In case you’re not aware of it yet, the Property Partner fee structure has just changed to mainly introduce an Assets Under Management (AUM) fee. This recent change will hit portfolios with less than £25,000 with an extra 1.2% fee per year. The portion above £25k will be charged a fee of 0.7% per year.
I was negatively surprised by this change and must admit was also disappointed by the way it was communicated. I recently published a video about the platform while being quite supportive of what they’re doing. The innovation behind something like this in the property technology sector is amazing. The ability to invest in multiple properties in different locations around the UK, with zero hassle and with a subset of what I’d normally need for a traditional BTL route are all remarkable advantages.
But at a cost. This cost was quite low until recently. Now the fees are going up and after talking to many existing investors I will try to answer the following question in more detail: Is Property Partner still worth it?
Last week, I had a chat with the new CEO (Warren Bath) and here are my thoughts after considering everything.
Things I don’t like about the new Property Partner fee structure
- Pretty much the whole new fee structure for small portfolios (<£25k). It makes investing with Property Partner less attractive since higher fees eat into our performance (see how much in the later section).
- The fact that it was communicated very poorly. It felt like there was no warning or any sign of it coming really. One day I just got an email that my investments are now charged 3x the previous fee. I didn’t sign up to this and certainly didn’t take it into account when making my property purchases the previous months.
- The fact that there’s no (easy) exit strategy for those who recently invested based on the old terms.
- Positioning Property Partner as an asset management company but not acting like one. Usually, funds have an AUM fee but don’t have an entry charge. That’s only happening in very few places. The general industry trend is a race to zero which is a big win for investors. Arguably, funds can do that because they deal with very large amounts of money. The economics of scale allows for better pricing which benefits investors pooling their money.
Things I like about the new fee structure
- I no longer need to worry about Property Partner being a sustainable business. This was one of my biggest worries when investing with them as the 2% one-off fee and no fee for ongoing management was simply too good to be true for the work they put in.
- Fees will probably come down from up here. There is the sourcing+vendor fee which is now 3% down from 3.5% and I would like to see the transaction fee promos becoming a permanent change. That’s ZERO transaction fee for portfolios >25k before an investment goes public and only 1% tx fee for the first week of investing.
- The development loan fee structure remained unchanged. So basically, we can still enjoy the same benefits such as 10-11% returns inside an ISA for this type of investing.
Is Property Partner still worth it after the fee change?
I think this question is better answered with numbers. Numbers never lie. They’re the answer behind marketing techniques and fancy brochures. I like to dig deep and always do the math regardless of whether I’m choosing an investment platform or buying a box of poultry selection for my cat.
In Property Partner, we have 3 main fees to pay when investing in property equity. Equity means investing in houses/flats, not development loans. At the time of writing (21 July 2019):
- Account fee: £1.20 per month
- AUM fee: 1.2% per year up to £25,000, 0.7% above
- Transaction fee (one-off): Between 0-2%
- New listings: Currently ZERO for premium clients (>£25k) when investing early, 1% for everyone in the first week, 2% otherwise.
- Resale market: 1.5% (1% plus 0.5% stamp duty)
To better illustrate the numbers, I will demo 3 different portfolios. A portfolio worth £20,000, one at £100,000 and a smaller £2,000 one. Portfolios are being built incrementally which means that about half the time they invest in Premium deals and half the time they buy existing properties in the secondary (Resale) market.
A) Fees on a £20,000 portfolio
As expected, the income of our £20,000 portfolio will take a hit of the full 1.2% AUM fee because it’s under the £25,000 threshold. AUM fee: £240 per year. Account fee is always the same regardless of portfolio value, £1.20*12=£14.40 a year.
Now regarding transaction fees, I think it’s silly to think of them in annual terms. Property is a long-term asset and if you plan to invest you better think in 5-year+ terms. You wouldn’t buy a BTL and sell it in a year anyway. So I think it’s better to pick a, say, 5-year horizon and average out the one-off transaction fee over the years.
