How landlords can save

by Rachel Crook

For landlords looking to stay ahead in today's rental market, the challenge is a substantial one.

Buy-to-let for investment can be a tricky business, since those hoping to see the value of their property portfolio rise are not doing so at present. Only those who are in it for the long haul may expect to do so.

In the meantime, those who let out property will need to ensure as much as possible that they are providing a service that will enable them to keep their tenants in a market where rental accommodation is more widely available than it used to be - partly through frustrated sellers becoming "reluctant landlords" - and consequent falls in rental rates.

One solution suggested this week was for investors to act like "prudent businessmen", advice provided by National Landlords Association (NLA) chairman David Salusbury.

He remarked: "Landlords need to review their property portfolios, look at how they find tenants, the facilities they provide and whether they can make their rents more competitive. They should do what prudent business people do and review their lettings with a view to maintaining their competitive edge."

Being competitive can be achieved in many ways. Good service is one aspect, as shown by the landlords of the 85 per cent of Scottish tenants who told a government survey they were 'very satisfied' or 'fairly satisfied' with the services they are getting.

Another consideration for landlords is that of running costs. Some may be more controllable than others, but price comparison website smartlandlord.co.uk has noted that among the 58 per cent of rental homes managed by letting agents, a hefty price is being paid by investors, who are forking out an average of 12 per cent of their rental income to pay for the privilege of having their accommodation advertised to potential tenants.

This, the portal suggested, is cheating landlords out of a collective sum nearing £3 million per year - or £1,550 each - for a service that could be found for £100 a year on the internet.

Smartlandlord.co.uk's managing director Keshav Thukaram commented: "There are more landlords in the UK than ever before, as people who can't sell their properties try to rent them out. But they're being taken to the cleaners by greedy lettings agents who are milking them for everything they're worth."

He suggested that those renting out homes "need to seize control of their property investments if they want to optimise their returns".

Adding to a portfolio is another area where some may make savings. The best move for buy-to-let landlords seeking a new mortgage may be to opt for a fixed-rate deal, if recent trends are any judge.

A survey by Legal & General has found that since the third quarter of 2008 the rate on the average two-year fixed deal for all mortgages fell from 5.9 per cent to 4.78 per cent, while three-year deals dropped from 6.3 per cent to 5.41 per cent.

Buy-to-let investors appear to have responded accordingly. In the last three months of 2008 43 per cent took a fixed-rate deal and 56 per cent a variable loan. In the opening quarter of this year the respective figures were 68 per cent and 30 per cent.

So for landlords, the message is clear. There are many ways of succeeding, saving money and getting ahead. The key is to be informed about what they are.

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Published on: March 26, 2009

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