, court delays and administrative errors mean evictions are taking longer than ever, pushing many landlords into debt.

In a recent Section 21 case handled by Landlord Action, a tenant claimed she did not receive the ‘How to Rent Guide’ so the court set a hearing date of 27th June 2019. But the court postponed the hearing with just 24 hours notice because the Judge was no longer available.

Several hearing dates have since been set and cancelled, leaving Landlord Action with little choice but to chase for a new date some 12 months after the original Section 21 notice was served back in January 2019, and the landlord no closer to gaining possession.

“We are experiencing cases like this time and time again” said Paul Shamplina. “It’s not only causing extra work for us at Landlord Action, meaning we now have a full-time member of staff whose main responsibility is chasing courts for updates on possession orders, Notice of Issues and bailiff appointments, it is also causing extreme stress for the landlords who are already facing financial hardship as a result of rent arrears.”

Landlord Action is now calling on the government to increase investment in the court system before pressing ahead with plans to scrap Section 21 of the Housing Act, as part of the new Renters’ Reform Bill.

Shamplina continued: “The situation is the worst I have experienced in my 28 years in this industry.  Cases are being overlooked, delayed or thrown out due to administrative errors and there is little we can do to improve matters for landlords when we are at the mercy of the courts.

“Remember, many courts were closed due to cost saving by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).”


 

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