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Questor: PRS Reit’s growth in rental income offers shelter from the inflationary storm

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Renting has come a long way since Rising Damp. Now you can go online to choose a brand-new home to rent and have everything handled by an agent that aims to develop a reputation for treating its tenants well. You’ll probably find yourself on a new suburban development close to schools and have the flexibility to stay for years or move on after 12 months.

Homes like these are the assets owned by an unusual real estate investment trust called PRS Reit. The trust, established in 2017, focuses on family homes that it leases for an initial term of a year.

After that time, the 80pc of tenants who choose to stay typically pay a rent rise of 4pc. If the house becomes vacant, it is given a spruce up and the new tenant will normally pay 6.5pc-7pc more than the old one. PRS’s homes, 90pc of which are houses and 10pc flats, typically remain empty between tenants for just a matter of days.

The appeal of that kind of annual increase in rents is obvious when investors face the challenge of maintaining the real value of their income against inflation of more than 4pc.

Questor has pointed out before that some property investment trusts have signed leases that specify index-linking of rents but only up to a cap, often of 4pc. One way round this is to own funds whose rents are simply subject to annual review and trust that, if the cost of living is rising, tenants’ incomes will too – and that they will be prepared to pay more each year to the landlord.

“If incomes rise we will see higher rents. Tenants will cut spending on many things before they will move out of their home in search of lower rent – holidays, a car, a new television,” says Matt Norris, whose Gravis UK Listed Property fund has a stake in PRS. “We saw how hard families will try to keep up with their rent during the pandemic: PRS’s rent deferrals were tiny.”

The trust said 99pc of rents due were collected in the three months to the end of September. Norris says the fund is meeting changes in demand for rented homes and an altered landscape for property owners.

“Leases are typically for 12 months with a high level of renewal but the model is evolving and the length of stay may increase as people get used to renting from commercial landlords in this way, which is common in Europe. Some people want flexibility and someone else to have the hassles of ownership.

“The old ownership model was amateur private landlords but tax changes are encouraging them to quit and sell to owner-occupiers. Professional landlords such as PRS are stepping into the breach. And tenants benefit from the improved service they can offer: you can feel sure that when you call about a leaky boiler someone will be there to pick up the phone.”

PRS outsources finding and looking after tenants to an agent called Sigma, which operates under the brand name of Simple Life. “The partnership with Sigma is first rate – this is 21st century real estate management,” Norris says.

The fund has 4,350 homes now and a target of 5,700 by 2024. As Reits have to pay most of their income to shareholders as dividends, it funds growth by issues of new shares, supplemented by borrowing. “The management team is good, they are doing what they said they would do and building the portfolio. They are the first to do this at scale in Britain,” he adds.

PRS paid a dividend of 4p a share in the year to June, as it did the previous year. Analysts forecast the same for the current year, then 4.2p – a 5pc rise – the following one.

“I think rents can keep pace with moderate inflation,” Norris says. “This trust offers growth income, not fixed income, thanks to that growth in rents, helped by the ‘leverage’ effect of its cheap borrowing.” Most of its debt is at fixed rates, which is especially beneficial when its income rises.

The last reported net asset value was 99p a share, so the trust trades at a small premium at the current share price of 101p. In view of the inflation protection it offers, that premium will not put us off.

Questor says: buy

Ticker: PRSR

Share price at close: 101p

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