Property Funds

Property funds are among the most popular alternative methods of investing in property. Usually, they are also considered among the most robust thanks to the role of professional fund managers and the diversity of their portfolios.

However, since the UK voted to leave the EU the economy has been suffering a profound shock effect. Property funds have proved far from immune, tumbling in value and making some fairly negative headlines. On the whole, however, many investors are simply unsure what is really happening with them. This is not surprising, as the situation is not a straightforward one.

Perhaps the most prominent of the negative headlines have come from open-ended funds. These are funds where people’s investments directly reflect the value of the portfolio, and when funds are fully invested more shares can be created and sold in order to generate more money. In these funds, people’s investment is directly used for property purchasing, though a cash buffer is also kept to accommodate those who wish to buy out without the need to sell property.

The referendum result led to a large number of people wanting to exit these funds, with the result that many used up their cash buffers quickly. Due to the slow process of selling a property and unfavourable negotiating positions, this led many such funds to instigate lock-ins and prevent people from leaving for a time until either the cash can be generated from property sales or things pick up. Still others have been forced to give their investors an unattractive choice, either accepting a lock-in or selling their share in the trust at a heavily discounted price.

Investors who are now trapped in these funds may be relieved to hear that forecasts for the property market after the initial shock has ended are more positive than those for many other markets. Some investors who are happy to accept a slightly higher risk profile in the pursuit of better returns are even hoping that this will lead to bargain buy-ins when the funds reopen.

Exchange-traded Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are in a somewhat different position. These funds sell a finite number of shares, traded on stock exchanges like any other company. As such, the value of shares does not directly reflect the value of their portfolios.

These funds have also experienced a marked sell-off of shares thanks to investors losing confidence after the announcement that the UK had voted to leave the European Union. This caused the value of their shares to tumble, falling much more than the value of their portfolios. This is leading many speculative investors – again, those happy with a higher risk profile – to see an opportunity to buy in at bargain prices and then benefit when shares correct themselves to be more in line with the actual value of these funds and their assets.

Selling a property, whether it is your home or an investment you are parting with, is an involved process. It can also be difficult to obtain the best possible price, particularly with activity in the property market slow thanks to the recent stamp duty increase and the uncertainty of the upcoming EU referendum deterring would-be landlords from buying homes. However, there are a few quite simple yet highly effective techniques you can use to help secure the best price for your property.

The Right Asking Price

Setting the right asking price is important, and is a difficult balancing act. You don’t want to ask too little. Do not price it too cheaply and, more than that, leave some room for downward movement as many potential buyers will expect to be able to make an offer. At the same time, setting the price too high goes beyond leaving room for movement and puts off potential buyers before they even make contact. To get a better idea of where you can safely set your price, obtain at least three valuations from different agents.

Choosing an Agent

There are two big things to consider when choosing an agent to handle your property sale; fees and lock-in periods. Both should be as low as possible. The benefit of keeping fees as low as they can be is obvious; more of the money from the sale goes to you instead of the agent. However, if your first agent fails to find you a buyer, you don’t want to be locked in for too long before you can try to sell through a different firm. Try to find the best balance you can between short lock-ins and low fees. Sometimes the two coincide nicely, but sometimes it is a matter of weighing one against the other.

Presentation

Once a potential buyer has come to view the property, presentation becomes a massive part of securing a sale. If you are living in the property, make sure it is tidy. If you have been meaning to fix minor problems or refresh tired décor, get this done. Minor work on the property – small fixes or the proverbial lick of paint – will almost always be worthwhile as they will make it easier to sell the property and help you get closer to your asking price. Don’t neglect outdoor spaces either. Get the garden neat and tidy, and in particular make sure the front of your property looks as appealing as it can because this is the part that makes the first impression.

ISAISA saving used to be simple, but the last couple of tax years and government Budget announcements have seen a serious shake-up for tax-free savings account. This is good news for many, but it has also served to make the range of options bigger and more complicated. The different ISAs that exist right now or are to be introduced in the near future are:

Cash ISA

This is of course one of the basic, familiar, and well-established ISA types and therefore needs little introduction. It makes sense for even the most avid and seasoned of investors to keep some of their savings in cash, and an ISA has always been the natural place to put it. Whether this is still the case after the introduction of a tax-free personal allowance for savings, however, is another question, the answer to which depends on how much you have to save and the deals available.

