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So, I was banging on mysteriously in my financial review of 2022 about some major changes in my portfolio, and the biggest one is that I have sold my rental property in the UK. This was something under consideration for a long time – indeed, it’s a year ago that I made the first call to an estate agent to get a valuation. During my portfolio valuation in March 2022, I realised that 60% of my net worth is in property. Since around 30% was in pensions, it meant that there was very little liquidity.
Whilst I don’t need a ton of liquid cash, I am at a point where I need more flexibility. That might mean having more accessible money for investing in a side hustle, or a smaller property in Kenya as I plan my transition there. So it doesn’t mean putting it all under the bed in a cardboard box but it also doesn’t mean hosting so much of my net worth in one property.
I write about housing and home ownership a lot, especially recognising the tensions where structural inequalities impact people’s ability to own a home and how this affects generational wealth. I also recognise that the UK rental market is an absolute catastrophe, with rising rents and rising uncertainties holding back a huge number of people from fulfilling their potential. It isn’t just about whether people can buy a home of their own: spending huge amounts on rent means that it’s harder to save for a future, and lack of stability in the market is impacting the sense of living in ‘permacrisis‘ which is impacting mental health for so many.
All of which are critical conversations. But this post is just about the decision to sell my rental property, and how it is working out so far.
One of the main challenges with having such a heavy lean towards net worth invested in property, is the level of risk. Whilst owning a house to live comes with a certain amount of risk, it is very different to owning property as an investment. If my house that I live in goes down in value, all the other houses locally will likely go down in value too meaning that I haven’t lost out substantively: the market has changed for all. Plus if I want to live in that house, as long as I can pay the mortgage (hello rising inflation), it balances out.
With the uncertainties in the housing market in the UK, I felt that the risk was too great and that I would be stuck with the house forever. I had bought the house planning to live in it with my kids, but then I got a job overseas and now I really don’t see us moving back any time soon. Whilst it was a good house for us when my children were smaller, I had planned for it to be a ‘five year home’ and we are past that point – even if we wanted to move back, the size and layout of the house, and proximity to a decent secondary school, means it doesn’t work for this season in our lives.
Whilst the rental income was covering costs, it wasn’t enough to make the locking up of all other assets worth it. In fact, choosing to rent out a house that I had bought as a family home only made sense when I was thinking we might move back to it. Many FIRE podcasts talk about this – basically, what you look for in a rental property and a home for yourself are different. Which is not rocket science, but good to remember.
Paula Pant has some useful guides to working out whether a rental property is worth it. You can have a read for yourself to get into the complexities of it, but my property fails at the first hurdle. Paula’s ‘one percent rule’ recommends that you only consider a property where the rent equals one percent of the purchase price. So if you have a house like mine where the acquisition price was £360,000 it should rent for £3,600 per month. Whilst the rental markets in the UK and US are totally different, by the time of the sale (noting that the value had increased, and I had frozen rents at the same amount since 2016), rent for my property equaled less than 0.25% of the market value.
So I decided to sell. I wanted to treat my tenants well, and gave them six months notice that I would not be renewing their tenancy in September. I agreed a price and put the house on the market. Since things are so strange at the moment, I had no offers for some time, then an over asking price offer which I accepted immediately. There was a lot of negotiation trying to get things done as quickly as possible on their side so they could be in for Christmas, and my recognising that just after my dad passed away, I was really not capable of dealing with very much. So, with help from the estate agents, we muddled through and completed on the sale 10 days before Christmas.
And that’s it! It feels like a long post but it was a decision which took so much thought, and one where a lot of the thinking was basically crystal-balling in terms of what would happen with housing market, mortgage rates and so on. And in the end, I had to make a decision based on the information that I had at the time, and what season of life I am in right now. I am finalising the financial assessment of how it went and will share in a future post (including all the joy of Capital Gains Tax woohoo) but for now, I am excited about what’s next for that money, and hoping the new owners had a great Christmas in their new home.