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4thWay CEO’s 6 Top Property IFISA Picks

A property IFISA is a tax-free investment account where you can lend to borrowers who have real property – real estate – to back up those loans.

This piece is based on a vast amount of research over many years. I could have easily made it about the top 10 or even 20 property IFISAs. But there are some absolutely fabulous property IFISAs out there, so I have limited my list below to the ones that I deeply believe offer real gems if used as a diversified lending portfolio.

For clarity’s sake, my list of property IFISAs is focused on pure property plays, i.e. they don't arrange any other kinds of loans, such as lending against vehicles or artwork.

You can read my profile here.

What does a “top” property IFISA look like?

To different people, the “best” or “top” investments could be defined in different ways and it depends what you want.

What I want in a property IFISA is:

  • Firstly, it must be a P2P IFISA. There are other IFISAs that do not offer that structure where you are directly lending to borrowers. I see no reason to take the extra risk of lending to someone in the middle when there is plenty of choice around. In any event, peer-to-peer lending is my area of expertise.
  • The IFISA provider needs to have provided enough information that I believe I can confidently make a solid assessment of it, my gut supports that assessment and, if I have any doubts at all, the answer is “No”.
  • There needs to be an excellent risk-reward balance with what I believe to be a high chance of having satisfactory results over the next three or more years, almost regardless of market conditions, and likely to contribute to positive returns when included in a wider portfolio of IFISA and other P2P lending accounts. This means that both high and low-risk IFISAs can make it into my list, provided the interest rates on offer are suitable.
  • The rewards of the very lowest-risk IFISAs, at a minimum, need to be one to two percentage points higher than cash ISAs offered by well known UK high-street banks or by any of the building societies. Lenders should also usually be passed the bulk of the rewards, rather than it being kept by the IFISA provider through hidden costs.
  • I must have seen no large and overt signs that the IFISA provider could well be going out of business any time soon, nor of gross business incompetence that would lead to such an event.
  • I don’t shut out small IFISA providers, but the more variable the quality of the loans and the less certain I am about the key decision makers or their processes, the more history I want to see.

Early exit isn’t one of my selection criteria

Two items I don’t care about that are of great interest to many people lending in IFISAs are:

  • Early repayment: the ability to get all or most of my money back swiftly and before the borrower has repaid.
  • Timely repayment: the need for almost zero loans to fall late or to have a reserve fund in order to enable timely repayment even of loans that fall late.

I don’t care for the above, because fighting the natural lifecycle of a loan is simply a battle that you should not expect to win – I mean, at least not all the time. Just go with the flow, is my motto. Banks and non-bank lenders don’t try to fight nature, so nor should you.

Therefore, the ability to exit loans early does not make my list of requirements for a “top” IFISA.

Plus, I am not worried about having a fair proportion of loans go bad for months or even years, provided a) it is normal for that type of lending, b) I have a solid expectation that much of the bad debt will ultimately be recovered, and c) the interest rates are high enough. (This sort of bad debt profile can happen a lot in some types of secured lending.)

If that does bother you, you can restrict your lending to the types of loans that tend to go more smoothly – and there is enough choice out there for you, including many in my top picks below.

IFISA lending, like other lending, is pretty stable compared to, say, the stock market, where big falls and gains are typical. But I can make no guarantees about any individual IFISAs I mention here, or the basket of loans that you personally lend in through any particular IFISA.

It is healthy if you see IFISA lending in the bigger context of your overall portfolio of P2P sites and IFISAs. In other words, everyone is likely to experience some disappointments, which is why you spread your money across at least 6-12 lending accounts and many hundreds or thousands of loans, and then focus on your attention on your overall rate of return.

How my top property IFISA picks are ordered

My colleagues typically order their lists by the lower-risk items first. I want to be different today and present the more exciting, higher-rate stuff first.

So this list is loosely ordered by my expectations of typical lender returns. I must emphasise that word loose, because forecasts simply cannot be that accurate and the order would change depending on other factors such as the economy.

My top picks

CapitalRise: my top pick of the pure property IFISAs offering 9% interest or more.

CrowdProperty: an excellent record on development lending.

Proplend: its best loans offer attractive interest rates with great property security receiving rent.

Assetz Capital: specific loans offer attractive interest rates and there’s quite a lot of choice.

