How landlords can beat the higher stamp duty rates

By Ben Gosling of Commercial Trust

Most landlords must now pay a higher rate of stamp duty. Find out how you may be able to offset some of the cost.

With the higher rate of stamp duty now in effect as of 1 April 2016, the flurry of buy-to-let activity seen in the early months of the year is likely to slow somewhat.

But the surcharge is unlikely to stop the market dead

We should remember that until December 2014, almost everyone paid more stamp duty than they do now.

Under the ‘slab’ system, a property worth £275,000 would have attracted a stamp duty bill of £8,250. This isn’t quite as large as the £12,000 now payable under the higher rate. But it is still a lot more than the £3,750 that a lower rate buyer would pay.

So the higher rate isn’t a deal-breaker. There are many landlords who are mid-transaction and will still wish to complete. And there are even those who have waited until the market eased, confident that they could find a good deal even with the added costs.

With the right approach, it might even be possible to offset some or all of the extra tax.

Negotiate a lower selling price

Affected landlords who were mid-transaction when the change hit will have to pay the higher rates.

Though not desirable, this could provide leverage to convince the vendor to accept a lower offer. Doing so may be more convenient than starting the process from scratch, particularly if the parties are near the point of exchanging contracts.

There may also be opportunities to negotiate discounts before the process even begins. If the property market does slow down as experts predict, sellers will have a harder time attracting offers. In view of this, it may be possible for buyers to convince sellers to lower their asking prices.

Ask your mortgage advisor about which products are available

A slowdown in buy-to-let purchase activity won’t just affect supply and demand in the market. It will also mean that lenders experience a lull in business.

To attract more new clients, they may be willing to offer preferential rates. They might also offer deals with added incentives, such as cashback or free survey costs, to buyers.

Claim multiple dwellings relief for bulk transactions

Finally, it is worth mentioning a relief that is available for transactions where the buyer purchases two or more dwellings in one go.

Using multiple dwellings relief MDR, buyers can pay stamp duty on the average value of each property, rather than the whole transaction amount. For purchases of six or more properties, the buyer can choose to apply the non-residential and mixed use rates.

For instance, if a landlord were to buy two flats for a total of £500,000, without claiming relief, he would pay £30,000 in stamp duty. Multiple dwellings relief would apply as follows:

  • Average property amount = £250,000 (500,000 / 2)
  • Average stamp duty cost = £10,000
  • 10,000 × 2 = £20,000 stamp duty payable

If another landlord were to buy six flats for a total of £900,000, without claiming relief, she would pay £62,000. Multiple dwellings relief would cut the tax payable to £30,000. She could also choose to apply the non-residential rates, in which case the tax due would be £34,500.

In this case, the best choice would be to claim multiple dwellings relief. But in some cases – such as a transaction of eight properties for a total of £3 million – the non-residential rates would be the most advantageous choice. (£139,500 versus £160,000 with the relief or £363,750 without.)

This is also an option for landlords who are considering transferring more than one property from individual to limited company ownership.

Buy-to-let tax is a complicated area. Always be sure to discuss your options and strategy with an appropriate professional.

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Limited company purchases: three taxes you might not expect to pay

By Ben Gosling of Commercial Trust Limited

Mortgage applications from limited companies are rising as landlords seek to minimise their tax exposure; but company owners have other property taxes to bear in mind.

There are three exposures in particular that may arise from the purchase of a property through a limited company:

Higher rate of stamp duty
From 1 April 2016, the purchase of additional residential properties (including the majority of rental properties, which tend to be bought by people who already own homes of their own) will be subject to higher rate of stamp duty land tax (SDLT) than ordinary purchases.

As a limited company is a separate legal entity to the individual who owns it, you could be forgiven for thinking that the first purchase via a limited company would be exempt from the surcharge.

Under the currently proposed framework, however, this is not so. The government believes that treating the first purchase by a limited company in the same way as the first purchase by an individual could create a “tax avoidance opportunity” – and so they suggest levying the higher rates on such purchases.

This will presumably be the case even if the rental property is the company owner’s very first acquisition. Tenants in high-cost areas such as London, for instance, may purchase their first property elsewhere, letting it out for income and getting a foot on the property ladder whilst continuing to rent their own home. These so-called ‘let-to-let’ purchases, if made through a company, will be subject to the higher rates.

