Today I am excited to host an interview with my guest Robert Weaver from Property Partner. Rob has tons of experience in property and is pretty much the main guy when it comes to selecting properties, negotiating prices and closing big deals behind the scenes.
He is also super friendly to talk to!
If you’ve been reading Foxy Monkey for a while, you must have noticed that I’m quite keen on this new way of investing in property. I think property can be one of the best investments if done right. The clear advantages that Property Partner has brought to common investors like myself have inspired me to share my experience on the blog and openly talk about my property investments.
Rob and the team were happy to have me at their offices for a short chat. One of the topics I really wanted to cover was TRUST. Trust is super important when investing.
As I’m slowly building my target allocation of £50,000 in British property, I want to make sure that Property Partner is a legitimate company with measures in place that I can commit to.
I keep reminding myself:
Rule #1: Don’t lose money
Rule #2: Don’t forget rule #1
If I’m investing £100-200 then maybe it doesn’t matter. But as I, (and I know some of you), invest some serious money on the platform lately, trusting a company is of ultimate importance.
Of course, there are other things we touched on with Rob, such as:
- Why invest with Property Partner when you can do it yourself?
- Portfolio building for long-term wealth
- Investment plans vs Property Picking
- London in the next 5 years
- REITs vs Property Partner
- Efficient market hypothesis in Property
Oh, and why Foxy Monkey is the most boring investor of all times 🙂 The video is 35-mins long and it’s sliced in 7 chapters for easy digestion. I have not been paid to do this interview. Enjoy!!!
Update (15 July ’19): Since the publication of this post, the Property Partner fee structure has changed. Investors are now also charged an assets under management fee (AUM) the structure of which you can find here.
This interview wouldn’t have been possible without the massive help of another person from Property Partner – Faraj Jabbour. Thanks so much, Faraj, working with you makes things so much easier.
1. Why Property Partner?
Michael: Hi, this is Michael from Foxy Monkey and today I’m with Rob Weaver from Property Partner. Thank you, Rob, for inviting me.
Michael: Rob is the Chief Investment Officer at Property Partner and I’d like to ask a few questions about Property Partner and the work that you do here. I see a lot of interest in the platform.
For those that don’t know, Property Partner is a property crowdfunding web platform. It allows investors to invest in property in a hassle-free way. Foxy Monkey is a personal finance website focusing on investing, lifehacking and basically passive income generation.
The goal is to become financially independent. To have enough passive income that will eventually cover your living costs which makes you financially free. Rob, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what Property Partner is and your role here.
Rob: Property Partner essentially is a crowdfunding platform. We invest in property. Originally, it was residential property, we’ve migrated to Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA). We’ve been going 4 years and have a good track record.
Started with our very first property in Croydon and we’ve grown in size. We moved up to buying blocks of flats and blocks of student accommodation. We’ve got longevity and a portfolio of £135m and vary every time we put a property on the platform.
Is it better to invest in Buy-to-Let myself or via Property Partner?
Michael: That’s great! I’ve certainly seen a lot of interest in the platform. You’re the guy who’s behind all important acquisitions and negotiations, right?
Rob: Pretty much, yes. That’s my day job and it’s what I’ve been doing all my career. That’s what sets you apart from doing it by yourself. Doing Buy To Let by yourself means you’ve got to learn the market and might not necessarily get the best deals in the market. Generally, with buy-to-let people invest in their local area. They can’t get exposure to the rest of the UK.
Makes it difficult to buy in Newcastle, or Sheffield and take advantage of the Northern Powerhouse. So we cover the UK. But also, as an individual, you can only buy 1 or 2 properties. So all your risk is concentrated in these 2 properties. And yes, things can go wrong.
What’s more, they’re also putting a big piece of debt on it as well, borrowing 70-75%. You’re taking a high concentrated risk and then amplifying it further through the mortgage. In my mind, that’s quite scary. I wouldn’t necessarily do it that way.