Loanpad: 100% of the loans are for less than half the property valuations and partner lenders take first loss of 33%.

Octopus Choice: born from a highly organised and much more established lender.

Top property IFISA pick: CapitalRise

My top pick of the pure property IFISAs offering 9% interest or more.

CapitalRise is restricted

This lending opportunity is now just for a) people who have invested in at least one unlisted company in the past 12 months (such as through crowdfunding websites); b) people with an income of £100,000 or at least £250,000 in savings and assets, excluding your home; or c) professional investors.

Lending account or loans I favour

I favour lending in all CapitalRise’s loans that are for less than 85% of the initial value of the property or development site, which have paid around 9.3% interest rates so far. I don’t include CapitalRise’s equity loans, which are not pure lending.

Description of what it does

CapitalRise* focuses entirely on grand properties in London or wealthy suburban towns.

These are property development loans and short-term property (bridging) loans. It includes both first-charge and second-charge lending.

You get your money back plus all the interest at the end of the loan.

What I like

Most property IFISA providers and property P2P lending sites scramble defensively to say that they try to diversify away from prime central London properties.

In this rush away from it, there has been a surprising vacuum for a competent party to focus exclusively on loans in this powerful niche. CapitalRise plants itself firmly in this spot and I think it makes sense for lenders who have an appetite for a bit more risk to include some of it in their overall lending portfolio.

If you focus on lending in CapitalRise loans where the total amount borrowed by the borrower adds up to less than 85% of the property valuation, the average amount lent is a very solid 66%.

Unusually for development lending, that property valuation I’m talking about is is based on the initial sale-price valuation of the property or land. In other words, it is not based on the hoped-for sale price later on, which is more typical in development lending. This adds a large margin of safety compared to most development loans.

If you choose to lend in CapitalRise’s second-charge loans, make sure you add up both the total lent in your loans as well as the total lent by the first-charge holder before you. Compare this to the property valuation and make sure that it is nicely in your favour. The majority of CapitalRise loans fit in my 85% limit.

It’s early days, so CapitalRise’s record of zero bad debts doesn’t mean much at present, yet it’s reassuring that full loan repayments worth £5 million are already under CapitalRise lenders’ belts.

I like that CapitalRise puts great weight on both checking out the borrower as well as the property security. This is far from a given; since many property IFISA providers focus exclusively on the security, which tends to lead to a high proportion of loans getting into trouble.

On top of that, CapitalRise* is keen on quantitative risk measures, a theme that I like to see in property, because it is a rare but welcome bonus.

CapitalRise’s standards for approving loans are high and it has been maintaining them even as its lending has sped up.

Interest rates above 9% seem to me to be appropriate for this kind of lending, especially the second-charge loans, and yet I think these rates are likely to provide more than adequate cover in the long run.

What I don’t like

This is one of the more expensive IFISAs in my list, since you need to lend at least £1,000 in each loan. It will also take you many months to build up your portfolio if you choose to rely solely on CapitalRise for prime London development lending.

While the key decision maker has said that he has successfully completed over 100 developments, I don’t feel that I have quite had the chance to get that very deep grip of understanding the motivation, skills and experience of the key people at this IFISA provider than I usually do.

CapitalRise still has a very small and immature loan book to base a judgement on its record.

I will be watching CapitalRise’s performance closely to ensure that this pick continues on a good trend.

Visit CapitalRise*.

Did you know you could lend across many IFISAs in just one year? You may have heard you can open just one IFISA per year, but that’s not quite true: you can spread across many IFISAs almost right away!

Back up to the top picks list.

Top property IFISA pick: CrowdProperty

An excellent record on development lending combined with strict, professional and rigorous risk assessment, loan approval, loan-monitoring, and bad-debt recovery processes.

Lending account or loans I favour

All CrowdProperty’s loans, which always pay 8% interest.

The optional auto-lend is useful provided you cap the amount that will be lent in any one loan.

Description of what it does

CrowdProperty mostly does loans to property developers, and sometimes short-term (bridging) loans. These loans pay your money back plus all the interest at the end of the loan.

It keeps it very simple. It does first-charge lending only, meaning CrowdProperty lenders always get repaid first in the event the project fails and the site/property needs to be repossessed and sold.

