Institutional investors now back in UK residential rental housing: What does it mean?
Investors such as Prudential are now buying to-let residential housing in England. After decades of absence, the housing crisis seems to be the driver.
The quadrupling in the size of the private rented housing market in the UK over the past decade reached a watershed moment in 2013: institutional investors are now getting back into quality rental housing ownership. Prudential PLC ended a 30-year absence from investing its assets in the sector with the purchase of 500 newly constructed homes, promising to increase its portfolio there in the future.
Since the 1970s and 1980s, individual landlords with small portfolios largely dominated the landscape in private to-let housing. Indeed, the National Landlords Association says that a growing proportion of private landlords – currently, 73 per cent – rent only at market-rate, not to recipients of local housing allowances. Some of this can be attributed to the strength of the rental market, as more working people can afford to pay rent but are unable to buy their residences.
The introduction of the 1988 Housing Act changed the scenario for private landlords, as they were enabled to charge market rates for housing. About two-thirds of residential rental properties are held in small (one or more units) portfolios owned by individuals. The remaining one-third is held by companies that, for the most part, are real estate firms.
But the long-term cash flows of rental property look increasingly attractive to institutions with money to invest. Analysts note that residential compares well to commercial properties, where deep-pocketed investors have been concentrating their assets in recent decades. Additionally, development of raw land sometimes focuses on the rental market already, where the market demands it. Residential properties beat commercial in both total returns and risk adjusted returns, in addition to outperforming equity and gilt markets. The total annual return for to-let residential investments is 9.78 per cent (vs. 5 per cent for commercial), according to analyst M&G Real Estate (formerly known as PRUPIM).
One attractive aspect of the residential rental market is that it is more inelastic to economic downturns than with commercial. In an economic trough, commercial spaces empty as businesses shrink or close, but housing is more resilient as even unemployed people find ways to stay in their homes if at all possible. Elsewhere in the Eurozone – Switzerland and Germany in particular – a robust institutional rental market has always been healthy.
But perhaps the biggest driver in the UK rental market is a simple acceptance that ownership is beyond the reach of much of the country’s burgeoning population. With 7 per cent growth over the past decade (Census 2011), the country’s homebuilders are only constructing half as many homes as needed. The tight supply, as well as stringent lending and unattainable deposit requirements, have made renting the only rational option.
Strategic land partnerships and homebuilders are responding to this shift by building for to-let owners. Indeed, land development specialists who assemble investors (often operating as capital growth partners) are now speaking to local planning authorities about the rental option. Where employers need people living nearby, rental housing may be the answer – particularly if workers need to be flexible to moving. With companies such as Prudential entering the market, competition for good properties may heat up.
Interested investors in any type of housing need to go about it with due caution. Many choose to invest via land investment funds that are managed by a strong team of strategic land investment advisors. Speak with an independent financial advisor to examine where land and property investing fits into your overall portfolio risk profile.