Speaking of tax, the rent interest offset is ending soon, so now, traditional buy-to-let is going to generate very little income, if at all. Some people who’ve already bought in, they might find themselves in negative income. But those who buy through a corporate structure may still do that (offset the rental income against the mortgage). So basically the Property Partner advantages are:
- Regional diversification
- Buy a small piece of each property, but many pieces
- Buy into properties that otherwise you wouldn’t be able to buy on your own (£3m student block)
You can always invest in REITs but you get to buy into all the properties, whereas here you get to choose. You want to invest in the York market, then you can do that.
And the final piece, which is the holy grail in the property market is liquidity. It takes a very long time to transact in property. Through Property Partner you buy shares in a vehicle and those shares trade. We’re seeing £1m a month trading on the platform.
Michael: It’s a lot of money. This was one of the main advantages I saw when I started investing with Property Partner – liquidity and the secondary market. Because when you invest in property it may take months for you to take your capital growth back.
Yeah, you may get the rent every month, but capital growth can only be realised when the property is sold.
Rob: But also, it’s a risky time, because you usually need to remove the tenant before you can sell it. Then you have the risk of vandalism. I’ve seen some dreadful cases where people are caught in nicking the radiators and the hot tanks and have to turn the water off!
2. Can I trust Property Partner?
Michael: Where I want to focus on is trust. Because trust is very important when investing. I may be investing some money in Property Partner but I want to make sure that Property PArtner will not close shop and leave. And I want to make sure that my investments will last, that the company will last. Talk to us how Property Partner ensures that my money is safe.
Rob: Ok, sure. We’re buying property, we’re not buying other things. It is in a very well established legal framework. All property transactions report to the Land Registry.
The way we’ve structured it is this. You can only have four names in the Land Registry. So we’re buying in a company structure which is on the platform. It’s a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) and that will be the only entity of the property. So that will be actually at Land Records.
You can actually do a satellite view on Google Maps or a Street View and see the actual property that you’re buying. It’s there, it’s not a hole in the ground. It’s a genuine property and you can drive past it yourself if you’re nearby. That’s the entity along with the Land Registry records.
Now on the safety side, the SPVs are separate entities from Property Partner. At the dreadful event of us going bust, for example, the property is there, with its ownership and a separate ownership structure. It’s up to the practitioner who will come in and look to do what he needs to do at that stage.
We have a contingency plan where we have put money aside if that happens, so that’s a nice safety net. But rest assured, the properties have separate ownership, we have no control over it. We cannot borrow money and go buy a racehorse for example. The properties are there and are real tangible assets.
Michael: Is Property Partner FCA regulated?
Rob: Yes, Property Partner is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
Same with the trading platform. It’s called a Multi-level trading facility, regulated by the FCA. It’s literally one level down from a full exchange like a stock exchange. This place is a huge regulatory compliance office. We have to do daily reporting on trades. We’re able to do shorting and spread betting, which we don’t do, but we’re able to do that.
Michael: Ok, that’s interesting to hear. Because trust is really important, especially if I want to put some serious money. Maybe if I put £100, £200 that’s ok. But if I want to put some serious money, a big chunk of my net worth into property, I want to make sure that if I don’t go via the traditional buy-to-let route then my money is safe.
Rob: Absolutely. I get nervous when I’m buying a lampshade on the internet, whether the lampshade will turn up.
Michael: Which is why I’m doing this interview at Property Partner, actually!
Rob: Exactly. This is a different money. This is your long-term money, the high-value money to you. It’s got to be the safest deployment. And that’s why we treat it as such. That’s why you can actually look at the property, you know what you’re investing in and it’s legally allocated to that entity. You can’t get much better than that.
Michael: That definitely covers me. I’m glad that you guys are also very transparent about it. So when you didn’t know about me, having a blog and having an online presence, there were a lot of people who helped me. Such as Kyle, Faraj, to understand more about the platform. I actually even came and visited you just to make sure this company is real, haha!
Rob: Yeah, we do have an open office policy as well. You can come and visit us anytime. Because it’s nice and reassuring. There’s an office and there are real people there.
Rob Weaver’s Expertise at Selecting Properties
Michael: The reason I wanted to interview Rob is that he’s an expert in buying and selling properties. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that?
