Although this is our April newsletter, I realise I am running a little late and this has, in fact, snuck in to May so I hope, if you are in the UK at least, you are enjoying a restful Bank Holiday.
Since I wrote my last update the most important change in the political landscape (and impacting on most other environments too) is Theresa May's decision to call a snap election for 8th June.
Although political pollsters and pundits have shown themselves to be rather poor in calling the outcome of significant electoral processes worldwide (let's see if they get the French elections right), it does seem very likely that this election will return a Tory government with a sizable majority. The impact on Brexit negotiations can be debated either way (Tony Blair seems to think this will lead to such a hard Brexit that he will be required to re-enter the political arena to re-dress the balance). Currently, however, this state of affairs does not seem to be having a negative impact on the economy, the Stock Market and the value of Sterling. In fact, combined with the massive tax cuts now being ushered in by the Trump administration, much of the global economy seems to be operating on steroids. Whether this will end in tears is impossible to say but the positives I would draw from the current state of affairs are that we have a certain and greater degree of clarity about the future than we have had for many years.
Depending on your political persuasion this may or may not be to your liking but it does tend to mean that businesses and people can start making plans which is generally good for the economy and the country. Also, in central London, an area so inter-linked with the health of the financial services industry, the rise of the Stock Market generally, after a certain delay, tends to lead to money being invested in other areas; and this is, primarily, property.
In the markets we serve, the prime central areas, which were impacted by the downturn first (around Spring 2014) are showing the first, albeit small, signs of recovery. These are areas where the purchase of property is more of an investment decision than areas slightly further out which are driven to a greater extent, by local market forces. I think the areas below the super-prime will take a little longer to recover but perhaps by the end of the year they too may begin to see a degree of strengthening. Overall, I don't see an immediate end to the downturn, but, to mis-quote Churchill (!), it's not the end of the beginning but in fact (hopefully) the beginning of the end.
In the rentals market, I do, unfortunately see the malaise lasting a while longer. I think the level of development will reduce as large levels of stock fail to achieve the returns expected but this will take quite a while to play out. As mentioned in other newsletters, I doubt very much the 3 plus million EU nationals will be forced to return home but clearly immigration levels are not going to continue at levels seen in the past and that and changes in government policy will continue to bite into the rentals market.
Until next month, best wishes to you all.
I hope that this newsletter finds you in good spirits and that the rather drab weather isn't proving to be too much of a drag.
We are cracking on with various areas of the business at the moment. In terms of lettings, we saw a gentle slowdown towards the end of last month (which is seasonal and pretty normal) and then this month has picked up a bit as the month has progressed - but it is important to highlight properties do have to be keenly priced to secure an offer without things getting protracted.
This month we had the government white paper on housing. As many commentators noted, it was a bit of a damp squib. Its main focus was on the building of new homes and the initiatives it wanted to push forward were for local councils to identify more land for development, a simplification of planning laws and a diversification of the development market, allowing access for more of the smaller developers.
There was little on the private rental sector other than a desire to increase rental lengths for family tenancies - although this applied more to institutional landlords than private individuals.
However, we all have to be aware that the government is increasingly focused on the sector and there seems a growing tendency to vilify the private individual property owning section of the market (and the agents they employ) in favour of the institutional provider. There is also a broader shift away from a (Tory) government representing the interests of the property owning population to one more focused on the needs of the population actually renting property. This is a subtle but actually fundamental shift in ideology for a British government of any persuasion, as it suggests it is becoming uncoupled from the objective of trying to see as many people as possible becoming homeowners.
View from a local level
As I mentioned in my Christmas letter, one of our objectives as a company in 2017 is to try to interact with our tenant base more often and not simply when dealing with a management issue or at the beginning and end of a tenancy. Given the fundamental industry changes mentioned above and also simply that we want to develop a more positive relationship with our tenants, which can sometimes feel a little 'them and us,' we are endeavouring to offer tenants more services which are positive to them in terms of renting through us. We have been thinking about the various services tenants need when they move into a new property and are then talking to suppliers to see if we can beat the deals offered in the general market place. All this will take a little time as we are a relatively small company but we hope to show that we, representing you, are an important and positive influence in the private rental sector.
