Confirmation that Kent has some of the most competitively priced areas to live for property renting commuters has been underpinned by a number of recent stories appearing in the national media.
The BBC looked at 18 'commutable' areas and concluded that rental property in Chatham would benefit tenants with the most economical living/travel costs within a reasonable commute of London. They took into consideration the cost of an annual season ticket – currently £4,124 for Chatham to Victoria – plus the rent on an average two or three bedroom property in the town, which they determined to be £866 a month. A slightly better deal might be to consider a property that Caxtons is currently marketing. It is a three-bedroom terrace house on First Avenue, a no-through road in Chatham, at just £750 per month. This beats the BBC's baseline average cost of annual commute plus rent at £22,604 within Greater London by more than £8,000 – a massive saving.
Other comparable Kent areas within a reasonable London commute would include towns such as Maidstone with a substantial £4,496 for a season ticket but the average rent for a two/three bedroom property would be £10,788, so still well under the £22K marker.
Another property in an area that could provide an excellent alternative to a Greater London address includes a mid-terraced spacious 3-bedroom house within walking distance of Gravesend train station. The rent of £950 a month and a commute to London terminals of £3,646 would make an annual travel and rental total of £15,046, £7K below the baseline.
Amelia Pavey, Head of Residential Lettings across the Medway and North Kent towns said: "We have some great, reasonably priced rental properties at Caxtons and are always looking for more. We understand that while it may be exciting to live and work in the centre of London, there comes a time when for many people, the life work balance changes – that may happen when you meet a long term partner, start a family, or just want to live out of town – and that's where we can help. We have let properties across Kent, from the coastal towns to the banks of the Thames, and understand not only the financial, but also the emotional value of property and how important each one is for both landlords and tenants alike."
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (DHCLG) has announced new measures for the lettings and property management sectors.
Caxtons Chartered Surveyors is a full service property company based in Kent providing property expertise across the South East - including residential lettings and management.
Alan Stewart, director and a Fellow of the Association of Residential Lettings Agents has heard it all before.
"Banning orders against rogue landlords and letting agents who commit offences came in to force as part of the 'Housing and Planning Act 2016' and local authorities will be able to share that information. However, there are so many rules and regulations designed to catch these offenders that just aren't being enforced.
"At Caxtons we hope that if and when the latest proposals become law they are rigorously policed and applied. As an accredited letting and managing agent we already have codes, laws and regulations that are being flouted by some 'fly-by-night' agents who set up with no qualifications or knowledge of the sector. We know that letting agents are already in breach of the existing code that requires us to display charges prominently in offices and online. But nothing is being done to challenge them or let potential tenants and landlords know."
The new proposals are, in general, welcomed by the sector and comprise a compulsory Code of Practice covering all letting and managing agents to ensure that:
Sadly, bringing the proposals on to the statute book will require Parliamentary time, which is in short supply particularly with Brexit looming. And the finer detail of the Code is yet to be finessed by working parties made up of user and regulatory groups.
Housing Minister Heather Wheeler said "Most property agents take a thorough and professional approach when carrying out their business, but sadly some do not.
"By introducing new standards for the sector, we will clamp down on the small minority of agents who abuse the system so we can better protect tenants and leaseholders who find themselves at the end of a raw deal."
It is hoped that the proposals, and the promise that penalties in the form of criminal charges, will be enforced where mal-practice is uncovered.
"This move will reinforce our message about using reputable agents and I believe the non-compliance figure for displaying fees was over 90% with little or no repercussions. The provisions are already contained in the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and it appears that these will be amended and strengthened in the Draft Tenant Fees Bill, which is now working its way through the Parliamentary process." says Alan.
Having completed their examination of the draft Tenant Fees Bill, members of the DHCLG Committee are supporting change to apply stricter regulation to tenancy deposits including smaller deposits, what fees will be permissible, and diligent enforcement of the regulations.
Recommendations include capping tenancy deposits at five weeks' rent, rather than six and returning holding deposits if tenant referencing fails the required criteria.
Industry experts are concerned that the latter will lead to additional problems for tenants and agents. If agents are unable to retain holding deposits and the potential tenant fails referencing checks it may lead to agent bias in selecting only the best tenants to avoid expense associated with failed referencing.
The HCLG Committee Report says the Bill will
...increase letting agents' incentives to compete for landlords' business resulting in a more transparent market with lower overall fee levels and a higher quality of service
and that a fee ban will
....reduce the risk of unfair practices in the form of double charging ... thus making the sector more competitive, more affordable and of a higher standard.
Where leaseholders are concerned, they will be able to challenge unfair fees and service charges and there will be support for leaseholders who want to sack management companies who charge a lot for doing very little.
When interviewed, Sebastian O'Kelly, a prominent campaigner for a fairer deal for leaseholders, recently said he would hope the new regulator is "Somebody who is completely outside the leasehold system, so none of that terracotta army of lawyers and surveyors who depend on the leasehold system and its inefficiencies for their livelihood. It needs a very robust independent regulator who will kick this murky corner of property into line."
At a time of uncertainty, resulting from a concoction of issues including confrontational Brexit negotiations (both at home and abroad), a government with no working majority* and interest rates rising for the first time in a decade, the lettings' market is finely balanced with affordability being a key component for both landlords and tenants.
Landlord returns are being steadily eroded, but if they try to redress the balance by increasing rents the level of demand from tenants will fall.
However, on the positive side the government has announced that letting agents are to be regulated and new proposals will require that they join a professional organisation and meet 'certain minimum standards'. The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) and various other bodies have been lobbying for many years for this to happen.
In addition, while letting agents already have to be part of a redress scheme, this will now be extended to all landlords to enable tenants to complain about poorly managed properties and rogue landlords.
Alan Stewart, Director & head of Residential Lettings & Property Management says: "The buy-to-let sector is still very challenging for landlords who have had to contend with changes in regulations and legislation with investment having been curtailed - particularly amongst the more short term speculative landlords - by the restriction of income tax relief on mortgage interest payments and the introduction of more stringent mortgage affordability tests.
"Pressures on the residential investment market and achievable yields will certainly continue next year with many local authorities introducing selective licensing controls on some properties plus the effect of new Energy Performance regulations, which will increase the financial burden for landlords."
Legislation will be introduced next year to prevent tenants being charged any fees in connection with the letting of a property. This will impact significantly on letting agents
According to latest figures from the British Property Federation the build-to-rent sector is continuing to grow and play an important part in increasing the supply of homes. Combined with this, the Prime Minister has just unveiled a major council house-building programme that will see the release of government owned land and the goal of providing homes at affordable rents.
In the student housing sector investment demand is buoyant. In a recent survey it is estimated that there has been a 24% increase in transactions in the first half of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016. Purpose built student accommodation continues to offer attractive returns, particularly for overseas investors.
Alan continues: "Our region has seen a period of rental stability with tenants now very focussed on achieving value for money when selecting properties. If the accommodation is not well presented we are finding that prospective tenants are looking elsewhere or seeking a reduction in the asking rent.
"I believe that during the course of 2018 we may find that some accidental landlords look to sell their properties and larger investors take the opportunity to restructure their portfolios, but overall demand could be sustained by first time buyers who still cannot afford to purchase a property and there will be more choice in the rented sector with the completion of a variety of build-to-rent schemes.
"At Caxtons we are keen to promote the benefits of engaging a good letting/managing agent who can steer a landlord through all the complexities of letting residential property."
* The Conservative Party has formed a minority government and has signed a "confidence and supply" agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party.