Rob: I’ve given up a long career to come and work here. I was really attracted to the liquidity and the diversification. That got me out of the Royal Bank of Scotland and the sort of big institutional jobs all my career and I’m now doing that.
I’m a specialist in buying a certain type of property. I don’t do commercials, for example, I only do residentials. These are the markets I know and I’ve got contacts in them. And I’m actually buying properties that a buy-to-let investor cannot buy, usually the entire block.
I’m actually buying properties that a buy-to-let investor cannot buyRobert Weaver, Property Partner
The advantage of buying the entire block is that:
- I control the freehold
- I control the service charge
- There is no ground rent
- I’m buying at a discount
Instead of buying one flat at say, £200,000, I’m buying 10 of them at £180,000 each. So it’s a better deal all around. As I said, we have contacts in the market. We know what we’re looking for and how to negotiate. This is our job.
Michael: Right, because myself, as a software engineer, I’m not an expert in property. Obviously I’ve read a lot out of interest but I’m not as good as a professional would be. So I think it’s important to let the professionals do their job. But at the end of the day, as an investor, you have to take the risk. It’s your final call.
Rob: It is, yes exactly. But not quite, because although I might choose that property, ultimately we put it on the platform and you don’t have to invest.
Is the Property Partner fee reasonable?
Michael: Reminds me of active vs passive funds that we have in the stock’s world. And usually people say, you should always invest in active funds that there are a manager and active decisions behind the investments. Let the professionals do their job. But actually, it all comes down to fees.
Yeah, sure, I want to let the professionals do the work but it comes down to fees. The reason I invest with Property Partner is that unlike active management, it has a very good fee structure for property. If I remember right, premium investors have some benefits, like 0% or 1% fee. But even a non-premium investor can invest with a 2% one-off fee per property.
This means that if I hold the property for 5 years that comes down to 0.40% per year. Which is something I’m willing to accept for all the work that you do.
Rob: I know. The other point I wanted to add, is that once we negotiate a deal, that’s the deal that goes on the platform. We don’t take a part of that. Take the Golden Hill Fort for example – cracking deal – that goes on with the price we negotiated. That’s the contract price and that’s what goes on the platform. There’s no creaming off haha!
3. Portfolio Building For Long-term Wealth
Michael: I wanted to talk to you about portfolio building and long-term wealth. I know you have two sides, one which is the equity side where you purchase properties and rent them out, and the other side which is the development loans.
That’s me lending my money and Property Partner in partnership with a 3rd party lending my money to a developer. The developer then pays Property Partner back and its investors.
Rob: They are two very different pieces. With the equity, you only own the property with leverage. You benefit from the up and the down of the value. Whereas with debt, it’s a loan – so you get a coupon, a rate of interest. So if the value of the asset moves up and down you don’t benefit from that.
So in a way, in a rising market, you’re not going to get gains and in a defensive market, you’re not going to have losses. Unless it’s a wipe-out in which case it’s a total loss. It is a risk. And there’s a risk chain.
Rob: 1st charge, lower risk. Then you have the mezzanine loan, the 2nd charge and at the very top the equity piece which carries the highest risk, that’s the first loss. I think you were asking me what’s better or worse, property equity or loans.
But you can’t see it as that. You’re getting a higher return for your risk. Now is the level of return commensurate for the level of risk? It’s not better or worse than the first charge, because you’re getting a higher return they’re getting a lower return, but they’re safer.
Michael: Yeah, I guess the question is: Is your risk-adjusted return better which is the million-dollar question I guess! This is what we have to do as investors and assess the opportunity and say: Yes, this sounds like a good deal, I’ve done my due diligence, I’ve read the papers etc.
I see you disclose a lot about properties before asking investors for money.
Rob: Take the mezzanine loans, the 2nd charge loans. We offer an innovative IF-ISA. Take one loan that is delivering 11% returns over 12 months or 15 months. That’s 11% tax-free because it’s in an ISA. Therefore, if I were at a high tax rate I’d have to be earning 20-odd% (to make an equivalent 11% net).
Where can i generate 20% in a non really-risky environment to get that level of return? So in a way, yes I’m happy to invest in that.