Stocks and Shares ISA

This is the other well-established ISA saving option, and again needs little in the way of introduction. It is not being significantly changed aside from the increase that will take effect in 2017 on the total ISA allowance, which affects most account types and will see the current limit of £15,240 to £20,000. As always, it simply allows you to put eligible stocks and shares into an ISA wrapper to enjoy tax-free returns.

Junior ISA

This is a specialist ISA to allow for tax-free saving by parents and other relatives on behalf of children. The annual deposit limit is smaller – £4,080 – and money will be placed in the sole control of the child. They will be able to access it from the age of 18. Currently, the rules allow this ISA to be held alongside a regular ISA for a period of two years when the child is aged 16-18.

Innovative Finance ISA

Starting in the new tax year on 6th April, this new kind of ISA will provide a new option for tax-free investing. Investments in peer-to-peer lending will be eligible for placing into this ISA in order to make the returns earned tax-free.

Help-to-Buy ISA

This ISA is designed to support those who regularly put money aside towards their first home purchase. It requires an initial deposit of £1,200, and savers can then add up to £200 per and save up to £12,000 in total. For every £4 put in up to this level, a £1 top-up will be added by the government when money is taken out for use as a home deposit. However, this account is going to be essentially replaced by the new Lifetime ISA.

Lifetime ISA

This ISA, announced in the recent Budget and due to launch in April next year, gives a 25% government top-up in a similar manner to the Help-to-Buy ISA on up to £4,000 saved each year. However, it gives more flexibility, as this bonus can be redeemed either for a home deposit or for retirement. Savers under 40 will be able to open a Lifetime ISA, and save up to the age of 50. They will receive their government bonus on money taken out for use as a deposit, or on withdrawals made over the age of 60 as an alternative to a pension plan.

Some experts are concerned about the impact that problems with the world’s stock markets could have on another major investment asset class. There are fears that if the current sell-off becomes too prolonged, problems could start to spread into the UK’s property market.

The current spate of stock market problems started in China, but quickly spread internationally. There are a number of factors within the world economy feeding into or exacerbating the situation, and there is a lot of uncertainty about how extensive or long-lasting these issues will ultimately prove to be.

Now, experts have begun to be concerned about potential contagion of these issues, and in particular about whether they might start to bite in the UK’s property market. Property is very much a favourite asset type for UK investors at the moment and in many ways a strong performer. Even George Osborne’s announcement of tax changes designed to bite landlords in order to make the market more favourable for owner-occupiers have only done so much to dampen investment activity. Commercial and residential property in the UK are both performing strongly with domestic investors and international buyers alike, including a number of increasingly-popular niche assets such as healthcare property, care home units, and student housing.

However, some forecasters are now worried that if stock market problems continue, they could begin to impact on the property market, harming value growth or causing prices to drop. There are also fears that if the market did come under pressure, many investors would choose to simply cash in on the capital growth their properties had experienced since they originally purchased them. With these investors selling up, the influx of new properties onto the market would potentially further push down values.

Other experts, however, are not so concerned. They point out that the UK has a significant undersupply of property compared to demand, and this is not going to go away. This will likely not be enough to prevent the impact of a prolonged stock market crisis on its own, but many forecasters maintain that it has a lot of potential to cushion that impact.

Perhaps more importantly, property tends to be a longer-term investment. It is over the longer term that capital growth is most reliably observed, and a lengthy and admin-heavy process for both entering and exiting positions discourages almost all short-term investment. As such, many predict that there is a strong possibility that investors will be able to ride out any such turbulence and maintain longer-term gains.

However, at present it is unclear whether or how seriously the property market will be impacted by stock market problems. Therefore, most experts whether optimistic or pessimistic seem to be agreeing that the situation is one that investors should keep their eyes on.

PropertyProperties with “sitting tenants” in place are reportedly becoming increasingly popular among buy-to-let investors. But what are sitting tenants, what advantages and drawbacks do they offer, and do they make for good investments?

What Are Sitting Tenants?