Here's to Spring.
As we're now moving in to February of the new year, even dry Januarys are over and certainly Christmas is a distant (but hopefully pleasant) memory.
Welcome back to the working world; and what a one January has thrown up for us. Donald Trump is now the leader of the free world and is setting a cracking pace at reducing that freedom. The complete reversal of what was, I thought, widely accepted social, economic and diplomatic norms seems to be the order of the day. I'm finding it quite testing to (possibly) accept that what I believed and have been encouraged to think by people involved in my growth as a human being over the course of my life seems to be quite materially out of kilter with a significant proportion of the British and American populations. Interesting times!
With these huge tectonic plates moving around it is so difficult to prophecise as to what effect this will have on the economic strength of London and consequently its housing market. We've seen the pound devalue significantly since the referendum and the £1/$1.25 level seems to be where it is resting. At this level I would have thought property assets should look pretty to cheap to many foreign investors but with Trump tossing grenades out every day it is hard to pick a steady path. Triggering Article 50 has now been agreed convincingly by Parliament so we are at least, beginning to find a somewhat clearer path of action (even if some of us don't agree with that path). It seems much of Europe still has elections and the potential for serious tumult to come so hopefully we are ahead of that turbulence.
On a more local level, we have seen what is a fairly seasonal uptick in business go through in January. This is rather expected as there is a latent demand which builds up over Christmas with all the agencies being closed and both renters, sellers and buyers all seeing the dawn of a new year as a chance to change their surroundings.
In terms of sales, in the really premium locations of London (and assuming there isn't a surfeit of new builds close by) I feel vendors need to reconcile themselves to the new reality of a realistic sale price of possibly 20% below where it might have been 12-15 months ago and, if they can stomach that, push on. If it's a new build it could well be more than that. I think once these floors are set and people can mark-to-market realistically the sales market will begin to pick up again. At the moment, very few people want to accept that reality. In the markets which are served by more local buyers, however, prices are soft but not under such downward pressure so should hold up a little better.
In rentals, there will also be weakness this year. Vendors in the above category, who can't face selling below what they thought was an achievable price could well start to push sales properties into the rentals market. An increasing proportion of the big, new build developments will also begin to come on stream. Although I can't see politicians sending back the 3.3m EU nationals living here, the rate of immigration will, undoubtedly fall and thus also the demand for rental property from this sizable sector. Another sector which could increase the long term rental supply is the Airbnb market. Airbnb has recently changed its listing rules whereby if you are renting a whole unit (rather than just a room in your house) you can only do this for 90 days a year. This came into force from 1st Jan so from around April/May onwards it may be that a considerable proportion of this former sector comes back to the long term rental market.
However, as rents haven't and won't fall as steeply as sales prices already have, rental yields will begin to look more healthy. These have been ridiculously small for a number of years - to an extent that in some cases people seem to disregard them in their investment decisions altogether. Hopefully this criteria will begin to improve in 2017.
On the home front we have recently sold this property in N7. This was marketed just before Christmas at £995,000. Within a few days we managed to receive an almost asking price offer and get all the relevant documentation out before we closed the office on the 23rd. The sale completed last Friday with both a very happy vendor and new owner (whose daughter has GCSEs in 4 months and needs a bigger bedroom to crack on with her studies!)
Finally, and on a completely different note, when I am crossing London to see various different properties I try to use this lost time as constructively as possible. Sometimes this involves me listening to the lives of people far more accomplished than me on Desert Island Disks. While there has been a lot of coverage of David Beckham being on the programme, it is a different David that I think is a man for our time. I would recommend wholeheartedly that you listen to this podcast if you can.
‘The times, they are a changin’’
As the staff begin to decorate the office and the streets around us start to twinkle with little fairy lights I know it is that time of year again to put down my thoughts and reflections on another year embedded in the London residential property market.
Overall I feel that we are now in a sector which is being shaped and buffeted by numerous and quite substantial forces. Some good, some less so.