Michael: ISA is a tricky one, actually. You can only invest up to £20,000 a yea. By investing in an IF-ISA you’re sacrificing some of it, there’s an opportunity cost involved. You’re not investing in something else in order to invest in a development loan. So it has to be a good deal for you to get into.
Rob: Yes, exactly. If you’re getting 10-11% return, then yes.
4. Brexit and Property
Michael: Shall we talk about the elephant in the room? Brexit? I know a lot of people are worried and are scared of investing. I actually know some people from outside the UK that have contacted me on Foxy Monkey and said “I want to invest in Property Partner”. Because I know you allow European investors on the platform as well.
These people have told me “I’ll wait and see how this Brexit thing plays out and then I will invest”. What’s your view on that? What’s the impact so far and in the future of Brexit?
Rob: There are two areas and two markets I know best. Residential property and student accommodation. They’re very different. The residential market is slow right now. As a consequence, capital growth has slowed and it’s a very difficult call to actually know where the market is gonna go.
Suffice to say, that we’re still an island, we’re short of property and the population is growing. So you know there will always be a supply and demand issue. But there are periods of uncertainty and Brexit is one of them. Capital growth has slowed and we see less interest in residential accommodation whereas phenomenal interest in our loan bonds.
That’s because it’s an interest and you’re taking away all the exposure in the residential market. It’s the same asset class, different purpose. It’s a loan and you’re getting interest and have no exposure to the capital movement of it. So you de-risk any price drop by doing that but you’re going to miss out on price rise.
Conversely, student accommodation is an institutional market. Institutions are looking for long-term planning and income. Student accommodation has been a very resilient asset class. It’s been through the global financial crisis with a very little drop.
It has really big curveballs thrown at it: Tuition fees should have a massive impact but no impact no value going through the long term records. So it’s a very resilient defensive asset class and it’s delivering what looks like a strong income. Again when you look at the risk-adjusted returns, compared to commercial which is 3.5 – 4%, student is 5-6%.
You’re investing in university which is delivering good, acceptable levels of income. We see a strong interest by institutions and a lot of consolidation which has resulted in yield compression. Brexit had very little impact on that particular market.
Great tax treatment on student accommodation for limited companies
Michael: From a tax perspective, it’s quite lucrative for myself and others to invest as a limited company. That’s because Property Partner pays the rent as dividends. This means if you invest as a company, then the dividends are tax-exempt because of double taxation.
I know tax is boring, but I’ve written a long piece on how taxes work on Property Partner. What matters is your after tax returns. And if you can find a nice way of doing that, like through an LTD then it’s a win-win.
Where do you see London property in the next 5 years?
To continue on the Brexit and London side, obviously, London is not growing as fast as the rest of the UK right now. London is a market of its own, isn’t it? Where do you see London in the next 5 years? I know some properties on PP Are trading at -15% discount.
Rob: We try to stay away from prime London. We acquired with a capital growth theme in mind, which is Crossrail, a major infrastructure adding value. We acquired those in 2015 throughout the year and have bought others since then. So they had the benefit of capital growth but that has eased off. House pricing have since to show 4% maybe even less.
Another of those we’ve actually sold and returned the cash. We think maybe they won’t that much higher and where they had a discount we said let’s prove the value and return the cash to investors. We’ve done that in 3 examples already.
But regarding prime London – Chelsea, Mayfair, Battersea – it’s a very difficult one. It’s a market I don’t know personally very well, it’s very high end, big money. It’s a very niche sector.
Michael: You’re trying to stay away from prime London.
Rob: Absolutely. We’ve always been middle-market. So if the market is declining, people from the high end will come through and if the market is growing people from the bottom will come up through. It’s the middle transition point. That’s where we’re trying to be.
But I’ve always been amazed by how resilient London can be in my career. I couldn’t understand why values have been growing so much until somebody at a conference came to me and said: London is the capital city of the world. When you look at it from that perspective, you take away the local market and it’s where international money are looking to invest.
Michael: I think a lot of people just invest in London because they know it’s a market they will not lose. It’s not only about wealth grow, it’s about preserving your wealth. When very rich people invest in London, that’s what they care about. They care about investing somewhere they know their money is safe but they’re not losing.