Sitting tenants are tenants who have a legal right to continue occupying the property for as long as they choose. They can move out of their own volition but they can’t be evicted unless they fall behind on their rent by several months or fail to meet the obligations of their tenancy agreement. The rent they are charged is decided by the Rent Office, and reviewed every two years. They usually have longstanding tenancies (mostly created prior to 1989), and tenancy can be transferred to a family member after their death.

In return for their obvious privileges over the everyday tenant, they take a few extra responsibilities off of the landlord’s shoulders. In particular, insuring the property is their responsibility, and a portion of the maintenance work also falls to them. Commonly, exterior maintenance will still fall to the landlord but interior maintenance will be up to the tenant.

Advantages and Disadvantages

At first glance, the disadvantages seem much more obvious than the advantages and it may even be hard to imagine why investors are becoming increasingly keen on sitting tenants. Landlords cannot evict a tenant in the event of a dispute, and cannot even set their own rent levels. The rates which are determined by the Rent Office are usually below market value.

These problems are somewhat mitigated by other factors. Lower rents are partially offset by the fact that it is the tenant who must take out insurance and pay for a lot of maintenance work. Sitting tenants also regard their properties as much more of a personal and permanent home, so (though this is only a broad generalisation) they tend to behave in a way that makes it less likely you would want to evict them even if you could.

The real advantages of sitting tenants are down to security, and this lies in that same fact that they tend to plan to remain in the property long-term if not permanently. This means they are unlikely to move on after six months or even a couple of years, so you don’t have to deal with rent-less vacancy periods nor the hassle and expense of marketing the property to new tenants. If you find yourself holding your investment at a time when demand on the rental market is lower and properties are harder to fill, it is more likely you will have a steady tenant in place who plans to remain there.

If the tenant does ever decide to move on, you will be free to market the property as a standard rental and will therefore simply be left with a regular buy-to-let investment. In most cases, this is far from a disaster. As for whether properties with sitting tenants make good investments, this will depend as ever on your own, individual investment goals but it is certainly possible to see the appeal.

For the vast majority of ordinary savers, cash is the way to hold savings. Even for seasoned investors, let alone those who are approaching investment anew as a way to get more from their savings while rates continue to languish at rock-bottom levels, cash is still an absolutely essential asset to have.

Even when rates are so low that you aren’t going to get much interest on cash savings, people understandably want to make the best they can of the situation. Traditionally, this meant sheltering savings from tax in an ISA. Now, however, ISAs may not be the best bet for the majority of savers and investors looking for a place to put their cash.

Next Year’s New Rules

From next April, when the new tax year starts, an important new rule will be applied to the way savings are taxed. Savers will have a tax-free personal allowance on savings interest, just as they do on other their employment income. Basic rate taxpayers will be able to earn up to £1,000 interest on their savings tax-free, and higher-rate taxpayers will have an allowance of £500. According to the government, this means that 95% of the UK’s savers will be released from the need to pay tax on the interest that their money earns in the bank.

This is important, because it is not uncommon for other kinds of savings account to offer higher gross interest rates than ISAs. The advantage of ISAs has always been their tax-free status, which has almost always tipped the balance back in their favour compared to higher-rate but non-tax-free accounts. With the majority of savers not having to worry about tax in the first place from next year, this advantage will be gone and regular accounts may become more profitable for all but the wealthiest cash savers.

What Does This Mean Now?

This will be all very well when the new tax year rolls around, but does it make a difference now? The answer is that it is already possible to take advantage of the new tax rules through the use of fixed-rate accounts and bonds that will only pay interest annually or at the end of the term. This is because these accounts will only pay interest after the new rules come into force, even if you take them out right away, and therefore your earnings will be immune from tax as long as they do not exceed your new allowance.

As a result, the best one-year bond offering already beats the best one-year fixed-term ISA in terms of interest profits by more than 20%. Unless you are putting away cash funds of over £50,000 (assuming you are a basic rate taxpayer), both will be tax-free by the time you receive your interest. It is likely that similar deals will be found for most other fixed terms, meaning that many savers could already benefit from a move away from tax-free accounts.

