Notoriously large private landlords, former school teachers Fergus and Judith Wilson, have for some time been trying to off-load their entire buy-to-let empire of approaching 1000 properties. Rumour had it they were in talks with Chinese and US investors.
News has now broke that they have sold off a batch of 100 homes – half of these to a single Chinese investor who they expect will be looking to resell them to other smaller investors in China.
According to Hilary Osborne writing in The Guardian newspaper, “If you rent a house in Ashford, Kent, you could soon have a new landlord after the UK’s best-known buy-to-let homeowners.”
Fergus Wilson has said that the 50 properties have been sold to a Chinese investor who he expected to sell them on individually to small investors at a profit in China. It would seem that other investors from the Far East have and some have been sold to local buyers have bought the balance of these 100 Wilson properties for an estimated total sale value of over £25m.
Mr Wilson has confirmed that the deals were going through now and that other deals were due to be completed over the next few days.
The Wilsons, who started to build their portfolio of mainly semi-detached buy-to-let properties housing mainly families in Kent well before the “credit crunch”, in the 1990s, have been in the news regularly.
They caused something of a stir in 2014 when they sent out eviction notices en-masse to lots of their tenants who were claiming housing benefit, arguing that foreign tenants who were not on benefits were more reliable in the way they paid their rents.
The Wilsons would have preferred to sell off the portfolio they own as a who to one investor, but it appears that strategy has not been successful and consequently the have started to sell off their investment in parts, even submitting some of the properties to auction. Although originally an agent seemed to be looking for a single buyer for all of the properties, the portfolio is now being sold off in parts. Existing tenants are having their rental contracts switched to
Mr Wilson has said that he considered selling of the properties through auction could be a good way of giving locals an opportunity to buy as the properties would have “modest” reserve prices set on them, and if bidders were few they could get a bargain.
Mr Wilson told the The Guardian newspaper “Selling at auction means you might miss out on a few thousand pounds for a quick sale… However, if you are making on every property £100,000 and you think you will lose £2,000 or £3,000 but get rid of them quicker, and without lots of calls from the lawyers asking about that shed a tenant has put up and things like that, it might be worth it.”
Wilson acknowledged that said selling off a large number of homes in one area had its problems:
“In Ashford there is nothing available – I own it all. We totally dominate everything – it’s not intentional and we’re not proud of it.
“If you want a three-bed detached home, what we used to call a mini-executive house, there’s not one on the market other than ours. If we put 10 on at once there’s a glut and the price goes down.”
At 67, Wilson said it is time to sell. After a 20-year post-retirement investment programme, the Wilsons have seen financial success albeit undoubtable accompanied with some personal stress. They do plan to hold on to handful of rental properties.
Mr Wilson thinks that current price rises were unsustainable:
“Prices always used to go up so a property would double about every seven years, so about 13% a year. I used to say 10% was quite healthy, but when you see them going up at 25% you think it can’t continue.”
He thinks that foreign investments into London are having a knock-on effect on his local market in Kent as money moves out of the capital.
“You have buyers from overseas paying £1.5m for a home for their children while they are studying over here – people from London who have been there 55 years sell the property and come down to Kent and once they have bought somewhere they still have the other £1.25m left over.”