An Introduction to Investing Through Property Crowdfunding
Traditionally, only those with access to large amounts of capital have been able to invest in the lucrative world of property. Managing a portfolio is normally time-consuming, business, which becomes increasingly more burdensome as the investor’s portfolio becomes larger.
However, in the last few years, a new method of property investment has emerged which has effectively democratised the entire investment process, allowing more people than ever to benefit from the financial gains that property investment can offer.
Property crowdfunding sprung onto the scene in 2012, and is now worth billions of dollars a year worldwide. The value of the industry currently doubles every two months, and is set to be worth $250bn by 2020.
The growth of the property crowdfunding industry has been catalysed, in part, by the relaxation of regulations over the last few years. The Government has identified the industry as being hugely beneficial to the economy, and has also begun investing in crowdfunding itself. Institutional investment is also coming into play at an increasing rate, and high net worth investors, attracted by the simplicity of the process, and the returns available, are also investing through property crowdfunding.
But why is investing in property crowdfunding proving so popular?
Offering the chance to build a diverse portfolio without all the legwork involved in traditional property investment models, and with the opportunity for significant gains, it’s no surprise that investing in property crowdfunding has grown exponentially in the last few years.
What’s more, as interest rates on savings continue to crawl along the seabed, and returns from both rental and sales continue to rise, more and more people are waking up to crowdfunding as a simple way to grow their money.
How Does It Work?
Property crowdfunding encompasses both equity investments and debt based investment (also known as peer to peer secured lending).
The concept itself is relatively simple.
Equity investments involve a group of people pooling their cash to buy a property as shareholders through a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’ (SPV). The SPV is a limited company, set up solely for the purchase of that property. The SPV handles all the work, fees and maintenance of the property, whilst the shareholders receive their proportion of the rental yields, and/or share of capital gains when the property is sold.
People can invest even very small sums in buying shares in the property. On some platforms, this is as low as £50, but the average is between £500 and £1000 as a minimum. You can (and should) spread your investment sum over a number of different properties across the crowdfunding platform, to mitigate risk.
Getting started is a very quick and easy process. You simply register on your chosen website – it is an FCA requirement that only registered and accredited investors may participate, and, once registered, you simply select the properties you wish to invest in.
Debt based investments again involve pooling resources, in this instance, to make micro loans through the platform to a third party borrower. The loan as a whole is secured against the borrower’s property and the platform appoints an agent to act on behalf of lenders and take any necessary enforcement action. These types of investment are usually short term (up to 12 months, and pay a fixed rate of interest with no capital growth).
Where Did It Start?
The House Crowd is the longest-established property crowdfunding platform. It began trading in 2012 and offers both debt and equity investments. Since then, other companies have followed in their footsteps, such as Property Moose in 2013, and Property Partner and Crowdlords in 2014. The industry continues to expand, with several new platforms emerging each year.
Is It Regulated?
Property crowdfunding firms are all regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which ensures that platforms are managed properly, and that risks are made completely clear to investors. As with any investment, there is risk to capital – but it’s worth comparing this risk against other investment classes, and seeing how property crowdfunding stacks up.
Before investing through property crowdfunding platforms, it is very important to do your research. Every regulated platform should have the FCA authorisation number clearly visible on their website. If you can’t find these details, it’s probably best to steer clear: without this regulation they are operating illegally.
Is It The Right Choice For Me?
As with any investment, you need to take into account your personal circumstances to establish whether it is the right one for you.
You can find out more about establishing whether property crowdfunding is the right investment for you here.
Ask yourself what you wish to achieve. Investors with a lot of professional experience and access to bank funding, may find the model less appealing than those who novice.
If, on the other hand, you don’t have a deposit available, or aren’t able to get a mortgage, then investing through property crowdfunding could be an ideal way for you to access this asset class. And, given the government’s recent attacks on landlords, which has severely undermined the profitability and viability of buy-to-let investing for individual investors, it may well be that crowdfunding remains the only sensible option available for most.
The same principles that apply to other forms of property investment also apply to crowdfunding. You should be aware that capital growth profits are speculative, and investing in properties that produce a healthy cash flow is key for minimising risk.
One of the major risks associated with cash flow positive properties is that of damage or non-payment of rent. As such, you should always factor this in as an eventuality that may affect your yields. As mentioned above, however, if you have a well-diversified portfolio, with your capital spread over several properties, any losses due to one bad tenant will be more bearable than if you had all your eggs in one basket.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to your risk tolerance. You do lose a large amount of leverage by investing through property crowdfunding, and you will only benefit proportionately from the property’s capital growth but, at the same time, having no borrowing means significantly less risk as there are no mortgage payments and no danger of the property being repossessed (as shareholders own it outright).
If making crowdfunded debt-based investment, (aka peer to peer lending) you need to know what would happen if the borrower defaults and does not repay the loan. You should ask questions about how your investment would be protected, what happens in the event of a default – how easy is it to take control of the secured property? – and how much equity is available to enable you to recover your money should the worst happen. Unless there is sufficient equity in the property, you could risk losing some or all of your money.
You should ask questions about how your investment would be protected, what happens in the event of a default – how easy is it to take control of the secured property? – and how much equity is available to enable you to recover your money should the worst happen. Unless there is sufficient equity in the property, you could risk losing some or all of your money.
If you opt for debt-based investments, your investment will be secured by a legal charge. A critical matter to consider is at what LTV the loan is made. If, for example, a loan is made at ‘75% LTV’, it means that you will be at risk of losing some of your capital if the borrower defaults, the property has to be seized, and is sold for less than 75% of its current valuation.
Debt investments are generally considered to be lower risk than equity investments, as lenders are always paid out before shareholders, however, you do not get the potential upside of capital growth.
What About If I Want Out of My Investment?
If you need a liquid asset, then property is not the best choice.
Investing through property crowdfunding facilitates liquidity to some degree as it may be easier to sell shares in a property than the whole property. However, there is never any guarantee that you will be able to find a buyer, and, fi you cannot do so, you will have to wait until the property is sold.
Some platforms will help you to find a buyer after the expiry of a minimum term, but you should check the small print before you invest. If you’re looking for a short term investment, P2P secured lending may be the better option.
We hope that this has offered you some valuable insight into getting started investing through property crowdfunding. Of course, you should know everything about the ins and outs of any investment before you part with your money, and we are fully committed to helping you know all you need to.
If you have any questions, you can always get in touch with us and we will be very happy to fill you in.