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Maximising Profits From A Student Let

By Simon Thompson
Making as much profit as you can is the main objective of any student landlord. Profit is derived from a positive cash flow, which means you have more rent coming in than bills going out. Your student letting business may make a profit already, but you may still be able to make even more money by following some of our tips. Don't make the classic landlord mistake The classic landlord mistake is concentrating on the property and not the finances. Many investors buy a property, refurbish and let then move on to the next investment without considering tax-effective ownership, keeping good financial records and dealing with HM Revenue and Customs. Then, two or three years down the line, the tax man chases them for his share of the profits and they find the lack of record keeping leaves them open to paying more tax than they should, plus fines and penalties. Letting student property is a business and no business can run without up-to-the-minute information about cash flow, expenses and future tax liabilities. Thinking a property 'makes' £35,000 a year because that's how much rent comes in is bad financial management. Rent is cash flow – it's the money the property generates for paying the bills. The money the property makes is the profit at the end of the year after all the bills are paid. Three student landlords can each own and manage identical properties next door to each other on the same street and still make a vastly different profit while receiving the same rental income. That's because variables come in to play for each landlord – one might have a more expensive mortgage or maybe one is a little lax about rent collection and lets arrears build up. Here, we look at finding different ways to bring in more cash. Don't forget not all these tips will work for your student letting business because personal and local factors often limit what you can do. 11 Tips For Improving Profits A business has to remain competitive – that does not mean you can't charge more and become the Stella Artois of student lets, but if you do, you have to offer that little extra that your rivals don't. Letting to students is profitable because a property that might generate £10,000 a year from rental to a single tenant can return twice or even three times as much rent when let on a per room basis. The rewards are greater for landlords who take the plunge in to student letting, but it's not easy money. Student lets are more management intensive than ordinary buy to lets, have increased regulatory standards to meet and often need a greater investment in furnishings and equipment. Pushing up the rents Putting the rent up instantly increases cash flow and the money coming in to the business, and providing expenses and other outgoings stay the same, putting up the rent increases profits. Many landlords are scared of frightening students off by charging rents that nudge the upper limits for their accommodation. A successful landlord is hard-nosed and has to take the emotion out of the relationship with tenants. Soft negotiation, below market value rents and lax credit control lets the tenant take the upper hand in your business. That's what you are running – a business. Any money you give away to the tenant is money you have to find from somewhere else to pay the bills. The fact is too many students are chasing too few letting rooms in most university towns and cities. Offer good accommodation at a fair market price backed with top notch customer service and you will let your property without a problem. Review your rents at least once a year and make a modest increase at least in line with inflation to make sure your bills are not eroding your profits. Pushing down expenses A good businessman knows putting up prices increases cash flow, but pushing down expenses increases profits. You don't want to cut expenses to the bone, but shop around for good deals when insurance renewals and other contracts come up; get quotes from tradesmen rather than relying on a 'mate' and try to find competitive suppliers. It's also a good idea to have a 12-month maintenance plan tied to the financial year (April 6 one year until the following April 5). That way you can budget for the cost and can negotiate a price rather than pay through the nose for a last-minute call-out. Avoiding rental voids Marketing is a crucial part of a property business. A room in a student let is not earning money while it stands empty. Rental voids impact on profits and the pound in a landlord's pocket. Manage your tenants – take a prebooking for the following academic year from your tenants in time to list your property at the local university's house fair. This means you need to have an agreement in place around Christmas or the New Year with your current tenants, as the new intake are generally looking for accommodation during January. Joining a university or local council accreditation scheme will also reinforce your place in the market as students will have more confidence in your business. Manage the rents Students are great at spending money on stuff they don't need and not always as good at paying the bills. Make sure you impose credit control – • Screen your tenants as best you can before they move in • Set a regular date in the tenancy agreement for collecting the rent • Don't let rent arrears build up Just remember it's the landlord that goes short if a tenant fails to stump up the rent on time. The missing money has to come from somewhere – if it is out of cash-flow, then the money is not available to spend elsewhere or is borrowed at cost on overdraft. Refinance your mortgage Easier said than done in the current financial climate, but a good way of improving your personal finances is to remortgage to extract your initial investment back from the business. This is a double-whammy. On the one hand you can set off the mortgage interest as a business expense, while on the other you can put the cash back in your bank or spend the money however you want tax-free. Don't forget many landlords often do not claim interest on the money they borrowed against another property, like their home, as a business expense. The rules say your letting business can reclaim any interest on borrowing, whether they are secured against a business asset or not – this means the landlord's home or even interest on money spent on a credit card. Improve your student house This is not necessarily an instant solution. Improvements are capital costs that are dealt with via capital gains tax when you sell an investment property. The result of the improvement, like an extra couple of rooms in the loft or an extension generate more rent, which leads to improved cash flow and more profits providing expenses do not jump pro rata. One point to watch for is not over extending a property so the size and value makes the home difficult to sell to anyone other than another student landlord. Keep