I won’t bother you with all the calculations. I built a simple Excel spreadsheet that shows the overall Property Partner fee and expected return based on your portfolio value and a holding period. Use File -> Make a Copy to get your own version or you won’t be able to edit mine. Here it is:
From what we see, a portfolio investing £20,000 would have to pay £304 per year, or percentage-wise, 1.52% over 5 years of investments. That’s quite high in my books, especially when compared to the previous fee of 0.25% per year for the same conditions. (0 AUM, 0 account fee, 1% or 1.5% tx fee one-off).
Total fees (p.a.): £304 (1.52%)
B) Fees on a £100,000 portfolio
Given the fixed account fee and the high percentage on smaller portfolios, things ought to look better for those willing to put more money down. Again, the maths prove the point as shown below:
Portfolio Value: £100,000
Term: 5 years
£50,000 invested in Primary deals (0% first week), £50,000 in the Secondary market (1.5%)
Total fees (p.a.): £1048 (1.05%)
As expected, the overall fee goes down the larger the sum. Again, here’s the link to my Google Drive calculator to add your own numbers. Use File -> Make a Copy to copy your own version, or you won’t be able to edit mine.
Looks like the best way to drop the fees is not only to invest more than £25,000 so that you take the benefit of a lower AUM fee (0.7%) but also to invest only in early-access Primary deals.
How would our £100k investor pay if investing only in primary deals using early-access?
The transaction fee is 0% for early-access primary deals. Now, will this last forever? I’d like this to be a permanent feature, rather than a long-term marketing discount. Especially given the dramatic increase in the existing fees. Things do not look that bad this way:
Total fees when investing £100k with 0% fee and only in primary deals: £839 (0.84%)
Despite the negativity in the air, bigger investors are still doing OK. In my opinion, a 0.84% annual charge is actually still reasonable for the work they put into finding deals, managing tenants and running the technology behind the secondary market. Even better, if the fees come from investments in below-market-value deals thanks to PP buying multiple units in bulk.
C) Fees on a £2,000 portfolio
If you’d rather invest a smaller sum such as £2,000 then the fees are much higher. For a typical £2,000 buying into the resale market, you’d pay £44 a year, or in percentage terms 2.22%.
Therefore if you make a 7% return on your investment, that’ll drop to 4.78%. So investing £2,000 will return £140, £44 of which you’ll pay in fees. As you will also find out in my conclusion below, Property Partner is no longer worth it for smaller investors.
My thoughts on the company
Overall, I don’t think Property Partner is an evil company that wants to extract as much profit as possible from investors. I believe they’re either going to become sustainable/profitable or keep relying on cash injections from their investors (such as Octopus Ventures). But investors want to see results or the investment tap will eventually close.
Therefore, I can understand why they’re doing this fee restructuring. I mean… I guess It’s either this or they close shop (<- my words, my opinion). And I wouldn’t vote for the latter.
From what I believe, they have been taking shortcuts to tackle the profitability problem in the past. But property is a long-term asset and needs to be managed like one.
Providing this easy-access, zero hassle way to invest in a diversified UK portfolio has its costs and they need to make sure they’re making enough money to run a decent business. I guess anyone has the option to follow the traditional buy-to-let route instead, with whatever that entails.
Personally, I have invested almost £20,000 so far and I’m not pulling out. I will stay invested and see how my properties perform. As a typical passive investor, this goes against my “Avoid high fees at all costs” rule but I’m happy to pay for diversification against my main stock/bond portfolio as long as my northern properties are performing well (I’ll draft an update post at some point).
At a glance, my dividend yield (before AUM fee) currently stands at 4.86% and my total portfolio value is £19,810 with total deposits of £19,000. It’s quite hard to compute my annualised performance since I have been investing for about a year but not everything invested at once at the beginning. In fact, most of my investments came after testing the waters first. Therefore I need to do some more digging in the data before publishing my yearly performance.
