Will your tenants need a parking space?

Chris Partridge explains why it's vital for landlords to find out
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Parking is rarely simple. For motorists, spaces take forever to find and cost a fortune, and traffic wardens are without mercy. For buy-to-let landlords, the issue presents some equally difficult predicaments.

Investors in areas where parking is a problem need to examine the demand for it very carefully if the investment in a car space is not to be wasted.

The problem is that some tenants must have a parking space and won't sign up if the property doesn't have one. Others are happy to make do with parking in the street as long as it is reasonably easy. However, a high proportion of renters have no car and are not prepared to pay extra for an amenity that they won't use. So the property must be carefully matched to the type of tenant you expect.

The parking problem is most acute in central London, where the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for example, issues 60,000 residents' parking permits for just 26,000 on-street spaces. People leave home in the morning not knowing whether they will be able to park anywhere when they get back.

The situation is set to get worse. The planners have put a virtual ban on parking spaces in new developments, and, to cap it all, London's Mayor Ken Livingstone is extending the congestion zone to cover virtually all of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea, taking effect next year.

Already, 80 per cent of tenants in Kensington and Chelsea do not own cars, according to Patricia Farley of Farleys, which specialises in the area. "Most rental tenants don't have cars. I would say that, of our rental portfolio, only 20 per cent have cars," she says.

At the lower and medium strata of the London rentals market, having a parking space makes no difference to the rent. However, the demand for parking spaces from owner-occupiers is so intense - someone paid £140,000 for a parking space in London last year - that such a space can be put to profitable use even if the tenant has no use for it. Renting it separately can be lucrative, Farley says: "People are paying £100 a week for a space, so you get quite a good return, with no service charges, just cleaning and insurance."

At the top end of the lettings market, however, parking is a necessity, says Charles Peerless, of Winkworth in central London. And the parking must be secure and private: "Rich people and celebrities like an underground car park with direct access to the property, so they can get out of the car and into the house with privacy and security."

Offering parking doesn't necessarily add to the rent you can ask, Peerless says: "In buy-to-let, you don't always get a good return on parking but it helps in securing tenants."

Again, the flexibility to offer parking separate from the accommodation is key, Peerless says, so check that separate letting is possible under the terms of the lease. "In some developments, you can't even sell the parking space separately from the flat," he adds.

In the suburbs, parking is not usually a problem, but, somewhat unexpectedly, it can be an issue in the countryside. John Socha, vice-chairman of the National Landlords Association and founder of Orchardproperties.com in Northampton, says that parking can be a real problem for tenants in pretty period cottages in Britain's loveliest villages. "Such villages were not designed for the motor car, so there's often no space to park," Socha says.

One can usually find a parking space a few minutes' walk away, on the edge of the village, but, "the British like to be able to see their cars from their window", says Socha. "Line of sight to the space is more important than the space itself," he explains.

And again, even if that lovely thatched cottage with honeysuckle around the door does come with a garage, tenants are still not prepared to pay extra for it.

As John Socha says: "Offering parking does not affect the money that you can ask in rent, but it does affect the desirability of your property."