Lettings going from strength to strength
In fact, in many parts of the country, rents are approaching or even exceeding the same level as mortgage repayments.
This further reinforces the view that the underlying issue holding back property sales – and thereby driving much of the demand for rentals – is less one of mortgage affordability and more a question of mortgage availability.
A recent report, published jointly by estate agents Savills and property website Rightmove, illustrates the overall situation. It estimates that Britons paid around £48 billion in rent to private landlords and institutions last year, and forecasts an increase to £70 billion within five years, as rents and the overall level of renting both continue to rise.
Indeed, by 2016, the report estimates that one in five households in England will be renting in the private sector.
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Meanwhile, as the rentals sector continues to boom, so too does the buy-to-let market, which has seen a corresponding increase in the number of people considering investing in property.
This includes those new to lettings, as well as seasoned investors looking to purchase more properties to add to their existing portfolios.
With its traditional advantages of first-class value for money and convenience for commuters, these national trends are marked here in Essex, according to the county's lettings professionals.
Steven Bond, managing director of Beresfords Lettings, says: "The lettings market is on a real high, with our offices reporting strong demand and high levels of interest in all price brackets right across the county. Properties are being let within days or even hours of them coming onto the market, provided they are offered at a sensible price."
The increase in rents is good news for landlords, he says, highlighting a trend towards longer lets. "Many tenants are choosing to stay put and extend beyond their original tenancy term. By moving out they run the risk of having to pay even more for a similar type of property."
The busiest sector by far, says Steven, is for properties commanding rents of between £500 and £1,550 per calendar month (pcm), with the highest demand being for two and three bedroom houses. "At the same time, however, large numbers of younger people who may previously have been first time buyers are searching for studios and one and two bedroom apartments to rent. There is even a steady stream of tenants – many of them London commuters – looking for much larger, prestige properties."
Finally, he adds, as the popularity of renting continues to increase, landlords and tenants alike are becoming more aware of the need to use properly regulated agents. "The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) is the recognised professional body who regulate the lettings industry. Member agents have to adhere to a strict code of professional conduct. In particular, rental payments and deposit monies paid to ARLA agents are automatically protected, similar to ABTA agents in the travel industry."
Not for the first time, Chelmsford and surrounding areas present a microcosm of the lettings market across the county as a whole. According to Michelle Reedie, residential lettings manager for Fenn Wright, the rental market in and around the county town is particularly buoyant. "Due to the strength of tenant demand, we are letting properties immediately," she reports. "Fortunately, the supply of properties is relatively good at the moment, as home owners who have struggled to achieve the sale prices they feel their properties should fetch are exploring the rental market instead."
Among rental properties currently on their books, Fenn Wright have an attractive and unusual character lodge-style property in Little Waltham, just a few minutes' drive north of the city centre. This 2/3 bedroom detached home, which has its own off-road parking area, is available unfurnished from July at £900 pcm. Other properties on offer range from a magnificent 5-bedroom family home on The Quay at Burnham on Crouch at £3,495 pcm to a studio flat in Chelmsford itself at £475.
Meanwhile, a trio of properties from Beresfords illustrate the sheer variety of homes available to rent across the county:
First, situated on Chelmsford Road in Shenfield, less than a mile from the station, is a well-presented detached family house with 4 double bedrooms (one ensuite), 2 reception rooms, a garden room, kitchen diner and utility room, off-road parking plus a garage, and well-kept rear gardens offering views over open fields – available furnished or unfurnished from August 1st for £2,850 pcm.
Second – for those who hanker after something completely different – is a beautifully converted church in a rural part of Crays Hill. Overflowing with unique period features including some stunning stained glass, it offers a magnificent vaulted living room, 4 bedrooms, a superb fitted kitchen with granite work tops and good-sized grounds with parking – and is available to rent furnished from the end of this month for £1,850 pcm.
Finally, available either furnished or unfurnished from 1st July is a magnificent Grade II-listed country house set in a wooded enclave on Spital Road, just a few minutes from Maldon and 6/7 miles from the A12 and mainline station at Hatfield Peverel. Standing in substantial grounds which include a long gravel driveway and even a moat, it boasts 5 bedrooms (2 ensuite). The monthly rental of £4,000 even includes the services of a gardener!