If I had much more money invested in Property Partner, this change would do less damage but it is what it is right now. If something, this is a lesson when investing. I hate to repeat the classic “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” but in times like this, different baskets gives us options. And this is what the classic quote is all about.
Fees were introduced in a very poor manner
This is what made me angry. The way Property Partner introduced fees felt really bad. Sure you had in your terms and conditions that an AUM fee can be charged per SPV but when I invest I usually want to know the facts upfront. I want to see it coming. I want a way out. Or a warning about the intentions of such a move. Not a 20-day notice.
Otherwise, why trust that the AUM fee will remain between 0.7-1.2% from now on, and not climb up to 2% in a year’s time? Charging an AUM fee is in the terms and conditions, after all…
More importantly, I’d like Property Partner to honour the initial conditions of the past deals instead of applying fees in retrospect. A much better way of collecting higher fees is to only apply them to new listings moving forward rather than apply them to existing deals.
After all, Property Partner has tripled the size of its property portfolio since the EU referendum. So if it now grows from £140m to a much larger AUM base, this will ensure profitability while also preserving trust…
I’m sure some investors want out now. But can they really exit? Properties are not sold until the 5-year exit mechanism kicks in and the resale market needs a buyer for every seller. If everyone wants to sell at once… you see where I’m going with this. It’ll have to be a very good deal for the buyer to buy what others are selling, therefore the only way to exit is to sell at a very big discount.
If you’re amongst the angry people who want out immediately, you may want to wait a bit for the storm to pass, rather than making someone else richer. Some buyers may end up being very well off after the fees, so it may even worth placing some buy bids and monitor the massive discounts currently going on. There are some great opportunities right now due to investors behaving emotionally. Investing is usually 50% psychology + 50% finance.
But what are the alternatives?
I wrote an article more than a year ago – How Foxy Monkey invests in this overvalued stock market. History shows we’re running one of the longest bull markets ever. Despite the maths saying I may be better owning 100% stocks in a low-cost global index such as the FTSE Global All-Cap, I’m happy to allocate some of my money elsewhere and earn less in order to sleep better at night.
What else is out there? Does anyone own bonds, nowadays? I do, and mostly because I want to sleep better at night and have an “opportunistic pot” available at different times. But bonds offer a very low return, even less than inflation in most cases. This is not where I look for my long-term growth.
Peer-to-peer lending rates have dropped and I still see this asset class as a high-yield/junk bond. Therefore I’m not happy to allocate more than 5% of my net worth there. I also don’t buy the argument I’m selling Property partner because rates in peer-to-peer lending are higher. Rates in Burgundy wine are even higher but you’re comparing apples to oranges.
So overall, even though Property Partner fees have gone up, I will keep my portfolio intact and keep receiving the rent and hopefully capital growth when properties sell. Rent from residential property is not as volatile as shares are and tenants won’t move out of their homes to go live in a tent when the market declines.
Property Partner Fee Change: Bottom line
Do I support the fees going up? Absolutely not. Fees are an investor’s enemy. Investors should aim for low fees as much as possible.
If you want to test the waters in Property Partner with £1,000 or £2,000 that’s fine but just bear in mind you will pay very high fees for doing so. Property partner is now only viable for large portfolios as high fees for smaller investors will eat into your performance pretty quickly. But I think there is a case for above £50k investments in Property Partner. 4 reasons:
- The fees come down above £25,000, therefore, the combined average fee is around 1%
- Property partner offers good diversification benefits to stock market investments
- Development loans are not affected by the new fees (even for small investors)
- It may be cheaper than DIY BTL
Applying the fees to existing properties in retrospect, with no easy way out was a very poor execution of the plan, in my view. But I will continue to hold my ~£20k portfolio as a diversification strategy to my other investments. What about you?
Disclaimer: This is not financial advice just my own research and what I do. I have not considered your personal circumstances. As always, seek professional advice and do your own research.