Property investment – income or capital growth?

We are often asked by investors whether they should focus on rental income or capital growth when considering a property investment. The answer is very simple – it depends on whether you are confident that the capital growth product will perform at the level you expect it to.

Some investors believe that while they are working and earning an income the emphasis should be on capital growth. They have no real need for an additional income and the aim should be to maximise their return over the period they hold the property. If the market performs well and prices rise substantially the return on their investment in geared/mortgage investment should be higher than the typical rental income they would have enjoyed. As he or she moves towards retirement the emphasis should then change towards income producing assets which would replace the previously earned salary. There is nothing wrong with this strategy, although in practice few people adopt it when it comes to property. Investors become familiar with a sector such as residential where the emphasis has been on capital growth and do not have the confidence or knowledge to diversify into income producing sectors such as commercial or industrial. The danger with this strategy of course, is that all markets suffer corrections from time to time. If you are forced to sell when prices have dropped you may lose all the gains made to that point.

Someone once remarked ‘You never go broke making a profit, no matter how small that profit is’. It sounds simplistic, but when it comes to property there is a lot to be said for it. Lots of astute investors believe that a high net rental income is far more important than the unknown variable called capital growth. They are satisfied with a real net return, after all costs and taxes, of 5% – 8% p.a., and believe that any capital gain through an appreciation in the value of the property is an additional bonus. It is hard to argue with this point of view, especially given that even relatively low capital and rental growth should match inflation over the medium term so the real value of the income enjoyed does not fall. The rental income investors adopting this approach enjoy is certainly better than current bank interest rates and it is accessible now rather than sometime in the future when the property is sold.

Before we are deluged with emails telling us that we should not forsake capital growth, let us clarify what we are saying. We are firm believers in capital growth opportunities. However, there are times and circumstances where, within a diversified property portfolio, the income oriented properties should dominate. Retirement is the obvious one we mentioned above, another is when there is considerable uncertainty over the prospects for capital growth within a preferred market. In any event, both opportunities should be included in most portfolios with the only real issue being in what proportion

As our clients will know, we recommend the residential sector in central London and New York and Walton pre-development land in the USA as safe and financially rewarding capital growth opportunities. They offer exposure to different countries, currencies and sectors and the historical returns have been attractive. Condos and single family homes in the USA offer a mixture of high income (5% -7% net) plus capital growth over the medium term. Some will see them as more capital growth plays, but the income is attractive enough for them to qualify as a hybrid opportunity. Student accommodation and storage units are examples of opportunities where the emphasis is on income (7% – 8% net) with some capital growth.

Determining the correct strategy for an investor is best achieved by first discussing his or her needs and objectives. Once these have been identified it is then a question of selecting the opportunities that meet these. Some investors will want primarily capital growth, some will want income. At least with the right advice and opportunities, investors can make an informed decision and make the right property investment.