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Burned by Buy-To-Let
Apartment 502 in a "luxury" new-build block in Ipswich's Anchor Street is something of a legend in the UK property auction world.
When it was first sold in June 2006, it went for £268,000. Three months ago, it was back on the market as a mortgage repossession. The hammer price was £133,000.
Anchor Street was what one expert calls "a worst case scenario". But countless other new-build apartments stand empty across Britain's crane-filled urban skylines.
Meanwhile, a host of inexperienced investor landlords wring their hands in anguish.
The technical term for this phenomenon is a "market correction". But whatever the euphemistic description, the mood at the annual Home And Property Investor exhibition in London's Docklands earlier this month was a little more muted than of old.
Thousands attended the showcase for the buy-to-let market which, over the past decade, has revolutionised middle-class investment habits and changed the landscape of Britain's cities.
As property prices seemed on an ever upward curve and interest rates remained low, many people thought about buying another property to rent out.
With many pensions in doubt, it seemed to make sense to have a bricks and mortar nest egg.
In fact, for the first time, the number of UK mortgages on buy-to-let properties has just risen above the one million mark. Ten years ago, there were only 29,000.
The classic buy-to-let is a newbuild, two-bedroom flat. According to the latest figures, the total outstanding UK buy-to-let debt is some £122billion.
That is the equivalent of the Gross National Product of South Africa. The figure is astounding.
But it also represents a huge and vulnerable financial bubble which, after years of growth and months of warnings, finally seems to be bursting.
"The herd instinct has been very strong," says David Sandeman, whose company Essential Information Group compiles property auction data from across the country.
"There has been a very bull market and a lot of dinner party peer pressure to follow suit and get into buy-to-let. Your friends are making a mint - why shouldn't you?
"People thought they were going to make some easy money. But the blip has happened very quickly and now a lot of people have found themselves caught in a financial vice.
"Repossessions are rising and we are seeing a sometimes terrifying drop in price at the subsequent auctions."
Alan Ward, of the Residential Landlords Association (RLA), adds, sardonically: "Some buyers would have been better off investing in Northern Rock."
A variety of factors have combined to cause the reverse, which some doomsayers are describing as potentially the UK equivalent of the American subprime mortgage crisis.
Interest rates are now higher than six years ago. And, after increasing by an average of 211 per cent in ten years, residential property prices are expected to fall by four per cent in 2008.
Kate Faulkner, a property analyst and author of the Consumer Association's Property Investment Handbook, says: "If you got into the buy-to-let market in 2003, you are probably fine because of capital growth."
"But since then, there has been a 30 per cent increase in mortgage costs and rents have only gone up by a tenth.
"Over the last seven years, all pundits have predicted a price crash that never happened. We have been in a windfall market. Now that market is being corrected."
The fact is that far too many flats have been speculatively built, not only in northern hot spots such as Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, but in smaller towns and cities across the country.
In many places, this has led to market saturation.
The result? Rock bottom rents and often months of so-called "void" - no one wanting to rent and therefore empty properties unable to service the debt.
Many of these properties were grossly overvalued in the first place.
Meanwhile, the number of buy-to-let mortgage repossessions is suddenly rising.
In recent weeks, building societies such as the Woolwich have become markedly less generous towards buy-to-let investors.
Arrangement fees are going through the roof.
One lender, BM Solutions, is withdrawing loans for landlords whose rent covers the total sum of their repayments.
Others are demanding rental of up to 130 per cent of the monthly mortgage repayments, for example.
And this at a time when many landlords would be delighted just to cover their costs.
Typical are Dean Jones, 33, a sales executive, and his wife, Amanda, who invested in their first buy-to-let property in Leeds in November 2006.
The mortgage loan rate was then 4.79 per cent. They have since bought two more houses at 5.69 per cent. But already the loans were becoming unaffordable.
"The lending criteria and high fees have made it difficult to refinance," says Mr Jones.
What's more, two of the country's top five specialist buy-to-let mortgage lenders - Paragon and Northern Rock - are in crisis.
That does not help their customers.
Among the worst affected individuals are those investors who bought recently.
According to Ms Faulkener: "Those getting into trouble are those who bought last year or maybe two years ago. They are the ones who will feel the squeeze."