Do bear in mind, though, that these proposals are not set in stone. Chancellor George Osborne will confirm the final framework during his next Budget announcement on Wednesday 16 March.

Annual tax on enveloped dwellings (ATED)
To prevent wealthy homeowners from using corporate ‘envelopes’ to avoid certain tax obligations, the last government introduced an annual charge on properties valued at a certain amount as of April 2012 (or acquisition, if later).

The charge, which is linked to CPI inflation, is set at certain amounts for certain value bands in a given tax year. Initially, the lowest band was £2–5 million, but April 2015 saw the introduction of a £1–2 million band. From April 2016, ATED will be also be payable on enveloped properties worth between £500,000 and £1 million.

Many forms of ATED relief are available under sections 133 to 150 of the Finance Act 2013, including reliefs for property developers, rental businesses and traders that reduce the charge payable to zero. But these are reliefs, not exemptions; they can only be claimed by completing an ATED return, and are subject to certain conditions as outlined in the government’s technical guidance.

So whilst in most cases ATED will mean only an administrative burden for property businesses with assets worth over £500,000, it is still well worth bearing in mind – particularly as the threshold could fall further in the future.

Higher rate of stamp duty land tax (SDLT) for corporate bodies
‘Non-natural persons’ such as companies also pay a flat 15% rate of SDLT on the purchase of residential properties valued over a certain amount. Like ATED, the lower threshold was originally £2 million, but was lowered to £500,000 in March 2014.

Again like ATED, exemptions from this higher charge apply for commercial property businesses, subject to conditions detailed on the HMRC website:

Remember to seek relevant professional advice if you are making your first purchase through a limited company. A financial advisor or tax planner can help to ensure that your tax strategy is sound, whilst a solicitor can provide advice on any legal matters that may arise, and a buy-to-let mortgage advisor can provide recommendations on mortgage products tailored to limited company purchases and help to find one that is suitable for your circumstances and future goals.

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Will the new stamp duty rules affect you?

By Ben Gosling of Commercial Trust

The proposed framework for the higher stamp duty rate for additional property purchases is more complicated than it seems at first glance. Find out if the new rules will affect you.

From 1 April 2016, the purchase of ‘additional’ properties will be subject to a 3% stamp duty surcharge. This will include second homes, some first time buyer buy to let transactions and all subsequent buy to let purchases.

Gov.UK: Spending review and autumn statement 2015 – property taxes

Two main factors determine whether the higher rate will apply

…how many properties you own at the conclusion of the transaction…

If you own only one property at the end of the day on which the property purchase took place, then the higher rate will not apply, no matter whether you bought the property as a residence or to let out.

…and if you are selling your main home and replacing it with the property you bought

This is where the framework can become confusing, as there are a few scenarios in which you may own two properties after the transaction is concluded, but still will not pay the higher rate.

One is if you own a second home, but are selling your main residence and purchasing another main residence. This transaction will not be subject to the higher rates (though you may need to evidence to HMRC that it is your main home, and not your second home, that you are replacing).

Another is if you own one or more rental properties, but again, you are selling and replacing your main residence. Whether you own a single buy to let or a portfolio of one hundred, if you are replacing your old residence with a new main residence, the purchase will not be subject to the higher rates.

What if your old home is not sold straight away?

If you sell your old home after you purchase your new home, you will own at least two properties at the end of the day of the transaction. This means that you will pay the higher rate – but you will be able to claim back the extra tax you paid if you sell your old property within 18 months.

What if you are a landlord but not a homeowner?

If you already own one or more rental properties and are buying your first private residence, you will pay the higher rate of stamp duty on the purchase.

This is because even though you are buying a home of your own, and not an additional property, you are not replacing another home that you own. This example highlights how the concept of replacing your main residence is key to determining whether the higher rates will apply.

Also key is that the old residence is being sold. If you move from one residence to another but keep the old property, either as a holiday home or to let out, the higher rates will apply for the new purchase.

Government consultation and next steps

The government is currently consulting on the suggested framework and is accepting responses from individuals and organisations. The consultation will close on 1 February 2016.

Chancellor George Osborne will then confirm the final policy design during his Budget 2016 announcement on 16 March, before the final rules come into effect on 1 April.

Visit the Gov.UK website to see more information about the consultation.

