About seven years ago I inherited a sum of money. It wasn’t a massive, life-changing amount. But it was certainly a larger figure than I had ever seen written on a cheque before!
At around this time, P2P property investment was the cool new kid on the money-making block. It offered a chance to profit from property without having to invest a substantial sum on one building, and without the hassle of finding tenants, arranging repairs, and so on.
What is P2P property investment?
P2P stands for peer-to-peer. The world’s first P2P lending company was UK-based Zopa, launched in 2005. Zopa connected investors with individuals seeking loans. Investors received interest on these loans and got their capital back as loans were repaid.
P2P property investment came a little later. Platforms such as The House Crowd originally offered investors the chance to invest collectively in properties. They then received pro rata rental income from tenants. They also (hopefully) made a profit when the time came to sell ‘their’ property.
Later on, P2P property platforms diversified into offering investors the chance to invest in secured loans and development projects. The latter could be little more than a set of architect’s plans, with the promise of exciting returns once the development in question was completed and sold.
Such investments were obviously more speculative and riskier (as I found out to my cost – see below).
My experiences in P2P property investing
My earliest forays into P2P property were with The House Crowd (as mentioned above). I also went on to invest with Crowdlords and another platform. Neither The House Crowd nor Crowdlords are in business today.
For the first year or two all went well. My investments generated a steady if unspectacular income from rentals. And some projects completed successfully and were sold, returning my capital and (generally) a profit besides.
But then things started going wrong. There were ‘unforeseen issues’ that reduced the rental income I received and in some cases wiped it out altogether. These included tenants going into arrears, expensive repairs, ‘voids’ when tenants left and weren’t replaced, floods and fires, and so on.
Most seriously, some projects failed completely. The worst experience for me was when I got an email from Crowdlords stating that a development project in which I had invested
£3,000 had collapsed, meaning investors would lose all their cash. As you may imagine, this was a gut-wrenching moment. I can only imagine what other investors who had put even more than I had into this development must have felt.
So what lessons have I learned from my experiences with P2P property investing? I’ll sum them up below in the hope others may benefit from my mistakes.
1. Be a sceptical investor
As mentioned, when I started investing in P2P property it was pretty new and I found the concept intriguing and exciting.
At that point, of course, there hadn’t been any failures to take the shine off. Plus, I had an inheritance burning a hole in my pocket and was looking for exciting ways to invest it.
Looking back, I can see now that I was too ready to believe the overblown claims made on behalf of P2P property investing and put too much faith (and money) into it.
I’m not saying P2P can’t work – many of my investments did pay off. Some didn’t, however, greatly reducing the overall profit I made. Nowadays I am a lot more sceptical when assessing such projects and the claims made about them by their promoters.
2. Know what you are getting into
Property crowdfunding investment opportunities take many different forms.
With ‘traditional’ P2P property investment, your money is effectively secured by bricks and mortar, so you’re unlikely to lose your shirt. On the other hand, problems can arise leading to lower rental income than anticipated and/or delays in selling up.
And obviously, if the value of a property doesn’t rise, you may not get all your capital back, let alone any profit on sale.
Development projects are even riskier. While you may ultimately make a bigger profit, there is a real risk of the project failing completely. In this case (as I discovered) you can lose your entire investment.
Finally, there are platforms (e.g. Kuflink) that allow people to invest in loans secured against property (including bridging loans). If such loans are not repaid, the property can be sold to pay off the debt, so again you shouldn’t lose your entire investment.
But the legal processes can be time-consuming and expensive. And again, you may end up losing some of your capital after all costs are paid.
So, my second lesson is to be very clear what type of property crowdfunding you’re investing in and what the risks are.
Be especially cautious about development projects, which by nature are more speculative and carry a greater risk of losing all your cash.
3. Spread the risk
This is of course an important principle in all investing but one that applies especially to property crowdfunding.
If you invest £3,000 in one project (as I did) unless you’re Bill Gates that’s putting a lot of eggs in one basket. When I started in property crowdfunding, I put as much as £5,000 into a single project. That is definitely not something I would do any more.
I am not investing as much in property crowdfunding as I did originally, but where I am still doing it I generally put no more than £200 into a single project. If I lose that money in a worst-case scenario, obviously that’s not going to hit my finances nearly as hard.
My approach nowadays is to have multiple small investments spread across various platforms. This spreads the risk while still giving me control over what I invest in.
4. Remember the big picture
My final lesson is always to remember that P2P property is just one way of investing your money. It can also be – as I have indicated – a relatively high-risk one.
If you are going to include such investments in your portfolio, in my view it should only comprise a fairly small part of it – I’d suggest no more than 10%. The rest of your money can then be spread across a variety of other investment types to provide good diversification.
And you should also have at least three months’ income in easily accessible form in case of sudden, unexpected emergencies.
I try to be philosophical and remember that many of my P2P property investments did make money for me. Nonetheless, in retrospect I wish I’d taken a more cautious approach initially.
If I‘d simply put all the money into my Nutmeg stocks and shares ISA, for example, I don’t doubt that financially I would be better off overall.
Nonetheless, I do still believe in the P2P property concept and am happy to have some money still in it. Property is relatively less affected by ups and downs in the economy than stocks and shares.
Property investments aren’t a way of hedging your equity investments directly, but they do give an extra element of diversification.
And okay, I will admit that a part of me does enjoy having a very small amount invested in student flats in my old university city of Leicester!
Disclaimer: I am not a qualified financial adviser and nothing in the article above should be construed as personal financial advice. You should always do your own ‘due diligence’ before investing and seek professional advice if in any doubt how best to proceed. All investing carries a risk of loss.
Nick Daws writes for Pounds and Sense, a UK personal finance blog aimed especially (though not exclusively) at over-fifties.