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New Electrical Safety Regulations could cost each Luton Landlord £350+ in the next 13 months
Luton Electricians are going to very busy in the next 13 months as they will have to test the electrics of every private rented property in Luton and potentially may have to install new fuse boards and wiring in some circumstances.
New regulations set out in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 gave the Secretary of State of Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government the authority to compel private landlords to test their fixed electrical systems. Currently, these responsibilities only apply to licensable Houses of Multiple Occupancy (where a house is split into individual rooms) yet these new rules will come into force for any new tenancy or renewal of any private rented home from the 1st July this year (2020).
All new tenancies from the 1st July 2020 will need
to have had their electrics tested
The new IET electrical regulations enforce a duty on all private landlords to ensure that their electrical installation complies with the 18th edition (from 2018) of the IET wiring regulations. Therefore, any property built before the middle of 2018 will have electrics to 17th edition regulations (or a previous edition). It might not sound a lot, but the 18th edition regulations were a substantial update over the 17th edition which were published in 2008. Now, just because a rental property was built with its electrics up to the prevailing 15th, 16th or 17th regulations at the time of building, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will automatically fail this test.
A qualified electrician will need to test your rental property against the new 18th Regulations (as that is standard practice in the industry), which will cost in the region of £150 plus VAT for a small one bed flat through to £250/£350 plus VAT for a large 4 or 5 bed house (again these are ballpark figures). The Electrician won’t fail a property who complies with a previous regulation (e.g. 16th or 17th) unless there is a good reason to do so. No doubt there will be further clarification notes issued before the implementation date to sort this out – and I will keep you informed in this blog.
Electricians are telling me any property built after 16th Regulations came into force in 1991 (and they deem it to have failed the test) will probably require a new fuse board and other minor works at an average cost of around £355 per property, although it could be as low as £300 and up to £500 per property to upgrade, meaning…
The potential cost of upgrading every Luton buy to let
Home to 18th edition regulations (if they all failed) could total £6,107,065
Some Luton landlords might think they can circumnavigate the regulations by renewing the fixed term every 6 months, yet the Government have protected against that by stating, irrespective of what tenancy is in place, all rental properties by the 1st April 2021 must have been tested against the 18th Regulations standard.
My concern is all 17,203 rental properties in Luton will need
their electrics testing before the Spring of 2021 and that there are only 60 qualified electrician firms within a 2-mile radius of Luton to do all these tests and work
Luton landlords must give any new Luton tenant a copy of the inspection report before they start the tenancy. Also, Luton landlords must give a copy of the report to any prospective tenant who asks for it in writing within 28 days of a request during the tenancy itself.
Even with the coronavirus situation, only last week the Government indicated that Landlords should still make every effort to follow these new electrical safety regulations from the 1st of July, yet those same regulations also allow for situations where a landlord cannot carry out their obligations. To stay the right side of the law, they must demonstrate they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with the law. If they do that, they will not in breach of the new regulations (including the duty to comply with a remedial notice). My advice would be if a landlord could keep copies of all communications they have had with their tenants and with electricians as they tried to arrange the work, including any replies they have had, together with any other evidence they have on the electrics of their rental property.
The local authorities are tasked with policing this – and they too have the right to request to see copies of any Electrical Report and works done. They can force a landlord to comply with the legislation and also may issue a civil penalty up to a maximum of £30,000.
Remarkably, if the letting/managing agent doesn’t organise the Electrical reports, there is nothing in the legislation which allows a landlord to pass the blame onto their letting/managing agent. That means Luton landlords could be at significant risk from dishonest or badly organised letting agents who won’t/don’t sort the electrics out, so my advice to all Luton landlords is to speak to your letting/managing agent right now and plan ahead. Rest assured, we have had plans well in hand for our Luton landlords since last year, because I knew this legislation was on its way.
