Current rental climate means decision time for landlords

EVERY landlord dreads void periods and we are currently facing the prospect of 100 per cent of our buy-to-let properties being empty at the same time '“ all two of them.

With both Westminster and Holyrood passing laws seen as unfriendly to landlords, it isnt a great time to sell with many investors offloading typical buy-to-let flats. Picture: TSPL

The tenant in the small one-bedroomed modern flat in Glasgow is coming to the end of his year’s tenure.

However, the location in Yorkhill is close to the universities meaning that it has always rented well and shouldn’t be empty for more than the couple of weeks it will take to wave goodbye to the last tenant, do a little repainting and cleaning, re-advertise and go through the new tenant process.

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After managing it ourselves for a couple of years, last time around we went through a letting agent who offered a fixed fee to find a tenant and in terms of time saved it was worth it.

As amateur landlords we also felt new responsibilities to carry out background checks on tenants would be better done by a professional.

That aside, the property continues to be a good investment, with the agents suggesting we increase the monthly rent from £475 to £595.

Even with the increase, it let very quickly and we took our pick of tenants.

Hopefully the same will be true this time around.

Our second rental property, an even smaller flat in Rothesay on the island of Bute, is a different matter.

Having bought it tenanted back in 2010 for a relative song, the first five years caused us very little hassle.

Our tenant, an older gentleman went into the letting agent’s office every month on the first and paid his rent and apart from servicing the utilities and regular checks by the agent, it was a case of letting it tick over.

However, when he left, we had to spend a considerable amount getting it back up to a standard that was acceptable, including installing a new kitchen and bathroom, and even after it had been spruced up, it was empty for months.

Eventually, a young couple took it on, but now their initial six month lease is up, they have given their notice.

Rents are very cheap on the island and there are a lot of alternative properties.

As an older tenement flat, it could do with further upgrading, not least the draughty single glazed windows which tend to rattle in the Argyll winter.

With so much competition for tenants, the windows aren’t a great selling point.

We’ve been investigating the costs of replacing them but since we bought the place, a conservation status has been slapped on the whole of the seafront and the few streets leading off it.

The flat is in a side street, the building carries no great architectural merit and the surrounding properties all seem to have spanking new uPVC windows, but discussions with the planning officer has complicated matters.

He has suggested that while we are likely to be given planning permission for new windows, they would need to be the same shape as the old ones and work could not start until permission is in place.

Having had a few quotes, we realise that either option – going with the added costs of planning permission but cheaper plastic windows, or opting for more expensive wooden replacements with no permission necessary– is going to cost thousands, much more than the flat makes in a year.

The third option is to sell, although a quick look on property websites for similar flats doesn’t inspire confidence; one flat along the road in Rothesay is currently going to auction with a guide price of £20,000.

It is a dilemma that many landlords are finding themselves in.

With both Westminster and Holyrood passing laws seen as unfriendly to landlords, it isn’t a great time to sell with many investors offloading typical buy-to-let flats.

The only advantage to us of such depressed prices is that a flat valued at under £40,000 isn’t subject to the new LBTT supplement.

Is it too much to hope that the next frenzy of buying will focus on little flats, with draughty windows in locations that don’t seem to be much sought after?

• Louise Ferguson is a freelance property writer with a small buy-to-let portfolio.