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Investing in HMO property – what you need to know

By Ben Gosling of www.commercialtrust.co.uk

Find out everything what you need to know to invest in your first HMO property: the cash flow benefits, possible planning restrictions, licensing laws and how to obtain finance.

What is a house in multiple occupation?

The Housing Act 2004 gives us the current definition of a house in multiple occupation (HMO) – a property in which two or more paying tenants from separate households reside as their main or only residence and share one or more basic amenities (such as a kitchen or bathroom).

HMOs are popular with both students and single tenants, particularly professionals in urban areas who have yet to put down roots. Many such tenants find it more affordable and convenient to rent a single room rather than a self-contained flat or house, and this type of property is therefore in high demand.

Why invest in HMO property?

With a single let, a household will usually pay for between one and three bedrooms, a living space, and amenities. In an HMO, individual tenants will pay slightly less, but every bedroom tends to be utilised, and living spaces and amenities are shared. The multiple income streams from HMOs tend to outstrip single income streams from comparably-sized single-let properties.

Simply put, HMO properties have the potential to earn more. In January 2015, the Telegraph reported that the average HMO generated a 9% return on investment in Q4 2014, while a traditional buy to let earned 6.3%: www.telegraph.co.uk.

This follows a long-term trend that goes as far back as Q1 2011, and thanks to high demand from tenants for this type of property, experts foresee this performance continuing.

The HMO alternative: multi-unit freehold blocks (MUFBs)

The Telegraph article cited above also reported that, in the final quarter of 2014, rental yields on multi-unit freehold blocks were higher even than those on HMO properties.

MUFBs are buildings that are split into multiple self-contained dwellings that, unlike those in HMOs, do not share any facilities (though they may share common areas such as gardens and hallways).

Experts believe that the cash flow advantage of MUFBs is due to economies of scale (the cost benefits enjoyed by larger businesses) and therefore this type of property may be more appealing to higher-value investors. In addition, MUFBs may face tougher planning regulations and require more extensive development.

HMO renovation and planning permission

Landlords who intend to convert a property in order to let it out as an HMO may require planning permission to do so.

In planning law, HMOs fall under their own usage class – C4 – if they are let to no more than six individuals. Converting an ordinary residential property (class C3) to an HMO does not usually require planning permission.

However, local authorities have the power to revoke this permission by means of an Article 4 Direction if they wish to limit the number of HMOs in a particular area (www.landlords.org.uk).

In addition, HMOs that are let out to more than six tenants are considered sui generis (uncategorised), and will require planning permission to convert.

Landlords should therefore contact their local planning department in either case, in order to check whether their planned renovation will require planning permission.

More information: www.landlordsguild.com/do-i-need-planning-permission-for-my-hmo-2/

Renovation may require specialist finance

Not all buy to let lenders will finance properties that are in need of renovation, particularly if they are considered unfit for habitation (if they lack kitchen or sanitary facilities, for instance).

Some lenders, however, will offer specialised refurbishment mortgages that release the required funds in stages. Bridging finance can also be used to fund renovation projects.

This article that Commercial Trust previously provided for the Homes 24 blog examines renovation finance in more detail: Buying a dilapidated property: three funding options for renovation.

Some HMO properties require a license

In some cases, HMO properties are subject to licensing. Each property must have its own license.

In order to qualify for a license, landlords must ensure that the amenities in and size of their HMO are suitable for the number of people who will be living there. They must also prove themselves to their licensing authority to be ‘fit and proper’ to let out HMO properties, and abide by a number of other requirements as outlined in the link below:

www.gov.uk/house-in-multiple-occupation-licence

‘Large’ HMOs – those that are three or more storeys high and let to five or more people from at least two separate households – are subject to mandatory licensing. Some local authorities operate additional licensing schemes for smaller properties, however, so landlords should always contact their local authority to determine whether they will require a license.

New legislation may extend licensing to smaller properties

The government is currently consulting on whether to extend mandatory licensing to smaller properties, including one- and two-storey buildings that house five or more tenants.

Though not yet law, future legislation could well mirror the content of the consultation in one form or another. Landlords considering investing in an HMO property might therefore consider familiarising themselves with the proposals in order to ensure that their purchase continues to be compliant in the future.