FCA“Death bonds” – a nickname for traded life policy investments – are an investment type that investors are often warned away from even when fully legitimate. The reasons for this are several; they lack the protections that many investments have, they are based on often-inaccurate estimates of an individual’s life expectancy, and they have a high failure percentage.

Investors are also often warned that this kind of investment is one which is missold relatively often compared to most other investment types. This warning has now been underlined by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which has issued record fines to three individuals for their use of misleading tactics to sell death bonds.

Traded life policy investments or “death bonds” are a way through which investors can purchase an interest in a life insurance policy second hand. When the original holder of the policy dies, the investor receives a payout. Selling of policies in this way is a way for the original holder to effectively cash them in. It is comparatively popular among residents of the USA, and this is where many of the policies involved in death bonds both inside and outside the US originate.

The bonds in question were sold through a company named Keydata, and were successfully sold to roughly 37,000 investors between 2005 and 2009. The sales tactics used to sell the bonds were, the FCA said, “unclear, incorrect and misleading.” Keydata was dissolved last year.

For example, many investors were told that these bonds were eligible for placing in a tax-free investment ISA – a claim which was simply untrue. The FCA has also said that this type of bond is unsuitable for an everyday private investor on account of high levels of risk.

Stewart Ford, who was formerly chief executive of Keydata, got handed by far the largest fine. At £75 million, this was not only the biggest fine of the three individuals involved in this case but the biggest penalty of this kind ever handed to an individual. Former sales director of Keydata Mark Owen, who received £2.5 million in commission from missold bonds, was fined £4 million. Former compliance officer Peter Johnson received a fine of £200,000 for his part in the misspelling scandal.

Collectively, the investors who were missold these bonds lost a minimum of £330 million – the total value of the bonds they purchased – which is currently being refunded under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).

As well as being fined, the three men have all been banned from ever working in the financial services sector again. They have appealed against their fines, and these appeals are to be heard at a tribunal.

Usually, different investment assets are viewed as separate – because the vast majority of the time they are. You obviously can’t invest in property by buying gold bullion, after all. But stocks and shares are a little different. They can be used as an alternative, often more affordable way to invest indirectly in other assets.

How Does it Work?

Put simply, you buy shares in companies that deal primarily or exclusively in the assets that you want to invest in. So if the property market is forecast to perform well and you want to invest, rather than buying a property you could invest in a development company. If the price of gold is set to skyrocket, shares in a gold mining company would be a way to invest besides buying gold. If these assets do indeed perform well, the relevant companies will benefit and this should be reflected in their share values.

What are the Benefits?

There are a number of potential benefits to investing in this rather indirect way rather than simply purchasing the assets in question. The first of these is simplicity. Some investors who already deal in stocks and shares may prefer to invest using the platforms and methods with which they are already familiar. Furthermore, stocks and shares are often quicker and easier to buy, hold and sell than physical assets, not to mention qualifying for tax-free ISA status.

Partly for these reasons, investing in this way can open up assets that would otherwise not be accessible to specific investors. For example, investing in property requires a large amount of money committed to this single investment, usually a buy-to-let mortgage, and a complex, drawn-out buying and selling process. Investing in a developer, and later selling that investment, can take minutes.

Furthermore, this kind of investment does not always solely rely on a single asset. If you invest in gold and the gold price falls, you will lose money in exact proportion to the drop in gold values. Gold mining companies, on the other hand, will often have interests in other commodities and if these perform better than gold this could potentially help buoy your investment.

What are the Drawbacks?

There are, however, drawbacks to this approach. Mainly, the fact this is an indirect way to invest means that there is more at play than just the performance of your target market. Suppose that the student property market is forecast for exceptionally strong performance, so you invest in a developer specialising in student properties. The market does indeed thrive over the following months, but the investor you chose to invest in loses market share compared to its competitors for some reason. This can hold back your investment and keep you from receiving the full benefits of the market’s growth.

Furthermore, if the company you invest in has other interests these can also potentially hold back your investment just as they could keep it up if things go wrong. If you invest in one commodity which does well, but the company you choose has interests in another commodity that is performing badly, then this will also reduce the benefits you get or, in extreme cases, lose you money when a direct investment would have been profitable.