What amazes the experts about these people is how few of them have done their homework before plunging in.
Many first-time investors either bought "off plan" - when the property was still on the drawing board - or did not even bother to go to the location of their potential purchase to research whether the figures proffered by developers or estate agents really stacked up.
"Choose the area carefully and study the state of the local market," says Mr Ward of the RLA, which represents some 14,000 landlords.
"Do not buy just because the price seems right. It is that price for a reason. You must know what the market is doing in the neighbourhood."
He says that today buy-to-let investors would be lucky to get a five per cent rental yield, down from eight per cent two years ago.
Many first-timers fail to factor in hidden costs such as insurance, maintenance and management fees.
"People are also being duped," says Mr Sandeman. "New-build prices are too high and their rental yield too low.
"The trouble is that many of these people invested from their armchairs, without due diligence. I have spoken to a lot of people who have bought properties in city centres without ever having seen it.
"Some mortgage lenders are even demanding that monthly rental returns from a buy-to-let property should be 30 per cent higher than the loan repayments."
He adds: "The average time between sale and auction after repossession is two years, with an average drop in price of 25 per cent."
One property analyst described how he received a spam e-mail from a developer, which promised a £30,000 discount on a new-build flat in the Midlands if he bought immediately.
The undiscounted price was £195,000, the e-mail stated. Posing as a buy-to-let investor, the analyst approached the developer and asked how they had come to that price.
"He couldn't explain. Then I did some further research and found that a number of new-build flats in a next-door block were being sold as repossessions for £130,000."
He adds: "I know some people would have been dazzled by the discount and snapped it up."
Such reckless buyers are in great demand among Liverpool property developers.
While the new-build blocks are often trumpeted as symbols of much needed inner city and riverside regeneration, many are being built without a ready market.
It is estimated that there are around 15,000 unoccupied new build apartments in the city. Other research has suggested that 35 per cent of the apartments in the centre are unoccupied.
Criticism has also been directed towards the quality of some of the new developments, thrown up with an eye to a quick, massive profit.
But the underlying problem is that there is simply too much stock. A symbol of the problems within the market is Beetham Tower, a new-build whose upper apartments boast views towards Snowdonia.
When it was completed in 2004, a two-bedroom flat was sold for £206,500. The same apartment was put back on the market last autumn for £165,000.
After two months without any interest, it went to auction in London as a mortgage repossession-with a guide price of £120,000. It was finally sold two months ago for £101,000, less than half its original price.
Not good news for those trying to sell or rent the estimated 4,750 new apartments due to come on to the market in Liverpool in 2007-2008.
A further 3,600 are apparently waiting for planning permission.
Councillor Paul Brant, who represents Liverpool's Riverside ward, where many of the high-rise apartment blocks are being built, says the market has reached saturation point.
"There are too many one-or two bedroom apartments and not enough people to move into them," he says.
Cllr Brant also says he knows of at least two city centre developments where work has ground to a halt because of the current financial crisis.
Steven Beilin, managing director of Liverpool estate agents BE Property Services, says investors looking to buy a second property in the £150,000- £250,000 price range are no longer coming forward.
High interest rates mean that these investors can't make enough in rentable value to cover any mortgage.
"If you're charging £700 a month rent for a flat in town, that's not going to cover your £8,500 mortgage each year. There's no capital gain and no income."
One development, The Reach, in Leeds Street, was sold off-plan in 2004. But when it was ready for habitation two years later, the buy-to-let investors had already seen their investment lose 12 per cent of its value, says Mr Beilin.
There are a significant number of empty new-build apartments in three blocks on Liverpool's Wapping Dock.
Liverpool is not alone. Thousands of empty flats have been reported in Leeds, where a 54-storey residential block is being completed in the city centre.
Industry research also suggests similar saturation in Manchester, Ipswich, Norwich, Leicester, Nottingham and Birmingham.
The buy-to-let army has suffered a bloody nose.
Of course, there are now great "bargains" out there at auction, like the Beetham Tower and Anchor Street repossessions.
You can still make money in buy-to-let at the expense of those who crashed and burned in the last two years.
But for those who are already fully committed and waiting to see how much the market "corrects", then fingers crossed and hope for the best.
