James Coney  

Making property as boring as pensions

James Coney

James Coney

Avid readers of The Sunday Times will know there is a regular slot where we interview celebrities about their fortune.

There is one question that routinely causes a row: do you invest in property or pensions?

Almost every famous person answers the former, while hardly any invest in shares or funds.

(The notable exception was Frank Bruno, who was not only a savvy investor, but a committed saver.) 

Life is different for the wealthy and I can see why they may want to diversify, but the problem is for many, property is their only investment.

In fact, they are banking on it for their retirement.

The additional issue is that this rhetoric supports the idea that property is the best asset to invest in to retire.

Certainly if you speak to the man in the street, the idea of property as some kind of holy grail still persists.

Last week, insurer Royal London published a survey that found 29 per cent of 45-to-55 year olds were considering using pension freedoms to withdraw cash and buy property.

Read that last sentence again if you need to. It is quite clearly madness, but I can believe every word of it.

Indeed, Royal London’s research looked at how those cashing in a pension to buy property could face 66 per cent tax bills, which I bet many would wander into blindly.

I understand why so many Brits believe in property: they have seen house prices rise beyond their wildest dreams.

They have an asset they love, have spent thousands renovating, and where their children grew up.

They are attached to it and it has made them money. You do not get that with a pension.

But we all know it is not real cash, because you have to sell to realise it and that is where it gets very expensive.

What is strange is that with investments and pensions we have become very familiar with debates about charges, and even though, in general, pension fund fees are extremely low, conversations still rumble on about their value.

Yet for some reason when it comes to investing in property, those attracted to it routinely fail to add up the fees.

It is not just stamp duty; it is the cost of the mortgage, surveyors, agents, rental voids, renovations, capital gains, income tax and so on.

And besides, running a buy-to-let empire is hardly retiring, as you will be managing it until you are kicking up daisies.

Property remains in a different realm to pensions and investing but we have been treating them differently for too long.

The only way to win the argument for ordinary investors is to start comparing them like-for-like.

By all means let’s look at property price growth alongside that of shares, and compare the yields.