good financial records Landlords need to keep detailed records that are cross-referenced by owner and property so you can: • Look at the financial performance of each property to see which ones make most profit or lose most money and why • Look at the profit and loss of each owner and produce accurate figures for their personal tax returns These records should be archived by tax year and kept for five years in case of any inquiry from HM Revenue and Customs. Keeping solid financial records means you can examine your costs to claim any tax reliefs that are available. This not only applies to day-to-day running costs, but other financial reliefs like capital allowances. For instance, if you own a car and business use makes up 30% of the mileage, you can claim 30% of the running costs of the car – plus capital allowances which are special reliefs for business that reduce the tax you pay. These reliefs are automatic and you do not have to jump through hoops to qualify for them, but you need to prove you have incurred the costs to claim them. Tax effective property ownership This is a simple tax reducer missed by so many couples who own property jointly. Take a married couple who own a student let that makes £15,000 a year profit. If they have equal shares in the property, the one who is a top rate taxpayer (40% or more) has £3,000 to pay HM Revenue and Customs while the other pays £1,500. Often the lower rate taxpayer does not work or has an income well short of the top rate threshold (£35,000 for 2011-12). If the shares are adjusted so the lower rate taxpayer takes more of the profit, the overall amount of tax due is reduced. Note, this only applies to married couples or civil partners as the transfer is capital gains tax exempt for them but not for anyone else. Take our couple above. Switch their shares of ownership from 50:50 to 80:20 in favour of the lower rate taxpayer and the tax liability comes down because the tax on the 80% share is charged at 20% on £12,000 (£2,400) and 40% on £3,000 (£1,200). Instead of paying £4,500 income tax jointly, they only pay £3,600 on the same profits. The strategy has the same effect on capital gains tax. Beware of the stamp duty tax trap, though. If the value of the transferred share exceeds £125,000 and is mortgaged, stamp duty may be payable on the transaction. Kitting out your student let Every property needs occasional maintenance and repairs. Remember your property is your business. You do not live there, so do not expect to finish the property like you would your own home, but think of the needs and wants of your tenants. There's a fine line between overspending and reducing your yield and profits and not spending enough that makes your property unmarketable. Many landlords with more than one property impose the same colour schemes across their portfolio. This way they can buy paint and soft furnishings, like curtains, in bulk and ask for a discount. Buy fittings and furniture for your market as well. Students might like a stylish, top of the range kitchen with granite work surfaces, but be realistic about your tenants and how they will treat your property. Rather than heading for cutting-edge design, you want sturdy, functional and robust furniture and fittings. Students are notorious for knocking things about and not considering the consequences of their clumsiness. If you are not sure what to buy to kit out your house, view a rival student let or go through some photos on web sites to see what other landlords are providing. Some landlords look at reducing their repairs when they buy – for instance flat roofs are notorious for requiring regular maintenance and bay windows are more expensive to double glaze than flat windows. Manage the property yourself Many landlords have no idea what they are letting themselves in for when they start letting to students. If you live a distance from your investment or work full time, you may well want to consider letting through an agent who will find the tenants, collect the rent and handle small repairs. This service costs money – about 15% plus VAT of the annual rent. If you have more than one property with a letting agent, negotiate a discount on the fees – most will come down to at least 12% if not more. Landlords who live close to their investments are often more hands on and manage their properties themselves. This can be labour intensive, especially if you have three or more properties because the problems will fly in thick and fast and sorting them out almost becomes a full time job. Market your features and benefits Look at how the big boys in the student lettings game, like private halls provider Unite, market their properties. The offer a student package rather than a room to let. The packages often include bills, contents insurance, broadband and wi-fi marketed as a single monthly payment. Also highlight your distance from campus, transport links and local facilities. Providing a hotline for dealing with problems and repairs also shows you are customer-conscious. What sort of return should you expect from a student let? If you trade in a void without any figures for comparison, you will never know whether your business can make more money or whether you are at the top of your game. Benchmarking is the process many businesses apply to measuring their performance against others in the same market. The problem is funding reliable data and statistics as comparisons for your property business. Several organisations publish student letting data – NatWest Bank and Lloyds TSB have annual student surveys, London commercial estate agent Frank Knight publishes stats for student lets in London and specialist landlord mortgage provider Paragon Mortgages has a letting index as well. The big corporates like Unite also publish useful data in the annual reports to shareholders. All of these publications can give provide good indicators of performance, like average rents, yields and occupancy, often broken down by region. Comparing these figures with your letting business can be useful, but remember they are often regional averages rather than precise statistics for individual properties. A good measure of profitability and performance is to work out the return on investment or 'yield' from a student let. To calculate yield: • Work the annual rent received • Work out the total annual expenses • Deduct expenses from profits to leave a net profit • Add up your cash investment in the property, which is your deposit plus annual expenses ( from the step above) • Divide the profit or loss by your cash investment • Multiply by 100 For example, you buy a student let for £350,000 and let the property for an annual rent of £22,000 and annual expenses of £8,000. Your cash deposit was £87,500. Net profit is £22,000 - £8,000 = £14,000 Cash investment is £87,500 + £8,000 = £95,500 Yield is £14,000 divided by £95,500 x 100 = 14.65%
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Drop In But-to-let Investors Hits London's House Prices

