Is residential property the Cinderella of the investment world?

Author: Joe McTaggart
Professional Adviser | 17 Nov 2011 | 08:00

Categories: Property Investment

Topics: residential property| UCIS

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Joe McTaggart, managing director of asset management company Walls & Futures, on why residential property is seldom invited to the asset allocation ball...

Property is one of the four key components of a portfolio, but in investment circles, property means commercial. Residential, like Cinderella, is seldom invited to the investment allocation ball, perhaps because it is not seen as investment grade.

I understand the hesitation; after all, clients already own their own home so have residential exposure. Stories of clients who invested in city centre new build flats which quickly turned from buy to let to buy to regret only add to the negative sentiment.

So, is residential property an investment grade asset? The short answer is yes. Before we really get started I want to deal with the notion that a client’s home counts as investment exposure. In my opinion, this view is the same as saying my wife has exposure to gold because of her jewellery collection. Strictly speaking, it is true, but just because gold hits an all time high does not mean she will be selling anytime soon.

For most, investment in residential property is conducted outside the auspices of a financial professional with guidance and direction being provided by a TV presenter. Perhaps herein lies the problem. Although buy to let has grown to over £200bn during the last 15 years, it is viewed by many as an amateur affair where investment decisions are, made with the heart and not the head. Interestingly this view appears to be unique to the UK.

Tony Keys, professor of real estate economics at Cass Business School, suggests that the optimum weighting of residential in property should be 40%. On the surface this may appear excessive when according to Investment Property Databank (IPD), the UK only allocates a meagre 1%. Things change when we consider that the eurozone average is 17% and that our Dutch and Swiss cousins allocate 47%.

Housing

Unlike commercial property, housing is seen as an essential where demand is stable. In addition risk is reduced because there is a large and diverse tenant pool whose income is largely stable. It also benefits from long term capital and income growth due to the correlation with wage inflation.

This is illustrated when we compare the sharpe ratio (a method of calculating risk adjusted returns, the higher the number the better) between 1999-2010. UK commercial property was 0.24 while residential was 1.15.

Research has also shown that direct investment into residential property acts as a hedge against inflation. With the latest dose of QE being injected into the economy, you will struggle to find anyone who does not think inflation will be an issue for years to come.

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