The regulations are obviously important for the safety of tenants and, in essence, these new laws and regulations will mean new accountabilities for the private rented landlords with not much time in which to get prepared and be compliant. If you are worried about these new rules or don’t have ultimate confidence in your current agent, then please do pick up the phone and let’s have an informal chat about how we can help you with this issue, you don’t want to fall the wrong side of the law do you?
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What Will Be the Effect of Covid-19 on the Luton Property Market?
So now we are only a matter of a couple of weeks into lockdown, yet can you believe it I am still speaking with agents from all over the UK, and I do not jest, properties are still being sold and let even in these unprecedented times. Yet I would like to address the question I have been asked many times recently “What will be the effect of Covid-19 on the Luton property market in the short, medium and long term?”
These are obviously unchartered times, yet we can look back in history to give us clues and more recently, the bounce back that is happening in China (and their property market). The Covid-19 situation will touch all parts of the Luton and UK property market, and so in this article, I will be considering its impact on Luton property prices, transaction numbers (i.e. the number of people that move home), Luton buy to let landlords and finally tenants and the rents they pay.
The Three Issues with the Virus and the Property Market
The first issue has to be the lockdown itself. Limitations on society’s capability to go about their normal working life will hinder the house buying/selling process. The practical difficulties of moving home and expediting the property sale; from the viewing itself, the Energy Performance Certificate being carried out, the surveyor checking the property for the lender etc., are all issues. Yet the estate agency and legal industries are coming up with some innovative solutions, from virtual viewings to legally watertight delayed completions, where the old owners stay in the house under licence during the lockdown, and the move will take place after the lockdown period.
Secondly, the UK housing market has never liked ambiguity or uncertainty and this virus will play a part on people’s feelings and sentiment towards moving home (or not).
Thirdly and finally, there is the issue with the money people have, be that wages, whether they have a job (or not) and their overall affluence, on the back of the 29.4% stock market decrease in the last two months (correct at the time of writing this article).
The Background Economics
The economy drives everything including the housing market – and the overall measure of the economy is the Gross Domestic Product figure or the GDP (the GDP is basically the total value of all the goods and services created by the whole UK economy in one year and it currently stands at £2.15 trillion).
Looking at what has happened in China, most economists believe the UK will experience a short, yet sharp economic shrinkage in Q2 2020 with GDP set drop by 4% to 7% in the one quarter depending on the extent of the lockdown. Then GDP is expected to level out in Q3 2020, and then a significant ricochet (how significant depends who you listen to) in Q4 2020/Q1 2021.
Now putting politics aside, I have been impressed with Boris Johnson’s response with wide-ranging support for the UK economy and businesses, and whilst it’s far from perfect, help has been in the guise of the Bank of England reactivating its Contingent Term Repo Facility increasing liquidity and keeping the money markets going (important as that was what the issue was with the Credit Crunch), business grants and Government backed loans, together with telling lenders to take a compassionate line to those unable to make mortgage holidays and finally the furloughing of staff, thus allowing a quicker recovery in the economy.
What Will Happen to Luton Property Values?
There are a few doom-monger economists predicting Armageddon, yet I feel a lot of that is to get column inches in the newspapers. The Luton property market is less exposed than it was in the previous four historical property crashes in 1972, 1979, 1988 and 2008. This is because of the following reasons..
- Before each of the four crashes, there had been a significant upward spike in property values prior to the crash. We have not experienced that over the last 12 months.
- Mortgage interest as a percentage of household income (nationally) was a massive 32% in 1988, 18% in 2008 – yet now it stands at just under 8% (because interest rates are so low).
This is all assuming we don’t have high unemployment. Yet historically, it has been proved house price falls are not caused by high unemployment. It is in fact, that it happens the other way round, that a housing downturn can (not always) create unemployment - yet with the Government furloughing people – this shouldn’t be such so much of an issue.