If you hitched your wagon to the middle-class property investment boom, then you could be in for a rough ride.
By RICHARD PENDLEBURY: Daily Mail
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Liverpool is short of decent accommodation. It is there and will eventually be used.
We need high quality and spacious accommodation. Even more.
Last edited by Waterways; 05-08-2008 at 10:36 AM.
I reckon terraced houses will be the next to suffer from Negative Equity. The prices seem to be slowly receeding from where I live. In Liverpool there are lots of streets with boarded up terraces that seem to have been that way for years. I'm talking about Wavertree Webster Road area and the lovely tree lined streets off Granby. Who owns them all? Why is Madryn Street all sheeted up save for a few houses?
When the Empire State building was constructed, vast parts of it were empty for years.
We have to think long term - Liverpool will benefit from these eventually.
I worked on grant work on terraced houses all over liverppol 25+ years ago, its not what people want or need now, knock them down and build properties that people want and need , this is the 21st century, if people want nostalga go to the museum, do we really want our grandchildren to grow up in renovated slums / substandard housing
LHA own all the boarded up properties
And don't let them out, and its not, as they claim - because there is no demand there from good tenants, anybody checking out property pool or trying to move can see the lack of social housing on offer - i.e. none.
It's a total scandle.
Liverpool luxury flats fail to tempt buyers
May 8 2008
Barry Turnbull, Liverpool Daily Post
LIVERPOOL’S city centre property market is facing a growing crisis, with prestige developments struggling to sell.
Beetham’s landmark West Tower is fighting to find buyers, and nearby St Paul’s Square has sold just five out of 50 luxury flats.
Down the road, in Old Hall Street’s Albany Building, there are still 68 vacant properties following its collapse into administration last year.
With markets continuing to remain jittery, it paints a grim prospect for the city’s residential property sector.
The biggest mystery surrounds the West Tower, especially as it was reported a year ago that one-third of the 116 apartments had been sold off-plan and that the rest were being held back.
Documents at the Land Registry, in Birkenhead, show just nine flats in the 40-storey building were subject to contracts in 2005. Since then, no further information about sales has been registered, and they are meant to be filed within three months of completion.
Beetham has declined to respond to attempts for a comment, and their bankers, Anglo Irish, refused to make a statement.
However, there are some apartments being offered for rent on free websites which indicates some sales have been made.
Estate agent Martyn Green, of King Sturge, said: “We know the market is facing a difficult time and I expect there to be casualties. However, I’m also confident the prime, quality schemes and quality agents will survive and continue to prosper.
“Some developments face their own particular problems. West Tower, for instance, has no parking and that will be a big consideration for many people.
“St Paul’s Square was marketed at owner-occupiers specifically, but the development is ongoing and the people looking to occupy like to see the finished product. When that happens, sales will pick up.
“We are dealing with One Park West (connected to the Grosvenor project), which is going extremely well, so it is not all bad news. The flip side also is that there are some keenly priced properties out there and agents will continue to be busy as the rental market grows.”
Manchester businessman Guy Codling, who is one investor at West Tower, said: “I don’t know how many sales there have been, but I’m sure there are completions going through. I’ve got some tenants in.”
“Sometimes it takes a while with these tall building developments and West Tower is a fantastic addition to what Liverpool has to offer. I think we should remain positive about prospects for the city.”
More than 100 apartments have been created on floors five to 39 of West Tower, with a luxury penthouse reportedly valued at £1m.
Beetham public relations spokesperson Marion Hardman said: “They don’t want to talk about this.”
Source: Liverpool Daily Post
The country is short of housing.
The city is short of housing.
Keep building them.
If they want a buyer then they drop the price. Simple. Or if they want to sit on it and hope the prices will rise, which they eventually will, then fine. Eventually they will all be used.
Last edited by Waterways; 05-08-2008 at 03:42 PM.
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thats what i think too ww.
its only a matter of time until they reduce to such a price so people can begin buying again.
some tax paying people who can't afford to get a mortgage at the moment are buying social housing on various schemes, its their only way of getting a roof over their heads.
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mortgage companies will not grant mortgages on substandard properties unless there is more than enough equity in the property and a plan in place to remedy the defects, ( dampcourses, rot, etc... )
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