All developments must already have the required planning permission, reducing the risks.

With manual lending you need to lend at least £500 per loan. With auto-lend, you lend at least £500, but you can choose to lend as little as £50 per loan. You can use both manual and auto-lend simultaneously.

What I like

I like its focus entirely on development lending, where it has real expertise. It has just one tier of borrower and offers the highest-quality development and bridging loans only. I believe it is deeply committed to these standards.

This is unusual in that at other development lenders the quality of a development loan – and the interest rates paid – usually vary a great deal. Strict criteria and focus says something as much about the founders’ character as about achieving simplicity for lenders.

The interest rates of 8% per loan on the surface seem low compared to some other property IFISA providers that offer individual selection of development loans, but in reality they are attractive for these particular prime development loans. I expect that the average lender using CrowdProperty will earn more interest after bad debts than those using higher interest-rate bridging and development P2P lending sites.

CrowdProperty has an excellent record for this kind of lending already and I feel strongly that its future performance will be highly satisfactory. Just three loans out of more than 60 have ever fallen very late when the projects did not go as planned, but CrowdProperty’s team of lenders and property developers got the projects completed and the loans recovered in a rapid and manifestly professional way.

No lenders have lost any money, a third of all loans have already been repaid, and no loans are even a bit late at present. That record supports the standards CrowdProperty has convincingly described to me and my colleagues.

Experience in both lending and development is impressive, and the huge commitment to both qualitative and quantitative measures of risk, loan applications and projects is unusual for these loans – and attractive.

The amount lent is capped at 70% of the initial, starting valuation of the development site, which is fantastically good compared to most development lending.

I put my trust in the key decision makers at CrowdProperty.

What I don’t like

CrowdProperty is putting standards over growth, and the downside to that is it has meant fewer loans – a handful a month. That said, with a bit of patience you will grow a diversified selection of loans through CrowdProperty.

Visit CrowdProperty.

If using auto-lend, you could put less money in to begin with and top it up after some of it has been lent out. This ensures that your money is not sitting in CrowdProperty’s investor account for several months without earning interest.

Back up to the top picks.

Top property IFISA pick: Proplend

Its best loans offer attractive interest rates with great property security receiving rent.

Lending account or loans I favour

I like to self-select a specific set of property loans at Proplend* that have all four of the following characteristics:

  • “Tranche A” loans, which means the loan is for less than half of the property valuation (50% LTV or less).
  • Loans that have never been renewed or rolled over, in order to reduce the risk of being caught out with a problem borrower that kicks the can down the road.
  • The loans are based on residential or commercial properties that are already receiving more in rent than the monthly loan payments to Proplend’s lenders.
  • The loan is not connected to any other loans that I am already lending in, which usually means that it is not the same borrower.

These loans pay an average of 6.75% interest.

While I prefer self-selecting with Proplend, you could temporarily switch on auto-lend just prior to an announced loan going live, ensuring you have the right amount of money available for it, and then switch it off again afterwards. Lenders using auto-lend get priority lending, so it improves your chances of being able to take part in a loan.

Description of what it does

Proplend* started off doing loans exactly as I describe in the above bullet list, which pay interest on a monthly basis, and then you get your money back at the end of the loan.

Proplend also now offers similar loans that more risk and it has also branched out to offer riskier kinds of loans, such as property development loans.

Proplend effectively holds a deposit from the borrower by holding back several months’ interest that was added to the loan. That doesn’t hurt, but we need more time and data to see if that lowers the risks for lenders.

What I like

These loans are in a nice spot. They are not the lowest-risk loans possible, since they are not necessarily the prime residential buy-to-let (BTL) mortgages offered by many high-street banks. These loans are approved slightly more flexibly and on different kinds of properties.

But far from being a negative point, that actually works out in our favour, as lenders, since it gives us a different opportunity: the loans still receive rent and have fantastic security, but on top of that they currently pay higher interest rates than the risks demand.

These loans have been paying 6.75% interest to lenders after deducting Proplend’s lending fee. That is about double the rate you get on prime BTL, but a long way off double the risk.

Notably, the borrowers are also already receiving rent on their properties, rather than expecting to do so at some point in future. The rent is for more than the loan, typically over 1.1 or 1.25 times the monthly loan payment.