The consultation will run until 18 December 2015. More information can be found on the government website: www.gov.uk/government/consultations/extending-mandatory-licensing-of-houses-in-multiple-occupation-and-related-reforms

HMO finance is harder to come by – but good deals are available

Because not all buy to let lenders will grant mortgages for houses in multiple occupation, it can be harder to find a mortgage for an HMO (particularly if it is subject to licensing). This means that rates may be slightly higher and a larger deposit may be required.

However, the shortage is far from chronic. A number of specialist lenders with dedicated HMO product ranges have come onto the market in the past few years, and it is quite possible to find a good deal.

In summary

Positives about HMO investment

  • Potentially higher rental yields
  • More cost-effective use of space
  • High demand from tenants

Negatives about HMO investment

  • More development work may be needed
  • Stricter legal requirements
  • It might be more difficult to obtain finance

A qualified buy to let mortgage advisor can help landlords secure the best available deal for their next HMO purchase.

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Where to invest – long-distance or local?

By Ben Gosling of Commercial Trust Ltd

Some become landlords quite by accident. But for those who make the choice to invest in buy to let property, one of the first decisions they must make is where they will make their first purchase.

By Ben Gosling of Commercial Trust

By Ben Gosling of Commercial Trust

Sometimes, the decision is made for you

Of course, not everybody lives in an area that boasts the fundamentals of a good rental property purchase. Buyers should be on the lookout for affordability balanced with stable price growth, solid demand and good local amenities.

If their local area doesn’t fit the bill, aspiring landlords will likely have no choice but to invest further afield. But if there is a good potential purchase just down the road, should they automatically go for it?

The importance of balancing risk and reward

The basic precept that should govern every decision a landlord makes is finding the appropriate balance between risk and reward.

Buying three £75,000 properties might not just be more profitable than buying a single £250,000 property; it could be less risky. If one tenant were to leave or one property were to fall into disrepair, there would be two more that were still habitable and still generating income.

The same could be said of leveraging. Using three mortgages to leverage three properties could be less risky than leveraging a single property, because if the debt on one property needed to be reduced, the other two could potentially act as a source of ready capital.

Conversely, each additional property adds additional risk of defaults, repairs, voids or any of the other misfortunes that can befall a landlord – so it is important to consider all angles.

Hands-on or hands-off?

Some are content to invest from the comfort of their armchair, whilst others like to get more involved in the management of their property.

This could simply be because they would prefer to save money on management fees; but in other cases, they might want to renovate the property to add value (whether to sell for a profit, or release as a deposit for a second purchase).

Whilst not impossible, overseeing renovations and other projects from afar is certainly more difficult. It means using potentially unknown traders, and being unable to keep close tabs on the progress of the project.

So those who wish to invest in a property to add value have another reason to consider how far afield they are prepared to look for their first purchase.

It’s crucial to get good local intelligence

The value of specific local knowledge can’t be overestimated – the more specific the better. A landlord buying in his or her locale will probably know not only what areas are better to invest in than others, but what streets too.

When investing further afield, such exact knowledge is harder to obtain – but not impossible. Online resources that detail precise local metrics are plentiful, as are forums and other communities that allow like-minded individuals from opposite ends of the country to connect.

Employing an accredited local agent

If investing long-distance, instructing a management agency is practically mandatory. A full management service can typically cost between 10% and 15% of the monthly rent, as well as one-off fees for tenant finding, tenancy contract provision, deposit protection, inventory management and more, but a long-distance landlord will find managing all of this alone extremely difficult.

Established local agents, rather than chains, can have knowledge of the local market, and may even be able to assist in sourcing a suitable property if approached prior to the purchase.

Most importantly, however, landlords should only use agents who:

  • Belong to a professional body such as ARLA, NAEA or RICS
  • Are members of a redress scheme (Ombudsman Services, the Property Ombudsman or Property Redress Scheme)
  • Have a professional indemnity insurance or professional liability insurance policy in place
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BTL remortgage costs: a guide for landlords

By Ben Gosling of www.commercialtrust.co.uk

Switching your buy to let mortgage can be a good way to cut down on running costs and plan for the future – but remember to take the cost of remortgaging into account.

Remortgage activity was the primary driver of buy to let lending in the second quarter of 2015 [1], and between the landlord tax announcements in the July Budget and renewed talk of interest rate rises, Q3 could well see yet more landlords switching their loans.