Rob: The very prime London is very bizarre, it’s where the uber-rich invest. And they’re quite insulated from the recession as they’re so cash-positive.
I think we just have to get through Brexit one way or the other. To be honest, it’s not knowing that it’s the most damaging bit.
A bad decision would be better than no decision.
Price vs Value
Michael: Speaking of assets and pricing, investing is a funny one. They say there are no good or bad stocks. Any stocks is good at the right price. It’s the same with London I guess. I may look like a fool if I’m purchasing London right now, but what if I’m buying London at 20% or 30% discount?
Then 5 years down the line it plays out well. So I think it’s finding the right price for the asset and not just buying Manchester because it’s Manchester right now.
Rob: I agree. We had a property in Eastbourne and a property in Newcastle or Manchester on our platform. One was showing a high yield. I was talking to investors and said “oh it’s definitely that one”. They were like, “no not necessarily because that’s in a really core location in the central business district in Manchester so it should be a low yield.”
What we’re doing is that we’re offering different levels of discount for the property. So we’ve adjusted that out. When you’re getting the different yields, the properties are equally good.
5. Should I Invest in REITs or Property Partner?
Michael: I’d like you to talk to me about Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and how they compare to Property Partner. I invest in Property Partner but I also invest in stocks and funds. REITs are real estate investment trusts which invest mainly commercially. How do they compare to Property Partner? Is it better to buy an investment plan in Property Partner instead of investing in a REIT?
Rob: There are not many REITs to invest in to start with. There are some, like British Land which specialises in offices, Regional & Capital more industrial and moving to shopping centres, etc. On the residential side, there are a couple of specialist ones which are quite small. On the student side, there is one called Empiric.
The difference is, REITs are totally taxed transparent, money comes in comes out without much taxation. But you’re buying into a fund and the fund manager’s expertise. It’s a big conglomerate.
The difference with property partner is that we don’t have the tax benefits, but you get to choose which property you want to invest in. There’s also PAIFs, the Property Authorised Investment Fund which is the property version of a trust. They’re also tax-transparent. REITs are closed-ended and the PAIFs are open-ended vehicles. The residential REIT choice is limited. Commercial, no problem at all.
6. Should I pick my own properties or use an investment plan?
Michael: Speaking of investment plans, this is a way for an individual to invest in Property Partner without having to pick individual properties. It’s like, I give you the money and you make the investment selection for me (minimum of £1,000).
You invest my money the same way that other people invest in the platform, in the sense that there’s no bigger bonus. It’s just that you’re buying into the expertise of someone at property partner.
Rob: Yes and no. It’s not an individual that goes and selects the properties for you. It’s an algorithm that’s written by Property Partner based on a certain number of facts. Such as the biggest discount to trading value, income, growth, and so on. You can choose based on different parameters and that will deploy the lump quickly.
Investment plans is property investing made more simple.Rob Weaver
We have quite a few SPVs now, I think 120 to choose from. That’s quite a tall order, there’s a lot of choices there which makes it slightly harder but that’s what we do. Investment plans are an easier, quicker way to deploy a large lump.
Michael: Right, it saves time, it may provide better results as well. I want to compete with myself hehe. I was thinking of splitting my portfolio in 2. One in investment plans and one using my own selection.
Rob: Haha! I’m a property person so if I’m picking properties I’ll pick them myself. But yes, it’s whatever your preference is.
7. Is the Property Market Efficient?
Michael: When we invest in stocks, bonds, funds, we have this theory the efficient market hypothesis. It says that every bit of information is incorporated in the price of an asset. So if I’m buying the TSLA stock at $180 a share, all the public information is priced in.
So I’m not gaining or losing much (alpha) right now if I buy this individual stock right now. I was wondering how this compares to property. If I’m buying a property at let’s say, £300k, is there some value that I can extract as an individual or is the market so efficient.
Rob: The market is efficient. But it’s not totally efficient because it’s not a transparent market. It’s not a totally liquid market. That hypothesis works with liquid markets such as stock exchanges and tradeable shares where large volumes are traded.
