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I’m not sure I’ve got what it takes to survive a Labour government

In Europe
June 08, 2024

Can I outlast a landlord-hating government? That was the question that came to me as I toyed with the valuation figures from the estate agents.

I hadn’t planned on selling the property in question. I’d owned the 1980s executive three-bed link detached house for 18 years when the tenants of seven years gave notice.

They’d been relocated with their job. I’ll admit, it scuppered my plans. Given how long they’d been there and how happy they always professed to be, I’d been waiting for the call that they wanted to buy it from me. As it was, their departure took me by surprise.

One month. That’s all the notice a tenant has to give to quit a property. It’s not long when you consider a landlord has to give two months’ notice, and it’s likely the tenant won’t even leave after that date and the landlord will face the expense, hassle and delay of a court case.

Given the direction of travel with the anti-landlord rhetoric from the current government – and the disgust that Matthew Pennycook, shadow housing minister, has shown for the sector – my first call was not to a letting agency to organise the re-marketing of such a long-held asset, it was to the estate agents.

I called three and asked them to value the property. When they asked me my reason for sale and I told them I didn’t want to be a landlord any more, every single one replied: “I can understand.”

But since then, that admission has grated with me. It’s not that I don’t want to be a landlord, I’m just fed-up of trying to be a good landlord in this toxic environment. I pay more than my fair share of tax; I abide by a gazillion rules and still they want to leech my soul.

That got me to thinking: how do you know when it’s the right time to sell a property investment? I think it boils down to three main reasons:

Personal

This is perhaps the most controversial, and the most painful. Everyone has their own stuff going on.

Landlords are not immune to breakdowns both mental and marital. They’re not immune to employment woes and financial stress. They’re also not immune to health problems and ageing.

With the endless policy changes and constantly evolving regulatory requirements, being a landlord means you need to always be on the ball. That means always keeping yourself updated and ensuring every box is ticked and every base is covered.

It’s a gruelling checklist and life, as we know, is short. Being a landlord isn’t the most rewarding job, and in this hostile environment it’s understandable to think, “the aggro isn’t worth it”.

Market conditions

No matter what crystal ball we use, we can never know the future. I remember when I first started there was a claim that property prices doubled every seven years.

Obviously, that didn’t account for a financial crash which would decimate values and then a decade of austerity and then whatever the latest crisis is.

The point is that market conditions change, and they can sometimes change rapidly. The problem is that property, unlike many other investments, is pretty illiquid. This means you need to build in lead time if you are thinking about selling.

Realistically, from the time you have the idea to sell to the actual sale completing, you’re looking at the best part of one year.

Property conditions

Properties are naturally entropic. They require continual maintenance and money to keep them in good order. But, sometimes there comes a time, when it no longer feels a “natural order”.

It may be a tenant leaves after a number of years and the property requires a complete overhaul, or that a place needs an unexpected big spend which no longer feels “worth it”.

The fact is, every property – when it is an investment – has a payback period, and sometimes that payback period doesn’t stack.

Decisions about what to do with a property investment are not easy. It is a long-term business with high entry and exit costs, so it’s important to think it through.

Some of the questions you could ask yourself are: How does this property fit into your future? Do you see this as a legacy to be handed down? Can you repay the mortgage or put it into a company to make it more tax efficient? How many problems do you foresee this property and its occupants causing you in years to come? What monies could you take now and how could you reallocate those resources?

For me, I’ve decided to cut and run on this house. But who knows next time? Maybe the next one will be worth fighting for.

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