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I’d like to start a conversation about macro-economics and the effects that it might have on property investing. In particular, I’m going to challenge the notion that house prices always go up and highlight that the price rises which have been enjoyed by property investors for the past generation have been largely due to the steady decline in interest rates. Ultimately I’d like to find clarity on the question of whether property investment is still a good idea today and if so then is the same formula that worked previously still the best approach. I’ve tried to research this topic thoroughly but please do disagree with me and offer alternative ideas. What I say relates mostly to buy-to-let (BTL) investments that involve a mortgage. A) Let’s start with some fundamentals: property investors generate profit from two sources: rental income and capital growth. With rental yields where they are today (around 4-6% gross) it typically works out that the rental income is similar to the running cost of the property, and so the investor relies on capital growth to actually make profit. If you knew house prices were going to stay still for the next 30 years, would you still be interesting in BTL? B ) Having established that capital growth is important, let’s examine what causes it. For people to pay more for houses they have to be able to afford to pay more and this generally means one of two things: either they are earning more (wage growth) or they can access cheaper mortgages (interest rates falling). Rob & Rob have often talked about affordability on their podcast and explain how it’s this combination of wage and interest rate that determines what people can pay, not just how much they earn. Interest rates have been falling reasonably steadily now for several decades, meaning that year on year buyers have been able to afford bigger mortgages, pushing up house prices. This is demonstrated by the fact that, over this time, the house price-to-income ratio has increased substantially but the mortgage payment-to-income ratio has been relatively unchanged. A research paper by Victoria Monro of the Bank of England  estimated that over the past three decades about half of the housing price growth was due to wage growth and the rest due to falling interest rates. Therefore, if interest rates had not fallen, we would have seen half the price growth over the past three decades. C) So what happens next? Assuming interest rates will not go negative, two things can happen: either rates stay low or rates go up, and surely they will eventually go up. This means that investors will be relying on wage growth alone to push property prices higher and when rates do rise this will have an opposing effect as buyers are faced with higher mortgage payments. If rates slowly rise over the three decades back to the point they were 30 years ago, might we expect the roughly equal contributions of interest rate changes and wage growth to cancel out and house prices stay flat. D) Does this present risk to property investors? I’d really like to hear some opinions from you all. In my eyes there are some significant risks: If I were to purchase a BTL today and house prices stay flat, I might make a small or zero profit on the rental income. But this scenario is likely to occur as a result of interest rate rises, in which case my costs are going to go up and I could find myself in a scenario where I’m making a loss each year on running the property and there are no price rises to bail me out. If rates rise especially fast then house prices could even go down, but I’d be surprised if central banks would allow this to a significant extent. Any thoughts? E) Is there a particular strategy that could be safer? Please do make some suggestions. I for one have been wondering whether the era of capital growth is coming to and end and instead investors should be seeking to maximise rental income rather than capital growth. This would sustain a larger proportion of returns when the growth stops and give a stronger cushion as interest rates rise and increase the mortgage payments. Conclusion I’m proposing that rising interest rates over the coming years are likely to counter the effects of inflation and leave house prices standing still. This means that property investors no longer be able to rely on capital growth as part of their strategy. Furthermore, investors face a risk that their portfolios will no longer be viable with higher mortgage payments. Contrary to popular recommendation, higher income (lower capital growth potential) investments might be a safer bet for the next generation of investors. Ultimately, the central banks have control of the interest rate lever, will their decisions be likely to help or hinder investors? But what about the 18 Year Property Cycle?!? Aren’t we entering the boom phase?? Well I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I believe in the 18 year property cycle... it’s often easy to pick out a pattern when you go looking for one, that doesn’t mean it means anything. Perhaps the 18 year cycle has some validity resulting from human psychology and it certainly seems like people are expecting house prices to go up right now. But I believe there are larger forces at play – these people need to be able to afford it at the end of the day. We might see some more growth still, I’m not predicting a crash; new 95% mortgages could push the market a bit higher still as could wage growth. But otherwise the economic levers that inflate house prices don’t go any further, and eventually will start going back the other way. This won’t necessarily result in prices going down, if central banks decide to avoid that. But it could mean prices staying flat and costs going up, potentially rendering traditional BTL strategies unviable. Please feel free to agree, disagree and generally offer your thoughts on these fundamental issues.  Read abstract and see Table 3 from https://www.economic-policy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/9100_UK-House-Prices-and-Decline-in-Risk-Free-Real-Interest.pdf