DiversityOne of the most oft-repeated pieces of investment advice is to maintain a diverse portfolio. The principal is the same as a simple old adage that you have no doubt heard since childhood: don’t put all of your eggs into one basket.

For professional investors dealing with hundreds of thousands of pounds, or fund managers dealing in the millions, this is all very well. However, the depressing and ongoing saga of low interest rates is drawing many people of more modest means towards investment as a way to get better returns than their banks are offering. Often, this type of investor is understandably unsure how applicable the matter of diversity is to their investments, and whether it is even possible to achieve any diversity without large sums to invest.

Is Diversity Important for Smaller Portfolios?

In an ideal situation, diversity is useful for smaller portfolios a well as for big ones. Bear in mind that “smaller” in this context is compared to the portfolios of wealthy individuals and professional fund managers. The “small” portfolio is likely to still represent a significant portion of your personal savings, and one that you want to keep as safe as possible.

Diversity provides an added safety net for your investments. You may have heard that Investment X is considered extremely safe, and that advice may have been very true, but “safe” does not mean entirely risk-free in the investment world. If something drastic and unexpected happens with a strong negative impact in Investment X, having some funds safely tucked away in Investment Y could prove invaluable.

Is Diversity Possible With Smaller Sums?

The above is certainly true he question of whether diversity is really possible with smaller sums is quite a different matter. It is made all the more difficult to answer by the fact that it will depend heavily on the exact size of your portfolio, and on the individual investments you choose.

The important thing to remember is that cash in the bank is also an investment type. It may be a low-performing one, but it is also undoubtedly the safest. Never pour every penny of your savings into an investment, no matter how impressively it is outperforming your bank. If things turn around, you will be glad of having an old-fashioned if low-paying savings account as your “Investment Y” safety net.

As for any further diversity, this depends on the investment types you choose. If you decide to purchase a buy-to-let property, for instance, the expense of purchasing a home could well leave you with little to venture on other investment types. Other, more affordable or flexible options such as peer-to-peer lending may leave you more room to place other funds elsewhere.

Above all, remember to carefully assess the risk involved with any investment and stick to risk levels you are comfortable with. Diversity may add a safety net, but investing in something volatile or uncertain just for the sake of diversity can easily do more harm than good.

Property is a decidedly popular type of investment at present. It seems relatively stable, is bringing in attractive returns, and after several years of strong performance it is still the subject of relatively positive forecasts. However, it is not without its disadvantages and one of the key obstacles to successful investments is the relatively high level of outlay required. Using a buy-to-let mortgage can bring the initial cost down, but comes with affordability criteria and monthly repayments that will eat into returns.

If you are looking to invest a sum under £10,000, you have probably not really considered property with or without a mortgage. Nonetheless, there are ways to invest with a sum of this size, though like any investment it requires careful consideration.

Crowdsourced Property Investment

Several companies now practice a form of “crowdsourced” property investment, giving people the opportunity to invest with sums as small as £500. Such contributions from many people are put together to raise the cost of buying and renovating a property, which is then rented out, and then resold after a set period. Returns are shared out among investors in proportion to the amount they contributed, minus fees, allowing you to benefit from the performance of the property market with much smaller outlays.

Of course, the property market always involves risks, and to some extent these are heightened by this investment method. For one thing, guaranteed returns often exceed market averages. This is due partly to the fact that these funds often have the necessary leverage to purchase the most profitable properties at the best prices, but if market conditions change these returns may become unsustainable.

Holiday Homes

Certain types of holiday property can be purchased for less than £10,000. Often, these take the form of chalets or caravans in holiday parks and resort developments. Advantages include a certain amount of personal use every year and a better resale market than many other alternative property investments.

These can prove profitable, but be aware that they differ from residential and commercial properties in many respects. The market can behave somewhat differently, as different factors drive demand. One thing they do have in common with other property types is that you must choose carefully for a good investment. They can also be high-maintenance, thanks to the need to source holidaymakers to fill the accommodation and pay rent. Some holiday developments offer a service to handle this for you, but this will eat into returns. Lastly, while initial purchase costs can be attractive, ongoing charges such as ground rent paid to holiday parks can add to this significantly.

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