The value of an average Luton home currently stands at £272,200
As I will explain in the next section, the biggest effect will be on transaction numbers, not on property values. I suspect in the summer there will be some Luton homeowners who will want to sell at all costs, and not care what price they achieve. Savvy property buyers will swoop on those properties and drive a hard bargain, meaning there will be some short-term localised reductions in what properties sell in the summer for those that want to sell at any cost.
Yet, these reductions will artificially amplify the property value indexes in a downward direction in the autumn (the ones the newspapers mention when they talk about property value changes) because they will be based on the very low levels of property transactions that will take place in the summer (because there is always a lag). Interestingly we have seen this many times over the years because just about every spring for the last 20 years, we have often seen negative or very subdued figures in the House Price Indexes in the months of January/February. This is because of the lack of property sales on the run up to Christmas a few months before. To give this all some context, property values in Luton are 49.3% higher than 10 years ago – and nobody was complaining about those. To give you an idea what that is in pound notes …
The average Luton home has risen in value by £89,900 in the last 10 years
The swiftness of recovery in the autumn/winter from that point will depend on the state of the wider economy. With the measures (mentioned above) implemented by the Government, household incomes should continue to remain steady, and whilst holidays and luxuries may be shelved for a year, those Luton people who have been locked up in their Luton homes for weeks on end, might just consider making that move later in 2020, taking advantage of the ultra-low interest rates. This in turn ought to encourage a return to sturdier levels of house-price growth in the medium term (2021/2 onwards).
The Number of People Moving Home in Luton Will Significantly Drop in 2020
I foresee the number of people moving home (i.e. the number of household transactions) in Luton will significantly drop in 2020. This will only really affect the pockets of Estate Agents (as they charge their fee when people move – so if less people are moving, they will earn less) and the people associated with house moving.
Even with virtual viewings and creative legal work, the number of property transactions will be considerably obstructed over the next couple of months. Interestingly, in the Chinese cities that removed the lockdown first (in the middle of March) I have read in the press the number of property transactions has already bounced back to around half of the medium-term average after only three weeks!
This was caused by people delaying their move because of the ‘B’ word (Brexit) over the last 12/18 months, which interestingly saw a massive upsurge with the Boris Bounce in December/January and February.
Worse case scenarios suggested by economists state transactions will drop to 20% of the normal 10 year average number of transactions until the end of Q3 2020, return to 65% by Q1 2021, increase to 100% by the end of Q2 2021 and then 120% in 2022, yet most sensible economists (and often those that stay out of the limelight and don’t go chasing headlines), believe transactions will reduce to 45% to 50% of the 10 year average until the end of Q3 2020, improve to 80% in Q4 2020 and 100% by Q2 2021 with potential for higher transactions numbers in the order of 110% to 130% in 2022.
It all sounds rather grim doesn’t it, until you dig deeper…
Remarkably, it must be stated the number of property transactions over the last 12 months in Luton are only at 65.0% of the 10-year Luton average … and this was before Covid-19
In the last 12 months, there have been 1,448 property transactions in Luton, compared to a 10-year average of 2,229 per year
Yet, let’s not forget, these predictions are from the 10-year long term average, and as it can quite clearly be seen, transaction levels are already at a low, even without Covid-19 and nobody was complaining about that apart from estate agents and removal vans!
With the number of Luton people moving being held back, I would anticipate seeing a build-up of supressed demand for Luton property from Covid-19, on top of the pent-up demand from Brexit, especially with many Luton families realising their Luton homes aren’t large enough to contain them as the lockdown experience will push many Luton households to move in late 2020 or possibly 2021 …and as every economics student knows, when demand outstrips supply (because we can’t all of a sudden build more houses), prices go up.
How Will This Affect Luton First Time Buyers, Those Trading up, Downsizers and Landlords & Tenants?