Property is very different. It’s lumpy and it can take 6 months to transact. Also, there are other things going on and one of the biggest attractions of residential property is the nature of it. It’s made up by owner-occupiers who don’t behave the same way as commercial institutions.
When you get value falls, owner-occupiers won’t say “Alright, I’m moving out of this sector and going to live in a bond”. You just don’t do that. It’s your home and it’s your home for life.
Even if you’re selling you’re going to buy another home so it’s trading within that. If the value goes down by a long way, like in the Global Financial Crisis – up to 20% in the residential market – a lot of people may find themselves in negative equity. They are not sellers.
So what happens, is that the supply reduces massively and the supply and demand dynamics kick in. For example, in 2008 the residential market declined by 20% peak to trough, whereas the commercial was nearly 50%. That’s because as a fund manager I need to act on the behalf of my investors, sell and get out. Or close an open-ended fund after a big run on redemptions.
That’s what happens. But commercials come back up again. It’s very volatile, that’s why residentials are the least volatile markets of all the asset classes while good performing over the long term.
Michael: If I’ve seen something in London, it is what’s called sticky selling. Where the price doesn’t really go down because no one sells and there are not enough properties in the market. The price doesn’t drop because no one wants to sell which is why the price is called sticky.
Rob: But it’s where my job comes in to spot the opportunity and negotiate a discount. That is what I call proper pricing. For example, on our platform, there is an interesting property called Golden Fort. This is a Grade I listed “monument”, it’s a fantastic fort on the Isle of Wight.
The receivers don’t have much knowledge of the property because they hadn’t developed it and they had to take control. They’d sell it ‘as seen’, no warranties or anything like that with it. We basically bought if for £2.7m with the value of the property at £5m. So a very very big discount.
That was the right price to pay, bearing in mind the risk taking on. There was the uncertainty of the planning, there’ve been earth collapses, Isle of Wight subsidence. That’s a minor – I know that Victorian people building forts would overspec it. It’s like a siege. And they’d know where to put it, away from the subsidence.
The inherent knowledge that fundamentally is ok eradicated all these risks with planning and subsidence. I had a nice walk over the perimeter at the night before we exchanged. Also, I spoke to specialist insurance to make sure we’re not in an area of subsidence (we weren’t). We spoke to the manager and we tracked down the contractor.
It’s spotting these things, the knowledge of knowing that this property is sound but I will get a very good price on it.
Michael: Indeed. And investors took it very very well. Usually, when I go to property partner I like to sort by discount and get the best value. The Golden Fort was the last one, meaning it had the highest premium out of hundreds of properties!
Rob: And another one. We have an opportunity fund which sits in cash, and when the right opportunity comes that needs cash to purchase, we act quickly and do it. So we saw a student block selling at auction. That’s odd, that’s the wrong place for it.
Failed to sell on the day, I know I wasn’t surprised by that, so we were able to pick up the phone and we were able to sign the contract with a cash deposit straight away. We wanted to do it quickly, it actually took us 2 weeks but we were able to move on that one and get a great price. Once we established it and stabilized it, it would have a much bigger value.
It’s about spotting those opportunities – they don’t come every day but they’ll come.
Michael: In hindsight, I would have definitely bought in the fort but I didn’t. Well, it’s a risky one! Actually, a friend tells me I’m the most boring investor of all times because I just do boxes. Flats, not edgy, usually city centre, haha but I quite like that! I’m that type of investor 🙂
Rob: (Golden Hill Fort) is a solid investment. It’s solidly built, it’s got granite works at the stairs the most indestructible state you can come across! I love that one.
Michael: Well, Rob, thank you very much for spending the time with me today. I’m sure people will find it valuable, and I wish you best of luck to you and Property Partner. I’ll stay in touch and update people with my portfolio as well if anyone cares 😉
Rob: Haha, pleasure. Share the performance!
Disclaimer: This is not investment or financial advice. This is for general education only. I have not been paid to do this interview but I will receive compensation if you sign up to Property Partner using the affiliate links in this post. When investing, please seek professional help and as always, do your own research.