Why Invest (Or Not) In Property?

Invest in property

I just typed “millennial and property” in to my Google browser and these are the first 3 results:

‘One in three UK millennials will never own a home – report’

‘Millennial housing crisis engulfs Britain’

‘U.K. Millennials Are Getting Priced Out of the Housing Market’

Encouraging? Certainly not. The fact is, ownership among 25- to 34-year has plummeted in the UK over the past few years. It’s hardly surprising, with the insane price hikes in metropolitan centres, coupled with the fatalistic attitude that many young people have that says “why even bother”.

But the fact is, investing in property can be a pretty smart way to watch your money grow. But is it right for you? Let’s look beyond the socio-economic factors of home ownership and assess real estate as an asset.

There are three ways of making money from property: buying a place then selling it on for a profit; buying to let; and putting your savings into a fund that invests in the property market.

So which of these options might be right for you?

When it comes to buying to re-sell or to raise a profit through rent, you need to be a long-term investor. This is because the property sales market can go up and down drastically, as can demand for rented homes. And you can’t access your money easily, like when it’s in an ordinary fund, if you need it back unexpectedly. There are also buying and selling fees to consider (think surveyors, stamp duty, land tax and estate agents’ fees). And you might also have to put in a fair bit of hands-on effort because when managing or “flipping” a property, you’re going to be busy with builders, decorators and service providers.

If all this sounds like a bit of a hassle – not to mention a risk (especially if you’re borrowing money in the first place to make the initial purchase), it might be a better idea to diversify your investment portfolio (remember how important it is to have diverse portfolio?!) further towards property companies. This is known as “indirect investing” and will usually take the form of you putting some of your money in to property unit trusts, property investment trusts, or buying shares in property companies that operate big businesses domestically or offshore.

What’s the deal with property investment trusts (Real Estate Investment Trusts)?

A REIT is a company that manages, buys and sells commercial and residential property. It will be listed on the stock exchange, so you can buy shares in it just like you would any big company. Although it is susceptible to all the usual fluctuations in the property market, it does have some tax benefits and can return a decent profit to you as they themselves pay less corporation tax than other types of business. What’s more, you can hold these types of shares in your tax-free ISA up to your usual annual limit.

Beware land banking!

There’s a small, slightly piratical area of property investment that you might hear about, called land banking schemes. This is where an investment company buys a cheap plot of land that doesn’t currently have planning permission to build anything on, and then go all out to change its legal status (either by waiting or wrangling), so that the value of the plot suddenly goes up astronomically because suddenly it can be built on. Some people can do amazingly well out of these deals. But it’s an area ripe for fraud, and it can be very, very risky. There’s no guarantee that the plot of land your advisor suggests you invest in will ever be a viable business opportunity, and plenty of people lose out this way. So this area of property investment is maybe left to people who like to play a risky game and can afford to win some, lose some. And lose some big.

But don’t be disheartened. Even if you’re not fully on the housing ladder yourself, you can still make the property market work for you as part of a balanced, well-researched investment portfolio;)