FIRST TIME BUYERS - I believe the banks will be a little more wary when lending money to first buyers with their need for large percentage mortgages. The demand for the Help-to-Buy Scheme has been increasing year-on-year, yet its pace of growth has been declining in the last couple years – I foresee demand accelerating in the later parts of 2020. There could be some good deals to be had from new homes builders looking to release cash in Q3 and Q4 later in the year? Maybe the Bank of Mum and Dad might be able to help, yet they too will be stretched, although they might be able to release equity down the generations to their children and grandchildren (see the downsizers section).
TRADING UP – Many Luton homeowners in their starter homes will be going stir-crazy in their smaller homes, and with interest rates at ultralow levels, some Luton homeowners might forgo holidays and entertaining, and consider putting their weight and finances into moving up market in Luton. That might also be easier, if the Luton downsizers start to move as well.
DOWNSIZERS – There are many Luton retired people, rattling around their large Luton home, with their children having flown the nest and possibly moved away years ago. These Luton people don’t need to move, and so are considered ‘optional home-movers’ – yet the Covid-19 crisis could be the catalyst to make them finally move to be nearer their family around the UK – releasing good sized Luton family homes onto the property market for the ‘Trading Uppers’ to buy.
LANDLORDS & TENANTS – I suspect there won’t be many Luton tenants moving in the next three to four months. Tenants have the peace of mind with a cessation on evictions until the summer and buy-to-let mortgage payment holidays for buy-to-let landlords whose tenants are in financial difficulty (note the tenants have to give proof to their landlord that they are unable to pay with their applications to Universal Credit etc., etc.,). There might be small reductions in average rents, as some Luton landlords undertake to help their tenants in these chastened financial times, yet for most people, rents will continue to be paid, making no major impression on rental prices in 2020.
Let’s not forget, the level of average rents is directly related to tenants wages and I can’t see why this relationship between rents and tenants wages should break after Covid-19, so as wages are held back in the latter parts of 2020 the growth rents over the next year will be subdued. Finally, those Luton buy-to-let landlords sitting on cash might be able to bag a bargain in the summer from a desperate seller, before normality returns in Q3 and Q4 2020.
We are in unchartered territory, yet for the reasons explained in this article and, assuming there are no other seismic shocks in the coming weeks and months – in a few years’ time – this will be seen as a bump (albeit a rather big bump) - another part of the roller coaster ride of the UK and Luton property market.
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The last three or four weeks, unquestionably, have been one of the most life-changing times we have seen since WW2. The imminent threat of the Coronavirus has taken over the world, the UK and Luton and will challenge you, our families, our relationships and test us all.
The drive of this worldwide action of social distancing is not just to stop you from getting ill with the virus; the bigger drive is to slow down the development of this virus so the NHS will not become overwhelmed with those who are most likely to need hospital care. Yet the issue of social distancing has certainly raised many questions around the landlord/tenant/agent relationship, so in this article I wanted to share with all the 6,965 Luton landlords their rights, obligations and responsibilities to their Luton tenants. I also wanted to highlight the rights, obligations and responsibilities of the 17,203 Luton tenants in return.
These will be trying times for Luton landlords and Luton tenants alike, so let’s start…
A landlord has the responsibility to ensure the property is fit for habitation, so what if the Luton landlord/agent is incapable of undertaking an emergency repair (or say the annual gas safety check) because the tenant is self-isolating or actually has the virus? The answer is the landlord should use their best efforts to fix the problem if it’s an urgent repair, yet if the landlord/agent are unable to do so they should record this fact and that it is related to the Coronavirus epidemic. One should then re-try as soon as is possible and appropriate, having full respect for information on self-isolation, personal-safety and social-distancing and ensure that you make a written note for future issue. My advice is that you or your agent (as we are with our Luton tenants) need to uphold good lines of communication with the tenants touched by these current circumstances, so they are clear on what action you are taking and the timescales for this.
Yet at the same time, there will be very few situations in the coming weeks when the contractors who the landlord/agent use will also be in self-isolation, meaning a handful of the 17,203 Luton tenants might have to wait for repairs to be sorted. We have some excellent Luton contractors with their own backup plans and so together we will use our best endeavours to find an alternative contractor to fix any issues. If your agent has issues, then maybe we can help – do call me. Yet whatever you do, if this occurs, document everything and that it is related to the Coronavirus epidemic.
