The buy to let sector is going to be challenging again this year and it is the main focus of Property Wire’s first panel debate of 2018 which looks at what lies ahead in terms of change.

Overall, it must be remembered that letting out a property is a business whether you have one property or a portfolio, it involves paying tax, management, regulation, marketing, finance and knowing your area.

Rents ticked up during 2017 and 2018 will probably follow a similar pattern. The latest index from your Move shows that in the 12 months to January rents rose by an average of 2.5% in England and Wales.

But being a landlord is not just about averages, it is knowing what is happening on the ground where your property is being let out. So going beyond the average national figure is vital. Indeed the index shows that the strongest rental growth has been in the North West and East Midlands with typical monthly rent in these regions some 2.9% higher than 12 months ago.

But there is, of course, wide variations. Average rents in London are £1,276 compared to £534 in the North East. Cities such as Liverpool and Manchester, plus rural areas of Cheshire and Lancashire, have typical rents of £636 a month and demand is strong.

Then there are yields, which fell in 2017. At the beginning of 2018 they have stabilised with all regions in England and Wales seeing the same percentage returns in January as they did the previous month.

Northern regions continue to offer the best returns to investors, with the North East leading the way. Despite having lower rents than elsewhere, investors enjoyed a yield of 5% was higher than anywhere else.

The North West also has a high yield rate, with the average property returning 4.9%, while in Wales the figure was 4.8%. London continues to offer the smallest percentage returns to investors at 3.2% and the South East and South West regions also saw low returns at 3.3%.

All this needs to be put into context as to what is happening in the private rented sector. There are challenges around tax, there is the upcoming ban on letting fees, the phasing out of mortgage relief and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which will require landlords to process tenants’ personal data more rigorously and securely than perhaps many do at the moment.

This comes at a time when the supply of properties to rent is falling but demand it not likely to plummet as new homes are not being built fast enough and aspiring first time buyers who do not have the option of living with parents are struggling to save for a deposit as property prices continue to rise. There is also the prospect of a further interest rate rise that will increase the cost of a mortgage.

Indeed, the supply of rental properties in Britain fell by 8% from December to January but at the same time demand from prospective renters rose, the latest survey from the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) shows.

Research from consumer group Which? Mortgage has found that 22% of would be first time buyers have moved in with their parents so they can save for a deposit and 37% are working overtime while 19% are selling personal belongings. The group says that with the average property price in the UK at £234,794, to have a deposit of just 10% requires savings of over £23,000, without factoring in the additional costs of buying a property.

In London with prices much higher it is even harder. The latest report from UK Finance on home lending shows that the average first time buyer in London is aged 32 and has an income of £66,000 but they are still finding it hard to get on the capital’s housing ladder.

All this points to the fact that the PRS is needed. Not everyone aspiring to buy their first home can stay with parents, inherit money or rely in the bank of mum and dad. The overwhelming message that for landlords the business is there, they are needed, but they need to be up to date with challenge and change and embrace both.