September 2021 marked 25 years since the arrival of buy to let mortgages. In that time, the UK’s property market has proved its resilience, weathering the storm through two recessions, a global financial crisis, the withdrawal from the European Union, and a pandemic. Throughout this feature, Surrenden Invest looks back at what has shaped the UK’s private rental sector to make it into the thriving entity it is today, and investigates what valuable lessons investors can learn from its growth.
History of UK buy to let
The UK’s buy to let (BTL) sector has come a long way in the past 25 years, growing from a relatively small, niche market into a multi-faceted, lucrative area of the property sector. The first buy to let mortgage products officially launched on September 24, 1996, when the Association of Residential Landlords (ARLA) developed a mortgage product tailored to landlords with a small group of lenders.
This groundwork facilitated much-needed investment into the rental property market in response to rising demand from tenants and an overall shortage of homes across the nation. Since then, buy to let has become a mainstream consideration for buyers and is generally accepted as one of the best performing asset classes. The tangible nature of property and its track record of delivering returns that consistently outpaced stocks and shares have seen its popularity grow considerably.
Today, the widespread availability of BTL mortgage products has seen the number of landlords surge to 2.65 million in the private sector, owning a staggering total of over £1 trillion worth of homes across the UK. But how did buy to let manage to position itself so firmly in the marketplace? And is there still room for property investors to capitalise on the sector?
The 1990s: UK homeownership peak
Despite the availability of BTL mortgage products emerging in the late 90s, the story of the UK’s buy to let sector seemly begins around 20 years earlier.
Following the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, major changes took place. At the time, only 55% of Brits owned the home they lived in, yet this figure was about to witness a stark increase, with the introduction of the Right to Buy (RTB) policy introduced under the Housing Act 1980.
By 1995, the Right to Buy policy saw the public sector to private ownership side of the market rapidly shift, with almost 2.1 million homes transferred through the scheme. This, coupled with 100% mortgages, which granted more people than ever before the possibility to access the market, saw the nation witnesses a massive boost in ownership compared to 15 years before.
On top of this, the overall level of new-build housing has dropped since the 1980s. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that house building declined by 44% between 1980 and 2014. This trend continues to be a problem despite the government’s continued promise to deliver 300,000 new homes per year to ease supply issues.
Despite the early 90s recession slowing down the rate of homes sold under the RTB scheme, the 1990s became one of the UK’s strongest decades for homeownership levels. By the turn of the millennium, homeownership levels had hit 70%. At the same time, however, the private rented sector started to gain traction. The introduction of dedicated buy-to-let mortgages in 1996 naturally saw investment levels rise.
Commenting on the introduction of BTL mortgages to the market, John Heron, the former director of mortgages at Paragon Bank, said:
“Borrowers could get finance at up to 75% of the value of the property and affordability would be assessed on the income the property generated and well as the landlords wider financial circumstances. In addition, landlords would be able to make the most efficient use of capital available and maximise their return due to the option to take out interest-only mortgages.”
By 2007, rising prices year on year led to the average property price reaching a record high
Lending fell from £45.7 billion in 2007 to £28.5 billion in 2008
Market rebounded quickly, rising from £9.6 billion in 2010 to £37.9 billion in 2015
The nation’s private rental sector now accounting for 22% of all homes