The total rent paid by Luton tenants
each month is £13,814,000
It’s true the UK government has demanded that building societies and banks give a three-month mortgage holiday to those landlords that are unable to make mortgage payments. This is not free cash, the mortgage payments are basically postponed with interest to be collected at the end of this crisis, meaning your obligation as a Luton tenant to pay the rent still exists. HM Government is offering employers an 80% wage support with the furloughing to avoid having to make people redundant and the rent for your Luton rental home will be treated in the same way as the landlord’s mortgage.
The average Luton rental payment currently
stands at £803 per month
Therefore, if you are incapable of being able to pay your rent, it will still build up and accumulate during this virus predicament and you will need to start a payment plan to pay it back on top of your normal monthly rent. So if your rent is £803pm and you have already been living there for 2 months into a 12 month tenancy, there is still £8,030 to be paid over the next 10 months, so should you not pay anything for 3 months your rent would increase by 43% a month for the last seven months or you face eviction due to arrears (remember arrears have been put on hold – not removed during the virus outbreak). One option, subject to status and agreement by all parties, could be to renegotiate a new longer lease to pay off the arrears over a longer period. Again, the point here is communication from all sides – making sure there are no nasty surprises.
So, if you are in this predicament, there is a lot of help accessible from the HM Government including Universal Credit or Employment Support as soon as possible to escape any interruptions to your payments. Remember, your Luton landlord will need proof of your Universal Credit or Employment Support claims to give to their mortgage company to be able to start the mortgage holiday, so my advice to all the 17,203 Luton tenants is keep in contact with your agent to ensure your Luton landlord doesn’t suffer any avoidable hardship (which ultimately may end up with your home being repossessed because the mortgage payments were missed because you were unable to furnish the landlord with your own claim documents).
Communication is the #1 priority here. Whilst most agent’s premises are closed including our own, all are open for telephone and email enquiries, with staff working from home. This is a fast-changing time for everybody, for the 6,965 Luton landlords and 17,203 Luton tenants correspondingly and we will be ever vigilant to oversee the financial and monetary backdrop in the coming months.
These are going to be tough times for the people of Luton (and the world), financially and mentally; yet together we will come out of this stronger. By working together, working in partnership, again keeping lines of communication open with regards to your finances and your housing, by keeping safe and protecting our families and most of all by being kind to each other ... we will get through this, a little battered and bruised – yet hopefully better human beings for it?
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In the latest, and most recently published, set of UK mortgage data (for the month of November 2019) 18,470 pound-for-pound re-mortgages were made (i.e. the borrower went from one rate to another with no additional borrowing).
However, since the 1970’s, the British have seen their homes as cash cows and cash machines, with many homeowners re-mortgaging at the end of their mortgage’s introductory term (usually after the initial two, three or five years) to avoid being passed on to their mortgage lender’s more expensive standard variable rate.
For some borrowers re-mortgaging allows them an opportunity of raising additional cash whilst for others it enables them to follow interests and activities; such as big holidays, home improvements, new cars, debt consolidation or financially helping family members (e.g. paying off credit cards or helping with house deposits).
Interestingly, in November 2019 alone (the most recent figures) an eye watering £957,856,700 was borrowed on top of existing mortgages by 18,610 UK homeowners re-mortgaging and borrowing, on average, an additional £51,470. Therefore, one has to ask, are we borrowing too much? Looking at these numbers, one might think we are over-extending ourselves, yet as regular readers of my blog about the Luton property market will know – I like to drill down and look at the historical figures. Back in 2006, just before the crash, British homeowners were actually borrowing in excess of £5bn per month over and above the re-mortgage amount – much more than the £1bn we experienced in November!