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Landlords offload 4,000 BTL properties a month

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Buy to let is set for 'massive surge'

Despite the gloom over the UK's buy to let sector, landlords are being encouraged that the market will surge over the next seven years.

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Landlord and Letting Agent Survey 2018

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Labour pledges a ‘living rent' for tenants

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Rental deposits could be capped at five weeks' rent

The government says that rental deposits being charged to tenants should be capped at five weeks’ of rent.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government committee has been struggling to find an acceptable level for deposits that are demanded from

Posted by on 09/04/2018 10:47:18
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Record low rates for buy to let five-year mortgages

The rate for an average five year fixed buy to let mortgage has fallen to 3.43%, a figure not seen since last October, data reveals.

The Moneyfacts website says this drop in rates is down to lenders wanting to attract potential borrowers who are consid

Posted by on 22/03/2018 13:23:08
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The north is 'best to invest' in property

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Posted by on 22/03/2018 11:22:46
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Northern Powerhouse highlighted as a global property investment hotspot

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Posted by on 22/03/2018 11:13:16
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New housing watchdog will target rogue landlords

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Posted by on 15/03/2018 14:24:17
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Posted by on 14/03/2018 15:10:48
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During this period, the proportion of properties advertised

Posted by on 06/03/2018 15:16:44
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Posted by on 06/03/2018 11:21:29
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The warning comes from Tim Miles who is a partner at law firm Clarke Willmott.

He says that the Government is cons

Posted by on 28/02/2018 16:22:18
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The better the reputation of the University, the more likely the student population is to grow and increase the demand for accommodation. T

Posted by on 20/02/2018 11:10:38
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Student habits can change pretty quickly and what was once a new trend can quickly become an established feature of a dynamic market.

For this reason

Posted by on 07/02/2018 11:21:00
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This year we have reviewed rents across private housing, private halls and univer

Posted by on 31/01/2018 10:49:58
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Landlords are increasingly unwilling to accept universal credit tenants

A big rise in the non-payment of rent in those areas where universal credit has been introduced has been predicted.

The National Landlords’ Association (NLA) says that universal credit will lead to a decrease

Posted by on 16/01/2018 12:12:59
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The offering from Simple Landlords Insurance is to help landlords avoid a

Posted by on 16/01/2018 12:09:56
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New minimum HMO room sizes for landlords revealed

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The government says this will help reduce the issues of over-crowding and also deal with po

Posted by on 12/01/2018 15:22:36
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Research reveals that 2017’s rents fell in real terms

The rents being paid to landlords in all parts of the UK fell in real terms during 2017, research suggests.

The findings from HomeLet reveal that rents in November rose by 0.7%.

That's the 11th straight month that rent increases have fallen beh

Posted by on 12/01/2018 15:12:34
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Landlords can now receive Universal Credit directly

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The Residential Landlords' Association (RLA) has been campaigning for the move since the introduction of

Posted by on 12/01/2018 14:56:54
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Tax relief worth billions still available for landlords

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The revelation from estate agents ludlowthompson points to the fact the money is available over t

Posted by on 12/01/2018 14:54:16
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UK's student accommodation sector will continue strong growth in 2018

The provision of student accommodation in the UK will continue to grow through 2018 after a record-breaking 2017, says one real estate firm.

Cushman & Wakefield has carried out research that reveals 30,000 bed

Posted by on 12/01/2018 14:41:47
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Tenants are put off by misleading property adverts

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The findings from online letting agency Upad reveal that 80% of tenants say th

Posted by on 14/12/2017 09:23:32
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Landlords more willing to let to Universal Credit claimants

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Research carried out by the Residential Landlords’ Association (RLA) reveals that 36% of

Posted by on 14/12/2017 09:21:40
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Draft Tenant fees Bill
On the 1st of November 2017, the government published the draft tenant fees bill. You can read the full document here
Posted by on 17/11/2017 11:27:16
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