Unlike investing in stocks and shares where the volatility of share prices and uncertainty of dividends can lead to long term buy and lose, investment in property offers two advantages: firstly, because the relationship between landlord and tenant rests on a legally-binding contract, there is the potential for both capital and rental growth. Secondly, unlike the Stock Market where in the scheme of things individual private investors have little or no influence over the company’s performance, the property market offers the thought of being in control.
I emphasise ‘thought’ because landlords are not actually in as much control as they might like to think. The landlord owns the building, not the tenant’s business and tenants are not obliged to keep the landlord informed as regarding the intention for the business. All that a tenant is obliged to do is comply with the terms and conditions of the lease and even that the terms and conditions would be subject to any overriding legislation and/or business tenacy case-law. For example, a shop let to multiple retailer which might be thought a secure investment and hence command a higher capital value could fall in valley simply by the multiple retailer deciding to close the branch and assigning the tenancy or subletting the premises to a nobody.
Stocks and shares and property are forms of illiquid investment, but the stock market for the most part less so since buying and selling can be transacted within seconds, with middle-men, or market-makers, to take up the slack whenever demand and supply fluctuate. With property, however, there are no market-makers as such; to buy and sell a property requires a seller and a buyer, and to transact at the desired price requires a seller or buyer at that price.
With stocks and shares, share prices are published and during market hours a trade can be executed at or around the published price. It’s not like that with property: no published prices in advance, no certainty that what someone got for a particular property would result in at least the same price for a virtually identical property paid by someone else. As for value, some say that’s whatever the property fetches but actually the price could simply be a measure of worth for the buyer: otherwise, the market value is based upon one person’s opinion; an informed opinion provided by a professional, but an opinion nevertheless.
Despite the underlying value of property being anyone’s guess, another layer of value is added to be on the safe side. The income from a property let to a good covenant on a long lease also constitutes an investment. All other factors remaining constant, the best time to sell the investment layer is when the end of the lease is so far off that it becomes impossible for mere mortals to predict what would happen by then. For the same reason, it is also the worst time to buy, but that doesn’t stop investors piling in regardless. Because it is easier to mortgage a property let on a long lease and because the total income, ignoring any reviews, is known in advance, the present value of that income can be calculated.
The attraction and value of that present value fluctuates according to confidence in the investment market. Investment confidence varies with bank lending criteria. The easier and cheaper it is to borrow, the more risk may be taken, the higher the price. Conversely, the harder, the more expensive, the less risk, the lower the price.
A paradox of investment-thinking is the difference in attitude between experienced professional investors and everyone else. EPIs focus on the bottom-line: the worst scenario. Challenging at the best of times, protecting the bottom-line is not easy when wanting to invest at a time of improving sentiment. Sentiment is a measure of confidence. Increasing confidence attracts more investors and in turn becomes a virtuous circle, onwards and upwards. Momentum investing is like playing the game of musical chairs: you hope there’ll be somewhere to sit when the music stops. The property game is not limited to a few seats. Widespread availability of propositions enables investors to venture further afield. Outside the hot spots, yields are generally higher not because those places are necessarily neglected through oversight but that growth is hard to come by or non-existent. Despite lower prices, often there is considerably more risk.
On paper it makes sense to capitalise on the difference between the cost of borrowing and the yield obtainable. In practice, it may not make sense at all. A common failing is overestimating the growth potential and underestimating the cost of achieving growth. Often, both factors are symptomatic of tenant-covenant fixation.
Play your cards right and a great deal of money can be made from trading in momentum. Investing for ever requires a different mind-set. Not only a question of timing but also whether the initial yield would be sustainable. After an investment is bought, the investor becomes a landlord and experiences the reality of asset management. A test of performance is the rent review or lease renewal. Naturally, investors/landlords desire a return on capital that is commensurate with their expectations, but at rent review (assuming to market rent) or lease renewal the actual landlord’s aspirations are irrelevant and depending upon skill of the tenant’s advisers could result in less than expected. Moreover, a lot can happen to the whereabouts and/or to a property as time passes: the economy might improve but not rub off on a particular property. To cap it all, the tenant might go broke and the new tenant an inferior covenant.
Whatever the reason for the purchase price, whether sellers offering higher yields for the sole purpose of achieving the highest possible price or high prices bringing out better properties that would otherwise not be sold so commanding scarcity value, any difference between the fundamental value and the investment layer reflects buyers chasing rainbows.
The Rent Review Specialist