Broadly, the sales market is driven by events and given the number of substantial ones this year, potential buyers were reluctant to commit until they knew the outcome of the key ones. The fact that each event seems to have led to even greater uncertainty has obviously not helped.
I mentioned last year, that the market was very stratified and this continues to be the case. At the lower levels (below £1-1.5m) things continue to tick along. Above this level it gets trickier and as well the underlying uncertainty of life at the moment, Stamp Duty is a huge impediment for many. One wonders how long these rates will be maintained by the government when this perceived treasure-trove of riches is no longer bearing fruit (as evidenced by the £9bn hole in funding from this source).
The Lettings market is generally less event driven and more a demand that ebbs and flows. It is, of course, affected by events as seismic as Brexit but given we don’t yet know what shape that is going to take, it is difficult to estimate its impact. It is my view that the rental market is struggling a bit regardless of Brexit. I feel this is due to a significant increase in supply and the fact that real wages are basically flat-lining so tenants can’t afford to pay more and given they have more choice, don’t have to.
In April we saw the introduction of the extra 3% Stamp Duty charge on investment properties. This is only levied on individuals and underlines the government’s desire to shift the buy-to-let market more into the corporate arena and encourage the growth of the build-to-let sector.
However, the residential rental market seems to shift shape regularly and it is difficult to see where it is going to go. For example, although we’re seeing a slowdown in the demand for long-let properties we look over at the short-let Airbnb market and see it booming. Although, having said that, this in itself may all be about to change again as Airbnb announced a couple of weeks ago that property owners will not be able to rent whole properties for more than 90 days per year. This will then bring more property back into the long term rental sector and drive down prices further.
Another change which has been announced in the last couple of weeks is the end of agency fees to tenants. This is a difficult one to opine on because the government announcement, although seemingly very direct and clear cut turned out to be less so on greater inspection. What in fact seems to be happening is that before any ban is brought in, a consultation process will take place with members of the lettings industry. There’s also speculation that given the complexity of Brexit negotiations, the work required to implement a fee ban won’t happen until 2018.
The issue of fees to tenants has been a bit of an open sore in our industry for many years and I am disappointed ARLA, our governing body, never gave any guidance on it or tried to create standardised levels of fees for all its members. The fact you have some (both big and small) companies charging egregious fees was always dangerous for the industry because a blanket ban may then prevent the charging for perfectly legitimate costs – inventories for example. I hope the government moves on from its grandstanding stance to working with both the lettings industry and the tenant lobbying groups to create a comprehensive solution to this issue.
On a more local level, 2016 has seen us introduce and experience quite a few changes ourselves. We acquired PJ Morgan, a local independent agency based in Shoreditch in late May which generated a lot of work for us as we had to integrate the two businesses at a very busy time of the year but the team coped well. I do regret that there was less of a measured handover and consultation with landlords than we would have liked but unfortunately this was part of the terms of the deal agreed. I realise each company has its own way of doing things but I hope the ex-PJ landlords are happy to be working with us.
We are endeavouring to harness the ever increasing number of useful apps entering the property market these days. We use one which allows tenants to report maintenance issues from their smart phones/tablets, take photos and specify the exact problem so that we can then record it, keep an audit trail and pass all the information over to the relevant tradesman. We have another which is greatly improving the quality of our inspection reports to landlords.
What we are looking to introduce in 2017 is more benefits to the tenants who rent through us. We feel that by doing this, we will build a better relationship with the tenants who, we hope, will then have a better experience of renting your flat. This in turn will hopefully mean they are more respectful of it and have a greater desire to stay there. This idea is still in its infancy but we’ll keep you abreast of these changes as they happen.
Finally, the team and I hope and wish you all have a merry, relaxing (as far as possible) and enjoyable holiday. We thank you for letting us manage your properties and we look forward to working together in 2017.
Very best wishes
Ed and the team at PG Estates
After a rather extended silence since the Summer I thought it was well past time to update you all on my feelings about the market and, frankly, anything else which is worthy of you reading.
