Leave the buy to let market alone, Britain needs more landlords

Tracey Boles
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In 20 years’ time, buy-to-let could account for an even greater proportion of the total property market (Source: Getty)

Twenty years since buy to let took off, landlords are now a crucial part of Britain’s housing ecosystem. The private rented sector, accounting for around one in five properties, provides much-needed homes for those people who are not ready to buy or do not want to purchase a property.

However, the sector sometimes comes in for stick, with private landlords accused of snaffling new properties from under the noses of first-time buyers, driving up house prices, charging rents that are too high, and generally being a bad lot. But the real puppeteer here is market forces.

The buy-to-let boom has been fuelled by several factors according to Martin Totty, CEO of Barbon which insures both landlords and tenants: a mismatch between housing supply and demand particularly in London and the south east; rising property values making purchasing less affordable; and social changes, such as people moving more frequently for jobs.

Read more: One in three homeowners disappointed with their progress up housing ladder

In 20 years’ time, buy to let could account for an even greater proportion of the total property market, Totty predicts. Indeed, it is weathering Brexit well, with rental yields sustainable and growing according to industry benchmark HomeLet, albeit at a more moderate pace than last year.

Despite the recent stamp duty hike, lenders are expected to finance more investments in residential property than in 2015. The potential fly in the ointment is further tax tweaks.

Next April, the amount of mortgage interest relief that landlords can reclaim will be limited to the basic rate of tax. But we must monitor the impact of such tax changes carefully because, no matter what you think of them, the UK needs more landlords if the population grows as predicted. Crucially, we need more houses.

Read more: Buy to let tax changes knock London luxury rent prices

The government should therefore stop tinkering with the buy to let tax regime and look for ways to make housebuilding more attractive. Without this, there will be no rebalancing of supply and demand, dashing the homeownership dreams of many millennials; rent affordability will grow as an issue, both for tenants and for landlords left staring at empty properties. The housing crisis, already writ large, would then reach epic proportions. Nobody would be a winner.

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