If you are planning to refinance your property, it pays to know what sort of costs you may encounter so that you can budget ahead of time.

Costs from your current lender

Early repayment charge

The majority of products are subject to early repayment charges during the initial deal period, which is typically between two and five years. Early repayment charges (ERCs) are usually a percentage of the amount repaid.

You should therefore be wary of switching mortgage during an ERC period, as the charges will be levied on the full outstanding loan amount.

Exit fee

Some buy to let lenders also charge exit fees (sometimes called ‘discharge fees’, ‘mortgage fees’ or ‘redemption fees’) for repaying the loan in full before the end of the mortgage term, including when you switch mortgage – though an exit fee may not be levied if you stick with the same lender.

This fee is typically a fixed amount between £50 and £300.

Fees for switching before a mortgage completes

A further switching fee may be charged if you change deals prior to the completion date for a mortgage you’ve already applied for. In addition, you might lose any other fees you’ve paid up to that point – so be mindful that you are applying for the right deal!

Costs from your new lender

There are several different types of fee that a lender might charge for a new buy to let mortgage loan. Not all lenders will charge all of these fees, many of the terms can be used interchangeably and they can often be rolled up together.

However, your mortgage advisor should always provide you with a detailed breakdown of what you need to pay, how, and when.

Application fee

This fee is charged, as the name suggests, upon application, and is usually non-refundable. It might also be called a ‘booking fee’, and is charged for reserving your chosen product whilst your lender processes your application.

Insurance administration fee

If you choose to take out landlords building and contents cover with an insurance provider other than your lender (or a provider chosen by your lender), you may be charged for the cost your lender incurs in checking that the cover is appropriate.

This might also be called a ‘freedom of agency fee’, an ‘own building insurance fee’, an ‘insurance contingency fee’ or many more besides – but you should always be told what the fee is and why you are being charged it.

Legal fees

Your lender will usually charge you fees to cover the cost of instructing their own conveyancing solicitors. There is typically far less legal work involved in a remortgage than a purchase, and the legal fees are therefore likely to be lower. Your lender might even offer free basic legal fees as an incentive.

Mortgage account fee

A fee for setting up and maintaining a mortgage account, an account fee is usually non-refundable and added to either the up-front costs or the loan principal, at your lender’s discretion.

Product fee

This is usually the main fee advertised by the lender, and can either be a set amount or a percentage of the loan. Some buy to let mortgages are advertised as ‘fee free’ – this usually means that they have a product fee of zero.

You might see product fees referred to as ‘arrangement fees’ or ‘admin fees’, as they essentially reflect the cost of processing the mortgage application. They could also be called ‘completion fees’.

Lenders will often allow you to add this fee to the loan amount (subject to affordability, loan-to-value, rental cover and other applicable criteria). Bear in mind that if you do this, you will need to pay interest on the fee amount, which will increase the cost of your mortgage in the long term.

Transfer fee

This fee covers the cost of the telegraphic transfer of funds from your lender to your solicitor, and may be charged by either party if it is charged at all.

Valuation fee

Usually charged on a sliding scale relative to the value of your property, these fees cover the cost of the property valuation. They are usually payable up-front and are only refundable if the valuation does not go ahead.

Many lenders offer free or reduced valuation incentives to remortgage customers. This is usually subject to a maximum amount.

Broker fee

If you have sourced your new mortgage through an intermediary, such as a buy to let mortgage broker, a broker fee may also be payable.

This fee reflects the work undertaken in matching you to an appropriate mortgage and packaging the deal for the lender in order to give you the best chance of acceptance.

 

References

  1. “House purchase lending up 22% in June”. CML. 11 Aug 2015.

This article is intended for information purposes only and should not be taken as advice.

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Investing in buy-to-let as a business

By Ben Gosling of commercialtrust.co.uk

Most landlords are in agreement that buy-to-let is a business, but how many have considered entering the market as a business? Read about the pros and cons of setting up a limited company to invest in property.

There are many ways to invest in buy-to-let property. Many landlords choose to do so as private individuals, meaning that their name is on the deed and the rental contract, the rent goes directly to them and is subject to income tax.

It is possible, however, to set up a limited company to invest in property. Under this arrangement the company’s name goes on the documentation, whilst the landlord is named as a company director. Rental income goes into the company and is subject to corporation tax, rather than income tax.