Looking at statistics from the Bank of England for the UK as a whole, even with the data mentioned above, British property owners have increased the equity in their homes by just over £270 billion since 2010 compared with a £275 billion withdrawal during the 2000s. This reveals that the last decade (the 2010’s) is the first since records began in which Brits have increased their equity. This is partly due to the fact that the number of housing transactions crumpled during the Credit Crunch, and many homeowners chose to reduce their mortgages, rather than continually increasing them - even if their property started going up in value after 2013.
So, what has happened in Luton regarding mortgages and does it match the national picture? Well interestingly…
Luton homeowners have injected over three billion pounds into their Luton properties over the last six years; overturning a trend stretching back to the 1970s.
Considering the exact figures, it can be seen whilst the total value of mortgages has increased since 2014, as a percentage this has gone down, meaning Luton homeowners and Luton landlords have increased their equity since 2014 by £3,296,152,600 (one might call it a windfall?).
It can quite clearly be seen that the financial insecurity sparked by the Credit Crunch crisis has created a generation of Luton homeowners/landlords who are savers and improvers rather than movers and excessive borrowers, using excess cash to invest in their property and pay down debt or to excessively borrow on their equity growth, as can be seen on the graphs and table.
As the percentage of mortgages (the loan to value) has decreased since 2014 from 19.12% to 17.52% in Luton, this is good news for every Luton homeowner and Luton landlord because, irrespective of whether the ‘Boris Bounce’ is short or long lived, it shows the Luton property market is in a better state than ever before to ride out any storm that it might encounter because less people will be in negative equity or have prohibitively high mortgages.
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Luton Landlord’s £25.2m Tax Bill
I am asking Sarah Owen and Rachel Hopkins the Labour MP’s for Luton North and Luton South to remind the Chancellor Sajid Javid and Prime Minster Boris Johnson to use their persuasive skills to highlight and take a more holistic approach and attitude to the private rented sector and tackle issues which affect a Luton landlords’ capability and capacity to strategically run an effective buy-to-let business.
For the last thirty years, the Government have passed responsibility of housing the masses from local authorities (i.e. council housing) to the estimated 1.5 million British buy-to-let landlords.
However, since 2015/16, Luton landlords have faced increasing tax burdens as each year goes by, with the removal of mortgage interest rate relief on income tax (Section 24), the introduction of the 3 percent surcharge on stamp duty, and the reduction of the letting relief on capital gains tax.
My research has calculated the total income tax contribution by 6,617 Luton private landlords in the tax year 2015/16 was £17,269,165
However, the eradication of higher rate mortgage interest relief (also known as Section 24) announced in 2015 by George Osborne has been estimated to add a further £1.9 billion nationally to landlord’s tax liability. Whilst raising money from landlords is an easy target, and the tax receipts attractive, it does make the landlords financial burden even heavier.
And by 2021/2, when the full extent of the Section 24 relief kicks in, that income tax liability will rise to £25,212,981
for those Luton landlords
This doesn’t even take into account additional liabilities such as Capital Gains Tax, the 3% additional duty on top of the prevailing Stamp Duty Land Tax and VAT.
Ambiguity and a lack of certainty is the foe of all investment, which has been seen with Brexit. Now, just as things are starting to get rosy in Q1 with the pent-up demand released with the ‘Boris Bounce’, the last thing we need as a ‘collective’ property industry is for the Government to see us landlords as a constant cash cow. This new Tory government must acknowledge the value the majority of private landlords offer by housing in excess of 9.45 million people in the country.
Westminster needs to take a balanced approach to the significant issues of possession (especially with the impeding removal of section 21 evictions), taxation and all rental properties needing to be at least an ‘E’ energy efficiency rating, to connect the value the private rented sector offers the country by effectively housing over a fifth of the population and avoid unintentional consequences by making renting a private rented property harder for tenants … because, it’s not financially viable to buy (or retain) a buy-to-let property with the way things are going against the landlord.