From looking back over my last note, I highlighted that the sales market was struggling but lettings had actually received an artificial boost post Brexit. These two factors were linked in a number of ways because I feel people who were looking to buy, kicked that decision down the road for an undisclosed number of months while we all work out what Brexit means and its timetable. Also, as foreign workers realised they weren't going to be immediately deported they helped feed into a strong uplift in lettings demand.
What I also feel, however, is that some of the underlying negative trends of both sales and lettings are still there regardless of Brexit - and the remaining questions from Brexit only add to them.
In sales, the increase in tax really is hurting the market. This is predominantly due to the overall increase in Stamp Duty - a good example of this is on a £2m house (which frankly, is where a lot of the 'normal' ones are heading). In December 2014, if you bought one of these you would pay £100k in Stamp Duty. Now you have to pay £153,750. Estate agency fees may have fallen, but not enough to cover that sort of hike!
In the buy-to-let market, the extra 3% on top of the normal Stamp Duty rates, while not necessarily breaking the bank, chips away at the attractiveness of the investment. This is then going to be followed by the staggered eradication of mortgage interest relief on investment properties. This will be introduced next year and get up to full strength by 2020.
The decision to either enter or remain in the buy-to-let market is based on a variety of factors. I suppose the two main concerns are; how well can I do out of it, and how well could I do if I invested in other investment classes? Whilst other investment classes of similar risk aren't exactly breaking records either (the FTSE has done well recently but probably won't push on too hard and fast from there) the bigger question is therefore, how good is property likely to be over the next few years? I think this is where Brexit as a factor steps back in to the discussion. I think over the next 6 months or so it will be anybody's guess what type of Brexit Theresa May and team manage to negotiate and therefore while this is outstanding the property market in all its guises will drift rather aimlessly (the outcome of the High Court judgement yesterday throws up even more uncertainty). What remains to be seen is our level of attraction as a country (and, as we're all London-centric, as a city) once Brexit has happened. The government has, over the last week, voted to progress with the third runway at Heathrow. At last! We need to push ahead with these sorts of decisions to progress London and the country's development and show we are open to business to the world. Brexit will be a very delicate negotiating process (I'm hoping the current implosion of UKIP will keep the crazies occupied somewhere else) but our backs aren't against the wall and there is definitely a possibility that the economy and property market could accelerate quickly when the dust settles.
I feel I can't end my update without mentioning 'The Donald'. I started writing this update at the end of last week and felt fairly certain that we all knew where the American elections were heading. However, the three line letter from the head of the FBI on last Friday seems to have turned everything on its head and now it is all too close to call. It is amazing we are all in this situation and let's see what next week brings...
The 'prop-tech' sector seems to grow apace and this offers us lots of interesting and useful apps to improve our business. We have started using one called TouchRight which allows us to more easily produce inspection reports when we visit your properties. It means, for example, we can attach photos which you can click on and expand to see a particular issue. We can also link these reports to our repair order management system so issues can be dealt with during the inspection. These reports mean we can then more easily update you on the condition of your property and keep a record of any necessary upgrades in future. I believe this will really improve the quality of our management service.
Until the next update, all the best from us all and let's see what America presents us with next week.
We hope that you all are enjoying a pleasant Summer, wherever in the World you are.
In London and the UK generally the dust is now settling on the aftermath of Brexit and it feels as though some sensible and reassuring events have occurred which are reducing the effects caused by simply not knowing what the future holds. Obviously the election of a new Prime Minister is a major step forward from where we were a month ago and the fact that Theresa May seems to be well received by her European counterparts with no obvious pressure to move forward at a rash pace is helpful. It's also reassuring that some of the more concerning parts of 'Project Fear' aren't coming to fruition.
It does still look as though a recession of some sorts is statistically likely but the actions of the Bank of England last week will hopefully generate a level of stimulus to mitigate the impact. As I write this, the stock market is right up to recent record levels (both FTSE 100 and 250) so, for the time being, the negative impact is somewhat muted.