Even allowing for some flexibility in how Proplend* approves loans, I like the straightforward criteria it uses for tranche A loans with rent, which make it easier even for less experienced staff to evaluate loans and control the risks. I like that, apart from a small tweak, it hasn’t weakened its lending criteria on its rental property loans. It could have chosen to do so rather than to start development lending.

Just a couple of these loans have failed to repay on time. While they still need to be repaid, the latest information from Proplend is that the borrowers are still easily paying the monthly interest to lenders.

What I don’t like

Proplend* is an unusual pick for me, since it still hasn’t 100% convinced me it has all the skills and experience we would ideally like to see, although that mostly impacts its development lending.

Proplend could perhaps make it clearer to lenders that valuing commercial property (on its commercial property loans) is not quite as stable and reliable as valuing residential property usually is.

I’ll give an example: a restaurant next to an industrial estate is paying solid rent to its landlord, who is also the borrower, but the industrial estate closes down. There are now no people near the restaurant and therefore no customers. The restaurant will close and the landlord will struggle to sell the property for anything like the initial property valuation. That is an extreme example, but it’s just to highlight that those sorts of risks are bigger in commercial properties than residential.

Proplend’s strict criteria does mean that it often doesn’t have many available loans to different borrowers. Therefore you need to limit the amount you lend in Proplend until it grows some more.

…And that’s not easy for many people: the minimum you can put into a loan is £1,000.

I am not into Proplend’s optional auto-lend service, because you can’t choose to limit your lending to loans that match the criteria in my bullet list above. Its auto-lend is also technically a little primitive, so it might end up concentrating your lending too much. Stick to manual selection.

Visit Proplend*

I personally don’t like the idea of putting more than 10%-15% of my money through any single IFISA. I don’t see the point in taking more risk when there are enough great choices out there to spread my money around.

Back up to the top picks.

Top property IFISA pick: Assetz Capital

Specific loans offer attractive interest rates and there’s quite a lot of choice.

Lending account or loans I favour

The Assetz Capital Manual Lending IFISA*.

I favour self-selecting loans with a first charge that either:

a) Have a loan-to-value below 60% or

b) Are loans to a residential or commercial landlord with an existing, attractive, reliable income stream and a loan-to-value below 80%. That income stream will typically be existing rental income on a buy-to-let or commercial property.

I favour spreading my money thinly between all possible loans with those above strict, but broad brush criteria, rather than attempting to pick the best ones from among them. Safety first!

These loans pay an average 7.57% before bad debts.

Description of what it does

Assetz Capital has a variety of different automated lending accounts and one manual lending account. All the loans are to either landlords that own residential or commercial property, property developers, or small businesses.

All loans, including the small business loans, are secured on real property (real estate).

The loans have a wide range of terms, from five months to five years. They are typically interest-only loans, with the full loan paid at the end, but there are also a lot of loans where both some of your money and interest is paid regularly.

Some loans also blend the two, starting off as interest only before switching to repayment loans.

The automated lending accounts come with small reserve funds to cover expected losses and the manual account pays higher rates.

What I like

I like a good proportion of Assetz Capital’s loans. Certainly they have enough loans with good security to make it worth browsing through them quite regularly with broad brush criteria.

That’s why I prefer the self-select account rather than any of its automated lending accounts.

With the manual account, you can also be certain you’re not putting too much of your money into any one loan, and you earn higher interest rates that easily offset the lack of reserve fund.

With the sorts of loans I favour, you earn around 7.6% interest per year before bad debts on average, which is appropriate for the risks, if you take the time to spread your money equally across lots of loans.

For lenders who do that, outstanding bad debts are at 4.5% (excluding fresh new loans just started in the past 12 months). We can probably expect around half of the outstanding bad debts to make full recoveries, and fair or partial recoveries on most of the remainder, although some more loans will also go bad, counterbalancing that somewhat.

Why do I like that? Because those are one-off bad debts, whereas you earn residual interest on most loans for months or years afterwards, meaning your total interest is many percentage points higher than a one-off 7.6%. Indeed, these loans typically are not fully repaid by the borrowers for three years. So the good stuff – the interest – is ongoing in a batch of loans, and the bad stuff – the bad debts – just happens once. The balance here is good.

