Two of Britain's best property timers may finally be pulling out of the market

Rents hit record high of £774

If it's movies, it's Brad and Angelina. Music and sport? Posh and Becks.

But the pin-up couple of buy-to-let property? That would be Fergus and Judith. And they were in the news again this week, offloading some of their property.

Should you be doing the same?

The maths teachers who got aggressive and got lucky

Like so many who stumbled into buy-to-let property in the 1990s, former maths teachers Fergus and Judith Wilson are accidental landlords. Or at least, they were at first.

"We had a house to sell and another to buy", Mr Wilson told the FT. '"I thought with a fair wind, I could keep both at the time and rent one out."

Many people made that same decision back then. And the winds really did turn out to be fair. A generation of buy-to-let landlords was born.

Plenty of them grew their portfolios beyond that first flat, helped by a mid-to-late-90s financial innovation known as the buy-to-let mortgage.

Could you be a buy-to-let landlord?

Easy lending and a rising market made it all so easy. You borrowed against a house. You watched it rise in value. You re-mortgaged at a higher price, took out some of the equity and used it as the deposit on another place – or in the Wilsons' case, many other places.

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"Be aggressive in a bull market", runs the saying, and that's just what the Wilsons were – more so than anyone. "In early 2000, the main requirement for gaining a mortgage was the ability to sign your name", says Mr Wilson.

They took full advantage, so that by 2007, they're believed to have owned as many as 1,000 properties, mostly two- and three-bedders in Kent.

They survived the financial crisis – just – and were bailed out, like all landlords and debtors, by the subsequent suppression of interest rates.

Their debt-servicing costs were minimised and their portfolio has since benefited from the asset-price inflation brought on by zero interest rate policies (Zirp), quantitative easing (QE) and all the rest of the manipulation of money that has gone on since 2008.

Could you be a buy-to-let landlord?

"We've never made money like we've made in the last five years", says Mr Wilson. "God knows how much we've made daily on capital value."

The gains they've made at a time when ever fewer people can afford their own home – and no doubt, comments like the above – have made the Wilsons the poster-children for the loathing many feel towards buy-to-let landlords.

My own view is a little more benign. I don't blame the Wilsons for trying to make money, so much as I blame government policy for creating this distorted market in the first place (stupid planning laws, debt-based money, a failure to include housing in official inflation measures, and all the rest of it – read this if you want to know how to fix housing).

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Two of Britain's best property timers may finally be pulling out of the market

In Scotland, Edinburgh is seen as a city with huge growth potential. In 2014, prices in Edinburgh were up 10% in a post referendum boom that shows little sign of slowing down.

Local agents are not expecting quite such stellar growth for the next 12 months, but they think price rises will be well above the average predicted for the whole country.

Rightmove named this as the area where it expects house prices to grow the most over the next five years. It says that over this period there will be a huge number of people moving out of London in order to afford to get onto the property ladder. They want a reasonable commute combined with plenty of attractions in the local area, and Southampton offers all this. With relatively affordable housing stock, it's a prime candidate for growth.

Luton was Rightmove's candidate for the second biggest house price rises over the next five years. It emphasised that this isn't a mater of opinion, it is the result of crunching the data.

Luton is another major beneficiary of the move out of London, and while it is arguably not as attractive a place to live as Southampton, it's only 23 minutes into central London - which rivals some of inner London's commuter times. With average prices of £179,368, it's clearly a far more affordable option, and the area has already started to show signs of a boom.

This was the third area suggested by Rightmove. As with Southampton, it is well positioned for London commuters, and also has huge local attractions.

A survey last year asked young professionals to name the place they would most like to live, and Brighton and Hove were the only areas that appeared on the list outside London.

One of the reasons it's not higher up the list is that houses are already on the pricey side, with an average cost of £338,956 - up 13% in the past year alone.

There may be few people who grow up with the dream of living in Swindon, but the electrification of the rail line to London will bring travel times down across the West Country, so Swindon becomes part of the outer commuter area.

Given that the average property costs £168, 968, it's easy to see why Swindon will be a popular option for commuters on a tight budget.

Bath is also going to benefit from electrification of the line, because the commute to London will fall to a manageable 70 minutes. The beauty of the city - along with a vibrant social and cultural life - makes it a clear choice for more long-distance commuters.

Of course, with an average asking price of £374,617, it's not a tremendously cheap place to buy, but the geography of the city restricts development, so these prices are expected to rise still further.

Property Frontiers says that the booming house prices in Oxford are set to get even higher. At the moment, travel to London takes 60 minutes, but this will reduce even further in 2016 when the line is electrified. Prices in the most desirable parts of the centre aren't much cheaper than London.

However, further out there are pockets of affordability, and when the Water Eaton station opens in 2015 it will open up areas to the north of the city too.

Manchester has seen enormous property price rises over the last couple of years, and Property Frontiers expects this to continue into 2015.

Other commentators are expecting the growth to slow over the next few years, especially given the gains made since 2012. However, demand for properties remains buoyant, and with the growth of the local economy, price rises seem inevitable.

Rising prices in London have pushed buyers further and further out of the centre, so estate agents are now claiming zone three as 'the new zone 2'.

Savills believes that the biggest gains over the next five years will be the less glamorous districts - putting the South and East in the frame. Gritty areas that could benefit include Ladywell, Streatham and Catford in the south, and Leytonstone, Forest Gate and Walthamstow in the east.

Cambridge could also perform well. It has already had house prices lifted by the growth of tech companies to the north of the city, and the arrival of pharmaceutical headquarters will help push prices up further.

In 2016 a new rail service from the city to the science park will keep prices rising, and beyond the opportunities presented by the local economy, Cambridge is also part of the 'outer commute' area of London, which Savills expects to shoot up in value over the next five years.


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