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Is property a better investment than active funds?

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The virtues of active fund management have once again come in for criticism, with new research showing that 70% of actively run UK funds saw their performance beaten by average house price growth in the last three years.

Traditionally actively managed funds – namely funds where a manager puts together a portfolio of individually chosen companies – have their performance compared with passive funds (or index trackers) which adopt lower fees because they simply track stock market indices, such as the FTSE 100.

However in a latest swipe at active funds, new research by Property Planner has revealed that since 2013 only 30% of active managers (namely 95 funds out of 239 in the IA UK All Companies sector) have beaten average house price growth of 24.9% across 100 major UK towns and cities.

Indeed according to the research a homeowner in Slough and Watford – where house prices grew 52.1% and 51.3% respectively – would have performed better than every fund in the UK All Companies sector. This is because the top performing fund over three years to 24 March 2017, the Castlefield Fund Partners SLD UK Buffettology fund, returned 50.5%.

According to Property Planner, the housing market has also outperformed over the last 20 years, with the average property value since 1996 rising 304%, versus the FTSE All-Share which grew 270%.

Dan Gandesha, CEO of Property Partner, said: “Over the past few years bricks and mortar has once again proved itself to be an investment to rival them all, capable of significantly outperforming the riskier forays of stock market speculators.

“Active fund managers use vast amounts of in-depth research to find hidden value in companies, but just by sitting on their properties, homeowners and residential property investors have beaten most of the very best investment minds in the UK. It is no surprise that property remains a key area of focus for private investors.”

So how has this research been received by those in charge of picking active funds for their clients? Mark Dampier, the head of research at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “This comparison is wrong on every scale. I have to ask why they have chosen three years and why 1996 when conducting this research?

“Well the latter is at the bottom of the housing market crash, so it’s hardly a surprise after seven previous torrid years, which saw many in negative equity, that housing then did well. These figures are all vague; are they based on actual buying and selling of real houses, and what about the costs?

“Like most property tables there seems no account of buying and selling costs which are huge, especially today. Then there are the costs of running a house. Council tax, utilities, insurance and you should account for 1% per year for maintenance.”

Alternatively Dampier said investors can start equity investment for about £25 per month. “It appears less volatile because it’s only priced occasionally, while equities are priced by the second. You can also sell your shares very quickly. Try selling a house and getting the money within a couple of days.”

Dampier’s colleague, David Smith, a fund manager at Hargreaves Lansdown, added: “Fair enough it has probably been true over the last three years, but there is some distinct cherry-picking of data going on here.

“I was just looking yesterday at the Nationwide figures for the UK as a whole and amazed at how the average UK residential property price hadn’t really moved anywhere for a while. The data suggests UK house prices have made no real (inflation-adjusted) capital gain since March 2004, That’s almost 13 years of no real gain.”