What I don’t like

In my view, Assetz Capital has focused on the quality of the security over the quality of the borrower. I must acknowledge that I have a personal bias against IFISAs that are loose like that, even if they charge high enough interest rates to compensate.

I usually prefer property IFISAs where the key people have demonstrated that they are intensely interested in both the borrower and security, which reduces the risk of loans going bad. This is not just because of the loan quality, but because I feel there’s the potential for what insurers call “moral hazard”.

For example, some car insurers charge more to car owners with Go Faster stripes on their cars. That's not because the paint job is more expensive to re-do after an accident, but because the stripes say something about the character of the owner. Indeed, statistically they are more likely to be involved in more expensive accidents with personal injury.

Overall, my estimate is that the motivating forces at Assetz Capital are second tier, in that other P2P lending sites convince me that they are single-mindedly focused on loan quality, whereas Assetz appears to me to be at least as driven by growth as disciplined loan selection. Often, the two are in conflict, as a drive for growth can lead to lower standards.

Assetz Capital has also had a new key loan decision maker for many months now and despite my efforts and others in the 4thWay expert team, none of us have been able to make contact with him to grill him.

Visit Assetz Capital.

I am highly confident that returns across six or seven of the property IFISA/P2P providers here are going to prove highly satisfactory for most lenders, when spreading money reasonably equally across them. Do sign up to our newsletter to stay up-to-date on changes though, since the strength of lending opportunities can change over time.

Back up to the top picks.

Top property IFISA pick: Loanpad

100% of the loans are for less than half the property valuations and partner lenders take first loss of 33%.

Lending account or loans I favour

I like the Loanpad Premium ISA*, which pays 5% interest. Your money is spread automatically across all outstanding loans.

Description of what it does

Loanpad is a bridging and development lending IFISA provider. Your loans are repaid over six to 18 months.

What I like

Loanpad* partners with experienced lending firms that take the riskiest slice of every loan. Its first partner lends in all the Loanpad loans, averaging around 33% of the loan. The partner will be the first to lose their money.

Individual Loanpad lenders are in a super safe space. Unlike all other property IFISA providers, it’s not just some loans that are in that sweet spot, but all Loanpad loans. This makes it very easy to evaluate.

The biggest loan is for 46% of the initial property valuation. That’s the initial value, not the hoped-for sale price on completing a development. The smallest loan is for a remarkable 23%.

I find it plausible that Loanpad* will be able to comfortably maintain these loan standards for quite a long while, as it has a lot of room to grow.

The interest rate of 5% is fantastic for a basket of automatically diversified loans that all meet this high standard. It’s hard to imagine how lenders can lose money under any circumstances.

Loanpad’s CEO seems well placed to assess partner lending firms, having worked with many of them as a property lawyer for a long time. He also has some experience heading up a bridging lender himself.

I like that you can auto-spread across all loans when lending as little as £10.

What I don’t like

While it is interesting to have a property IFISA provider that focuses on assessing partner lenders and leaving them the risky loan parts, it would be nice if Loanpad also had much deeper and broader skills in assessing loans for itself. That would simply be the icing on the cake.

Visit Loanpad*

You can dramatically lower lending risks further by lending fixed amounts every month, regardless of how the economy and borrowers are doing, and commit to lend until all the loans have been fully repaid. This ensures you even out any blips – not that they would be anything like the stock market rollercoaster anyway.

Back up to the top picks.

Top property IFISA pick: Octopus Choice

Born from a highly organised and much more established lender with an impeccable record and great financial strength.

Lending account or loans I favour

Octopus Choice has one IFISA, which automatically spreads your money across at least ten property loans.

Octopus Choice lends 5% of its own money in every loan. It takes the first loss on any loan that goes bad and is not fully recovered after a forced sale of the property.

This property IFISA is projected to pay 4% or slightly more after bad debts.

Description of what it does

Octopus Choice does buy-to-let, bridging, bridge-to-let, and commercial property loans.

The buy-to-let mortgages are to landlords that already have tenants in their properties. Buy-to-let mortgages make up the bulk of the loans through Octopus Choice; 2/3 of the loans it has approved in 2018 have been buy-to-let.

Bridging loans are short-term loans to property borrowers.

