Could you be a buy-to-let landlord?
If you've ever rented a property, you could be forgiven for thinking that becoming a landlord is a ticket to wealth: just sit back and watch the money pour in.
And with rental values higher than they've ever been, there's some truth to this view. Figures compiled by peer-to-peer lending company LendInvest earlier this month revealed that the average yield on a one-bedroom property is 5.9%, for two beds it's 5.3%, three beds is 4.7% and four beds is 4%.
These figures look pretty good compared with other investments; and rocketing house prices mean there's usually a significant capital gain too.
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As a result, more and more people are looking to become landlords. The latest figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders show there were 18,200 buy to let loans in March - up 12% on the previous month and 21% higher than in March 2014.
And this is only set to continue. Over-55s are now able to access their pension pots, and seven percent of people planning to do so say it's in order to become buy-to-let landlords.
Meanwhile, the election of a Conservative government looks to be good news for buy-to-let landlords. A mansion tax and rent controls are out, and property prices look set to keep rising. Meanwhile, the tax breaks available to landlords - the ability to offset their tax bill with expenses from mortgage interest to furniture - are set to continue. Meanwhile, building societies are increasing their buy-to-let offerings.
But where do you start? We offer our top tips.
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Research demand and aim to meet buyers' needs
As we've seen, the best average yields come from one- and two-bedroom properties. This, though, won't be the case everywhere. In university cities, for example, there's often more money to be made from buying a larger house and letting it to groups of students. In London, conversely, studio and one-bedroom flats can provide excellent returns.
If looking to let to young professionals, aim for a property with equal-sized bedrooms; if your target market's a family, a large kitchen may be more important. Either way, the more bathrooms the better.
Don't buy for yourself
Following on from this, it's important to focus on what your tenants want, rather than what you like yourself. You may find that large garden charming; most tenants would rather not have to bother.
Some landlords do very nicely by specialising in, say, HMOs - housses in multiple occupancy - and letting each room out individually. Others focus on short-term lets, tenants on benefits, or luxury properties where the rent may be paid by the tenant's employer.
It's often possible to subdivide rooms, and, when letting to students in particular, this can be a way to maximise income. Alternatively, if you're aiming to let to a pair of professionals, a second bathroom can make a property far more lettable. However, be wary of major projects: these can mean long periods with no rent coming in, as well as high costs.
Make sure the place looks clean and smart: a small outlay here can really pay off in the long term.
Do your sums
Don't gamble on rising prices: many buy-to-let investors got caught out that way during the last property crash. If the property can't wash its face in terms of rental, forget it. And remember that when you do sell, there will be capital gains tax to pay.
When calculating your likely profit, don't forget to factor in the possibility of interest rate rises, and don't forget to allow for voids - periods between tenants - and maintenance costs, which are likely to be much higher than those for an owner-occupier.
Don't forget initial costs
You'll need to cover the costs of buying, which can include solicitor's fees, stamp duty and survey fees. It's also likely to take a few weeks to get the property sorted out and let, during which time you may be paying sa mortgate without receiving any rent.
Shop around for a mortgage
There's a wide variety of buy-to-let mortgages available - and following the election, several providers have launched new offerings. But there's a wide variation in the rates offered, and some have fees of as much as £2,000 - although these fees can be offset against tax.
Decide who will manage the property
Most buy-to-let landlords manage the property themselves - lettings agents aren't cheap, and using one can wiipe out a lot of the profit.
But if you're managing the property yourself, there's a number of things you'll have to sort out. There are a number of agencies that can carry out credit searches, such as the Residential Landlords Association.
You'll need to complete a very careful inventory, covering every item, and detailing the condition it's in; many landlords even record the serial number of items such as washing machines and televisions.
Furnished or unfurnished?
Whether or not you should offer the property furnished or unfurnished will depend very much on your target market. Tenants of one-bedroom flats are usually young and will want everything to be provided; those looking for family homes may well have things of their own. If you do furnish, spending a llittle more will often pay dividends.
Comply with the law
All furniture will need to comply with fire regulations and, from October, all properties will need working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. HMOs need fire alarms and fire extinguishers. You'll need an annual inspection of gas supply and gas appliances and an electrical safety check before tenants arrive.
You'll also need to take part in the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, keeping the tenants' money safe and returning it if they keep to their side of the deal and don't cause any damage.
Make sure you've got the correct insurance; recently, Saga refused to pay out on a £56,000 claim because the owner hadn't taken out a landlord policy.
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Could you be a buy-to-let landlord?
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