In the property market, sales are however, struggling. The surprise vote for Brexit did knock a lot of sales, and that was starting from a somewhat sluggish base after stamp duty was increased in early April. Although there are different strata within the market itself with varying factors effecting levels of demand there is a sentiment pervading the market at the moment that no one wants to buy now if they can get a discount by hanging on for a few months. Where I think the turnaround will come from is the prime central London market. This is the area which felt the effects of the downturn first as prices had simply got too far ahead of perceived value. However, with falls in Sterling relative to other major currencies, this area will quickly throw up bargains for overseas buyers.
The rental market has actually seen a bit of a renaissance since Brexit and we're all sitting here with our fingers crossed that it lasts. Up until a few weeks ago we'd seen a long and rather depressing slide in the market, like a balloon slowly deflating. The rental market needs to be very efficient, with each new property hitting the market, being rented and taken off the market within two to three weeks and then replaced with a new property. If this doesn't happen, and in fact the marketing process takes double or triple that period, a lot more stock hits the market and applicants simply become overwhelmed with choice. We felt this had been happening to some extent, since March, and although the simple but painful option was to reduce prices, to a certain extent the problem was lack of exposure rather than cost - which is a harder situation to remedy.
We have seen, in the last few weeks, a considerable uptick in the level of enquiries and hopefully, above all, this will help to reduce the number of properties on the market and reduce the slack. The market does have a seasonal spike in the Summer but it is usually towards the end of August so this is a welcome anomaly.
A bit of admin..
Those of you who own buy to let properties in east London (more specifically Whitechapel, Weavers, Spitalfields and Banglatown) will need to ensure you are licensed by the council by 1st October 2016. The requirements are actually fairly innocuous but please click on the link for more details about the scheme.
Please feel free to contact us directly but we will also contact you in the run up to this deadline to ensure everything is in place.
Have a good Summer.
So, now we know. We all woke up on the 24th June, looked at the headlines; probably, if you were based in London, feeling pretty nonchalant about the result, and then actually checked the result and realised, with quite some impact, that the rest of England didn't share your views. But how? I felt like the employees of the Guardian who woke up, post General Election, and couldn't work out how Labour had lost when 'everyone they knew voted Labour'.
It has been a pretty big shock, not least for the blonde bomber who lives down the road from our Islington office, who has seen his chances of becoming PM disappear overnight. Currently, and obviously given the pace of things, this may become out of date almost instantly, but Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom are duking it out but one doesn't believe in Brexit which may be tricky if you have a Brexit mandate, and the other has got some rather un-palatable stuff on her tax-return. So who knows where we will end up on that one.
The broader question is "what will happen now" and "how will it affect all of us, invested in the London property market".
Given that there was no plan if Brexit won, this is tricky to answer but my best guess is that there will be some sort of fudge.
I don't see three million Europeans being repatriated. No one really wants that (except Nigel Farage and he's gone). So we won't see London draining of people and hollowed out of foreign talent.
No one on our side is going to rush to invoke Article 50 (and no one in Europe is going to force us to) so the dislocation from the EU isn't going to happen quickly (if at all).
Trade negotiations will begin with both the EU and other countries but while these may not be as dire as the Remainers predicted they will take a long time to be settled and this will create a drag on confidence or at least visibility of the future.
The collapse in the value of the Pound is, at least, a major shot in the arm for exports and allows us to steal a march on other countries looking to stimulate their flagging economies by devaluing (i.e. every other country).
Finally, where else is everyone going to go to live/work now? The New York Times compiled a top 10 of European cities where the financial services community could relocate to given the post-Brexit landscape, based on various criteria (transport, office space, housing, schools, culture, restaurants etc). The top three were: Vienna - 51 points, Frankfurt - 54 points and Amsterdam - 55 points. Finally, the article said,
"Out of curiosity, I examined the same criteria and scored London itself. The result?
London earns a near-perfect 58 points.
“London has so many advantages. I think that will remain true even if it’s outside the E.U. But if the vote costs London its pre-eminence, that will be a self-inflicted tragedy.”
Over to you May/Leadsom...
We hope you are enjoying the rare glimpses of sun we seem to be experiencing at the moment, while, perhaps, you debate which box to tick on 23rd June.