Bridge-to-let is when a borrower, in this case usually a landlord with four or more properties, is offered a loan before the property has become fully tenanted.

Commercial property is when properties like offices and shop buildings are being let out to occupying businesses.

What I like

I like the possibly unique risk position of Octopus Choice’s loans.

The buy-to-let mortgages are not always the absolute bog-standard, lowest-risk, 25-year mortgages that landlords with steady property portfolios get through any old high-street bank.

They are instead mostly shorter-term mortgages of two to five years, and the landlords are not necessarily borrowing entirely for the regular reasons that “normal” buy-to-let landlords borrow for. We can therefore expect the number of loans to suffer problems will be just a tick higher than you see on the prime high-street, which is incredibly low.

To more than compensate for that slight uptick in risk, the borrower interest rates on Octopus Choice’s buy-to-let mortgages are also a few percentage points higher. While the amount lenders receive is not much higher than you’d expect from the primest lending, Octopus Choice contributes by lending 5% of its own money in every loan and taking the first loss. This is an effective way to lower your risks. On average, Octopus is lending around £35,000.

Including the first loss, lenders are lending around 57% of the property valuation in these loans, on average, which gives excellent protection against losses for these high-quality, near prime loans. On almost all loans, any losses should be very well contained.

Octopus Choice’s bridging loans make an interesting contrast with its buy-to-let mortgages.

These sort of temporary property loans often come with few borrower checks, while also knowingly allowing borrowers to temporarily overextend themselves beyond what is usually sensible. They often come with a very high risk of lots of the loans going bad or of major delays in repayment, as you might have experienced for yourself at other P2P lending sites.

Not with Octopus Choice.

Octopus Choice is part of a much larger and experienced lending business that has decided to keep all somewhat riskier lending for itself and only put the safer loans on its P2P lending and IFISA platform. So Octopus is focusing on the lower-risk end of the bridging-loan market, where the borrowers, and their plans to pay off the loan at the end, are especially stable.

The interest rates on its bridging loans reflect this, being quite a fair bit lower than you often see for such loans. But the borrower rates, averaging around 7%-8%, seem perfectly appropriate.

Intensive processes to assess loans clearly lower the risk of selecting bad loans across Octopus’ wider business group. The first loss applies to the bridging loans too, and with the information we have so far it is likely that the first loss will prove itself useful with these loans.

Of all loans that are more than a year old, seven out of 227, or 3%, have missed at least two payments or been pushed to the lawyers to collect as bad debts. This is within the range I would expect for the type and quality of loans Octopus is approving.

I’ve met three of the top decision makers personally, which is one to two people more than I usually get to meet, as well as one of the regional loan managers, and my spidey sense did not tingle. (Marvel don’t sue me.) On the contrary. Its people and lending processes are as professional as they come, culminating in a hierarchy of four people who individually have to approve each loan.

On a daily basis, Octopus Choice rebalances the loans you are lending in to ensure you are always spread across at least ten loans. Ten is not usually going to be sufficient, but in practice lenders are usually spread across a great many more loans than that. On average, lenders are spread across 130 loans after two years of lending.

You can also take diversification matters into your own hands by staggering your lending, or by lending for longer.

Without great diversification like this, the 4% lender rate would become less attractive, as there would be a higher risk of bad luck.

What I don’t like

Although the lower rates are offset with excellent risk controls, I find the lender rates on bridging loans a little bit disappointing, as they are only a tick higher than on the buy-to-let loans.

Visit Octopus Choice.

Back up to the top picks.

Independent opinion: 4thWay will help you to identify your options and narrow down your choices. We suggest what you could do, but we won't tell you what to do or where to lend; the decision is yours. We are responsible for the accuracy and quality of the information we provide, but not for any decision you make based on it. The material is for general information and education purposes only.

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The 4thWay® PLUS Ratings are calculations developed by professional risk modellers (someone who models risks for the banks), experienced investors and a debt specialist from one of the major consultancy firms. They measure the interest you earn against the risk of suffering losses from borrowers being unable to repay their loans in scenarios up to a serious recession and a major property crash. The ratings assume you spread your money across hundreds or thousands of loans, and continue lending until all your loans are repaid. They assume you lend across 6-12 rated P2P lending accounts or IFISAs, and measure your overall performance across all of them, not against individual performances.

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