Recent events might make this strategy more appealing to certain landlords, particularly those on higher tax bands. In his 8 July budget speech, Chancellor George Osborne announced that full tax relief for buy-to-let mortgage interest would be withdrawn over four years, starting in April 2017, and replaced with a 20% basic rate reduction 1. Experts suggest that, as a result, some landlords could pay more in tax than they make in profit 2.

Pros of incorporating a business

Corporation tax: Transferring one or more of your properties into a limited company, or ‘incorporating a business’, can have some tax advantages if planned carefully. Because companies pay corporation tax and not income tax, full finance relief can be applied and only profits are taxed. This means that tax goes up or down in line with net income.

Corporation tax rates are also being lowered during the same period that buy-to-let mortgage interest relief is being phased out. By 2020, corporation tax will be just 18% (down from 20% now) – compared to 40% for higher-rate taxpayers, and 45% for additional-rate taxpayers.

Interest rates are likely to be higher by 2020. Professional analysis suggests that a private investor with an £85,000 mortgage against a £100,000 property, paying 5% per month in interest and being taxed at the higher rate, would effectively pay more than 100% in tax. A company, meanwhile, could pay less than half of this amount. (Source: PwC 3.)

Dividends: When running a property business through a company, rental income goes to the company rather than the director. This means that you can take out as much or as little income as you need for yourself, and have more control over how it is taxed.

The tax treatment of dividends has changed slightly: the rates are being raised, and basic-rate taxpayers are no longer exempt. Taking money from your company also means that it is, in effect, taxed twice. However, it is still possible that this setup may be more efficient than paying income tax after the changeover.

Other taxes: Rental properties are excluded from the higher rate of stamp duty land tax (SDLT) imposed on incorporated property purchases worth £500,000 or more. This means that a property company benefits from the new progressive structure that has lowered SDLT payable for the majority of property purchasers.

Incorporation also makes change of ownership easier. By switching directors or transferring shares, you can effectively gift your property to someone without the owner (the company) changing, meaning that the transfer can be exempt from capital gains tax (CGT). Bear in mind that gifting assets in this way can still generate inheritance tax exposure, so be sure to seek advice from a qualified tax accountant.

Growing a portfolio: If you wish to use your profits to invest in more property and grow your portfolio, you can retain it within the company without having to pay income tax. Using a company structure, you can have as many or as few properties as you wish under a single corporate umbrella. This can reduce both administration and taxation costs and allow you to grow your portfolio more quickly.

Cons of incorporating a business

Financing: Though we might see this change in the future if limited companies become a more popular investment route, less than half of the buy-to-let lenders in the marketplace cater for corporate borrowers at present. This typically means that interest rates and product fees are likely to be higher than for private individuals borrowing under comparable circumstances.

Restrictions: Concordantly, lenders often impose a number of restrictions on limited company borrowers. In all cases, companies must be set up as special purpose vehicles (SPVs) which are solely for the purchase, sale, rental and/or management of real estate. Lenders frequently insist that directors are UK-based and are also company shareholders, and often underwrite directors and shareholders individually.

Tax: We’ve discussed several positives on the tax front, but there are negatives to counter it.

Because stamp duty land tax (SDLT) is payable when property is transferred to a company, properties purchased prior to incorporation may be subject to a double tax. This is also likely to be charged on the property’s full market value 4.

Also note that corporation tax is not subject to your personal allowance. Typically, the higher your personal income – both from property and elsewhere – the more tax-efficient borrowing as a limited company is likely to be.

Conclusion

Ultimately, whilst a company might give you more certainty as to how much tax you are paying each year, it may still not be the best option. Be sure to discuss your options with a qualified accountant or financial advisor before planning your next move.

 

References

  1. HM Treasury (2015) Summer Budget 2015. Available at gov.uk (Accessed: 17 Jul 2015)
  2. Haslett, E. “July Budget 2015 – changes to mortgage tax relief: Here’s what to do now if you’re a buy-to-let landlord”. City A.M. 8 Jul 2015
  3. White, A. “Buy-to-let: How landlords can cut their shock new tax bill”. The Telegraph. 10 Jul 2015.
  4. “Stamp duty land tax: transfer ownership of land or property”. HMRC. 13 Jan 2014.

This article is intended for information purposes only and should not be construed as providing investment advice.

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