It's interesting how the whole Brexit vote is casting an increasingly large, rather dark shadow over everything at the moment. It is obviously very difficult to extrapolate fully the effects of an Out vote on the London property market (or even an In one), and more specifically the Lettings market. Even if we do vote Out it's difficult to know the time frame and process of what happens next and if we vote In by a narrow margin will that lead to significant fissures in the economy; and what will the effect be on Europe itself with the rise of the more extreme political elements? And then, if we get through all this we might have President Trump by the end of the year to really shake the world up - phew!
Anyway, bringing things back to right now, things are pretty slow and it would seem logical that this is driven by Brexit. Sales prices do seem to be softening, particularly in the market above a £1m - and more so as you go up. This has, however, been a segment of the market under duress since George Osborne altered the Stamp Duty rates back in late 2014. What is less clear are the effects on the Lettings market. This seems to be slow too but blaming this on Brexit seems a bit too simplistic. Brexit may be effecting the level of demand by reducing various companies' staffing requirements, for example, but we are sceptical this explains the whole situation. Our own belief is that the Lettings market is slowing because; there is a lot of new stock coming on to the market, particularly new build stock of one and two bedroom flats and; tenants are renewing in larger numbers as they are unwilling/unable to pay higher rental costs - and the extra stock means they don't have to.
So does this mean the sales and lettings markets are poor places to be? Not necessarily. The London property market reflects so many different factors, both nationally and internationally, that it is generally shortsighted to bet against it. We are still seeing demand from the Far East, where an enormous amount of wealth is being created and where the rising middle class feel nervous about keeping all their money in the region (particularly China). Property in areas like Hong Kong and Singapore is still more expensive by and large, than London and with the fall of the value of the Pound relative to many other currencies this also adds to the fact that London property is looking cheaper to foreign investors than it has done in quite a while, despite changes to the tax regime.
In terms of rentals, it is probably likely that prices will remain soft for a while but really, as above, we believe that it is unlikely that investors and companies will bet against London in the medium to long term and that In or Out, London will still be a key city to be located.
A couple of weeks ago we acquired the business of a good local agent in Shoreditch called PJ Morgan. The rationale behind this deal was that the owner was looking to sell and felt our company matched the same ethos as his own - i.e. an independent lettings and management business giving good quality, personal service to landlords and tenants alike. We would like to take this opportunity to welcome those new landlords as clients and hope that we can foster the same longstanding relations we have with our existing client base.
We have recently started using a new 'PropTech' application called Fixflo which has proved to be very helpful in the management of issues of your properties. This application allows tenants to log-on to our website, report an issue, giving specifics about the issue and then be notified that the problem has been received and is being dealt with within a specific time frame. This is useful in terms of dealing with the issue effectively, managing the tenant's expectations and also, because the law now prevents landlords being able to issue a tenant with notice if there are unresolved, outstanding maintenance issues, this technology provides a time line and documentary evidence of what happened and when. Please click on the link below where you can see how this works: https://pgestates.fixflo.com/Auth/HomeIssueCreate
Finally, we at PG Estates would like to take this opportunity to say good-bye and massive thanks to Jane Allen who is retiring at the end of the month. Jane has been working with us in the Islington office for four years and has worked for a number of agents on Upper Street for over 20 years. She has brought enormous experience and a calm demeanor to her role and we will miss her. She does, however, leave the team in a far stronger position than when she joined us so we thank her for her efforts in developing the business and we wish her all the best for her future.
PG Estates has recently acquired well-established Shoreditch agent, PJ Morgan. Paul House, of PJ Morgan, who is retiring said, "I strongly believe that the best letting agents are the independents where there is an ethos of good, long term service to their clients, their tenants and their properties. As such, I have decided to sell to another local, privately owned and run firm, PG Estates, with effect from the 21st May 2016."
Edward Gormley, the owner of PG Estates said, "PJ Morgan is a strong, reputable local agent, which has been providing a high quality personal service to its clients for many years. PG Estates will look to maintain this level of personal service built up by Paul and his team over many years and build on their legacy."