Britain’s most controversial buy-to-let landlords, Fergus and Judith Wilson, have sold their remaining property empire of hundreds of homes in Kent to a foreign consortium for more than £250m.
Early in the year, the couple made around £25 million by selling around 100 of their homes to overseas investors, and hoped to be rid of all the houses by the end of next year.
The former maths teachers became the public faces of the buy-to-let revolution,
What really transformed things was the advent of buy-to-let mortgages in the mid-1990s. These provided cheap leverage for the Wilsons, who were easily able to acquire high loan-to-value, interest-only mortgages.
“In early 2000, the main requirement for gaining a mortgage was the ability to sign your name – occasionally we ran out of ink,” Mr Wilson quipped. “It became a joke that mortgage providers gave you an upmarket pen. We had hundreds of them.”
As their properties started to appreciate in value, the Wilsons remortgaged again and again, drawing out equity and using it to buy more properties, mostly two and three-bed houses rather than flats.
“We used to collect them [houses] like stamp collectors,” Mr Wilson adds.
But in an era of tighter mortgage lending and suppressed yields, as rising capital values outstrip rental growth, would it even be possible for a landlord to build a similar empire today?
In a statement to the Guardian newspapaer , Fergus said: “We reached an agreement today with a consortium of buyers to sell our entire portfolio for a figure exceeding £250m. The consortium is foreign and not of any one specific nationality.”
He said prices for houses on his estates “have been rising due to the shortage of available properties on the market”, but added that he had “taken steps to ensure the property prices in Ashford, Maidstone and Folkestone are not adversely affected” and that the sale would make no difference to existing tenants.
The Wilsons had bought houses along the M20 corridor, in Maidstone, Ashford and Folkestone
The Wilsons began their property empire at the start of the buy-to-let revolution in the mid-1990s. At one point the couple were buying several homes a day.
In January 2014, they sparked a national outcry after it was revealed they were evicting tenants who were on housing benefit. They sent eviction notices to 200 tenants, saying they preferred eastern European migrants who defaulted less frequently than single mothers on welfare.
Generation rent: Evicted for complaining about the heating
Buy-to-let millionaires Fergus and Judith Wilson
“Buy to let became an obsession for Fergus Wilson. He is a self-confessed BTL junkie. Each day I must have my daily fix. I look up prices and say to myself what a lucky man I am.”
The statement added: “Owning BTL became a hobby for Fergus Wilson that simply got out of control. He says BTL is the national hobby and is followed by millions.
“Whether you are a tenant or an owner occupier or indeed a BTL landlord you have an interest in the letting industry for letting industry is what it is.”
The Wilsons are selling out of buy to let at a time when many small investors are questioning its future financial viability. In the summer budget, the chancellor introduced a series of taxes to take effect from 2017, followed in the autumn statement by an increase of 3% on stamp duty for buy-to-let and second homes.This has been echoed by the Bank of England the with startling number of buy to let mortgages.
Housing charity Shelter said the refusal of private landlords to accept welfare claimants as tenants is forcing some to leave their home towns or accept poor quality housing.
Landlord Fergus Wilson has decided not to rent any of his more than 1,000 properties in Ashford, Maidstone and elsewhere in the county to people receiving housing benefits.
The 65-year-old tycoon said he prefers to rent to eastern European migrants, who he claimed are more likely to pay their rent on time.
He estimated more than 50% of his tenants in Ashford - and around 90% of those in Maidstone - come from eastern Europe.
Mr Wilson said: "This decision is only down to money - it has nothing to do with the personalities involved.
"When it comes to money, over half of people on benefits were defaulting on their rent, and when it comes to people who are working, we've not had one single person default on one single penny.
"You can appreciate why. Rents are going up in line with the price of houses, and housing benefit levels are dropping at the same time.
"Tenants from eastern Europe, places like Poland, have been here a number of years now and have built up a good enough credit rating to rent privately.
"We won't see the impact of more recent migration for years to come, but people on benefits are having to compete with them.
"My message to people is 'get yourself a job, and you will get yourself a house'."
Tycoon Fergus Wilson and wife Judith own hundreds of properties across Kent
Ex-maths teacher Mr Wilson and wife Judith have built up a property portfolio thought to be worth close to £225million.
"My message to people is 'get yourself a job, and you will get yourself a house'..." - buy-to-let tycoon Fergus Wilson
The couple, from Boughton Monchelsea, near Maidstone, made their millions through buy-to-let investments.
Mr Wilson added: "We sent out section 21 notices telling people on housing benefits that they have to leave after six months.
"I look at other landlords, and every one of them has done the same.
"A lot have gone from natural wastage, as they can't afford to stay."
He added: "The problem is that you have a finite number of houses, but more people wanting to rent them than places are available.
"With that pressure, what tends to give is the poorest people at the bottom of the economic pile.
"We are going to be in a position in the next 20 years where it becomes more and more difficult for people to find housing, and no one seems to have an answer.
"You tell people in a place like Ashford that they need more housing and they're likely to lynch you - they are sick of being built on, but it's a fact."
Housing charity Shelter [100,000 children
will be homeless this Christmas]
this Christmas said the refusal of private landlords to accept welfare claimants as tenants is forcing some to leave their home towns or accept poor quality housing.
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