For those looking to invest in overseas property, search the market today and it’s not unusual to find apartments for sale with guaranteed rental returns of 40%, and some even higher.  It seems too good to be true, but the offers are out there and the packages often come with free legal fees and other such benefits. Clearly before diving in, you need to seek some expert advice, but a cursory look online for such advice will leave you with the impression that the true value of guaranteed rental returns divides many within the property industry.  

So, what is the debate about?  And what questions should you ask prior to investing?

Guaranteed rental returns are obviously enticing for investors and purchasers alike, with standard net returns usually being advertised below the 10% mark. 

In the opinion of many, this is not a cheap marketing trick.  Yes, it does have ‘marketing power’ and it might just be the additional financial package that helps developers and agents clinch the deal.  But for the investors, they genuinely are guaranteed a minimum return on their investment. Surely that’s positive. It eases the concerns of investors and keeps the market buoyant.  And why wouldn’t buyers prefer to go with the property that guarantees this return, over the property that does not?

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Other experts are not so sure.  While acknowledging that a rental guarantee clearly offers agents and developers an advantage in marketing and selling, there are voices within the industry that urge caution.  There’s a suspicion that developments that come with a guarantee may be overpriced and that the developers may have factored the cost of the guarantee into the actual price of the property that is being offered.  

Those that hold this negative opinion about guarantees suggest that a better strategy for any investor might be to really understand the market in which the property is being offered, aim to get the lowest price possible, do the deal and then organize the letting independently.

Other cautious voices wonder if investors aren’t being tantalized with a vision of unrealistic long-term returns.  The question that is asked is what happens when the guaranteed period ends? It’s not unknown for the guaranteed period to expire, and for the investor to suddenly realize that the true rental value of the property is much lower than they believed.  Rental incomes suddenly drop, and they suddenly realize that they have overpaid into the wrong investment.

But still, many deny that developers overprice properties when offering guarantees.  And no matter what, it’s clear that a rental guarantee is important for certain investors who need the security that it offers.  And genuinely, it appears that there are some good guarantees out there on the market. So what to do?

The trick is to apply common sense and due diligence to the situation and examine the legal, commercial and financial strength of the guarantee and the market in which it is being offered.  Here are some questions worth considering:

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Legally, how is the guarantee structured?  Is it underwritten with a contract in which legal recourse is an option, should you not receive the income that is guaranteed?  This is clearly important.

Commercially, is the guaranteed rental figure in-line with the rental market in which the property is situated?  Basically, are the developers offering you more rental income than is actually achievable in the current market?  If they are offering you more, then once the guaranteed period expires, you’ll probably see your returns on investment drop.

Financially, how does the guarantee work?  Is the guaranteed return dependent upon the commercial success of the project?  

Some guarantees are based on projected annual revenues and are subject to these revenues being achieved.  In other words, if the expected revenues aren’t achieved, the full guaranteed amounts might not be paid to the purchaser.  

In addition to this, some guarantees may also come with the proviso that the amount being ‘guaranteed’ is ‘subject to the competency of’ the management of the complex.  This may seem vague, but it’s possible that if the expected revenues aren’t achieved, then the blame for this failure is going to be put solely on the management company.  

The vagueness of such a ‘competency’ proviso might also be used to cover all manner of issues.  For example, is it possible that forecasted rental revenues might fail to materialize, not because of the bad management of a complex, but because the original forecasts were set too high?  It might be easy to blame all manner of poor results on the incompetence of how an apartment complex is managed and to do this with no liability.    

With this in mind, once again, it’s very important to look at the rental market in which the property is located, and then ask: are the projected annual revenues realistic in the current market?  And of course, you will have to do some research on the developers.  

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Do the developers have a track record of successfully managing properties, renting them out and ensuring that incomes are generated?  If the answer to this is ‘no’, how then will they be able to generate the income that they are guaranteeing?  This may be a sign that the property price has been ‘artificially’ increased to cover any foreseen shortfall in future income. 

All-in-all, there’s a lot to consider.  Guaranteed rental returns do offer investors a level of security, and it is natural for people to feel compelled to buy into them, and yes, there are some good offers on the market.  But it’s worth remembering that in the right location, you’ll always be able to rent out a property. It’s all a question of doing the research on any given offer in any given market and choosing the way you want to go.