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12 Feb 2020

Buy-to-let landlords: should you join the exodus to Airbnb?

A new report claims 230,000 landlords are 'likely' to switch to short-term lettings

Hundreds of thousands of buy-to-let landlords are considering switching to short-term lets, according to a new report.

ARLA Propertymark, the professional body for letting agents, says embattled investors are turning to holiday letting sites such as Airbnb, in a move that could have a major impact on the rental sector.

Here, Which? explains the reasons landlords are switching and offers advice on the financial implications.

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Landlords switch to short-term lets

A new report by ARLA Propertymark says 230,000 UK landlords are 'likely' to switch to short-term lets.

The estate agency body says one in 10 landlords are tempted to join the 46,000 investors who have already made the move.

Landlords with five or more properties said they were considerably more likely to take the plunge.

This comes at a time when the number of listings on Airbnb is soaring.

ARLA says listing numbers on the lettings site rose by a third in 2017-18 to reach 223,000, with London (77,000 listings) the most popular area.

Edinburgh saw the biggest growth, with listings tripling between 2016 and 2018 to reach 32,000.

Why are landlords looking to switch?

Landlords have faced a tough few years, with a swathe of reforms to everything from stamp duty to tax relief threatening their profits.

Nearly half of landlords told ARLA they had begun offering short-term lets to enjoy greater flexibility.

Two in five investors cited the impact of increasing regulations in the rented sector as their reason to switch.

A further quarter said that short-term lettings simply offered bigger profits.

Are short-term lets a problem for tenants?

ARLA says a major increase in short-term lets could be bad news for tenants, as a fall in the number of available properties will result in rents increasing.

It has made a number of proposals to prevent an exodus of long-term landlords.

ARLA says the government should seek to ensure an even playing field in terms of regulations and taxes for long and short-term landlords and must consider the impact of any future regulations which incentivise short-term lets.

UK rules around short-term lets

The growth in short-term letting has led to some cities imposing restrictions.

For example, in Amsterdam, the maximum number of days in a year that homeowners can let on Airbnb was halved from 60 days to 30 days last year.

The following rules apply in the UK:

  • In London, short-term lets are limited to 90 days a year. For longer, you'll need planning permission for a 'change of use'.
  • Elsewhere in England, Wales and Scotland, properties available to let for 140 days or more are subject to business rates rather than council tax.
  • In Northern Ireland, anyone providing tourist accommodation as a business must have a certificate from Tourism NI.

Tax implications of short-term lettings

If you let out an entire property through Airbnb, you'll need to pay income tax on your profits through self-assessment, and will be able to deduct some expenses when calculating your profits.

In this respect, the system works the same as for standard buy-to-let landlords.

One of the main taxation benefits of short-term letting, however, is you won't be affected by the changes to mortgage interest tax relief, as furnished holiday lets are treated as a trade by HM Revenue & Customs.

Changes to mortgage interest tax relief have proved very unpopular with landlords, and from April 2020 all investors will only be able to claim a basic 20% credit against their mortgage interest payments.

Mortgage implications of listing on Airbnb

Letting out a property on Airbnb may put you in breach of your mortgage conditions, so you must contact your lender to discuss your options.

Buy-to-let mortgage affordability is usually calculated based on the projected income from a full year of letting a property, and holiday lettings aren't designed for this purpose.

With this in mind, it's worth speaking to a mortgage broker to see which lenders offer suitable deals, or consider a specialist mortgage designed for holiday lets.

Is there profit in short-term lettings?

The short-term letting sector is growing, but landlords will need to be savvy about where and what they're investing in to make a profit.

A new report by the rental agency Luxury Cottages claims that short-term rentals generated £4.2bn in 2019.

Landlords using short-term rental platforms made an average of £23,000, and benefited from average yields of 9.8%.

Luxury Cottages says the best yields came in areas that combine regular tourism and relatively cheap housing.

Coastal areas enjoyed the highest yields, along with cheaper cities such as Liverpool and Newcastle. High property prices meant London finished bottom of the table.

Top five areas for short-term rental yields

LocationRegionAverage purchase priceAverage rental incomeYield
LeistonEast of England£247,000£79,00032%
SaltburnYorkshire and the Humber£105,000£31,00030%
LiverpoolNorth West£88,000£24,00027%

Source: Luxurycottages.com. Analysis based on data from 2,170 postcodes in England and Wales, using Land Registry and AirDNA data.