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The British are infatuated with owning their own property and politicians know that. Margaret Thatcher used it as a vote winner in 1979 when she allowed council house tenants to buy their own home. Coming to the present day, Boris Johnson’s Conservative government have anxieties that the Brits have not been buying nearly enough homes lately and, as with all countries in the world, the British property market was put ‘on ice’ for several months to help contain the Coronavirus, exacerbating the problem.

 

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced on Wednesday plans to boost the property market by momentarily scrapping Stamp Duty Tax (a tax paid by homebuyers) when they buy a property that costs less than £500,000.

 

Interestingly, Stamp Duty was originally introduced in 1694 as a way to raise funds for The Nine Years' War (1688–1697) against Louis XIV of France and applied to property and some legal documents.

 

Why is this important? Well the Government recognise that when the property market is working well, the economy also tends to work well, yet one of the barriers to people moving home is Stamp Duty. Even before Coronavirus, Brits were moving 40.21% less than they were at the start of the millennium, and now with this dreadful situation, the natural reaction is for people to stay put in their own homes, meaning another potential nail in the coffin for the economy.

 

Stamp Duty has raised not an insignificant £166.53bn since 1998, impressive when you consider the NHS costs £129bn per annum. Looking at more recent figures, the Government currently raise £1.045bn per month from Stamp Duty Tax and this statement will remove a good chunk of that from the Chancellors coffers each month, yet the Government knows a healthy property market will help the wider economy.

 

As Stamp Duty is a transaction tax, it restricts labour market mobility, making people who are thinking of switching jobs think twice before moving. Stamp Duty also holds back elderly homeowners from downsizing to smaller homes, which is an issue for the UK, as we don’t have enough homes to meet supply and also curtails first time buyers as it forces them to use some of the savings on the tax, as opposed to using for a deposit.

 

Before the changes, the Stamp Duty thresholds were as follows: 

 

  • Zero percent up to £125,000
  • Two percent of the next £125,000 (the portion from £125,001 to £250,000)
  • Five percent of the next £675,000 (the portion from £250,001 to £925,000)
  • Ten percent of the next £575,000 (the portion from £925,001 to £1.5 million)
  • 12% of the remaining amount (the portion above £1.5 million)

 

and between the 8th July 2020 and 31st March 2021

 

  • Zero percent up to £500,000
  • Five percent of the next £425,000 (the portion from £500,001 to £925,000)
  • Ten percent of the next £575,000 (the portion from £925,001 to £1.5 million)
  • 12% of the remaining amount (the portion above £1.5 million)

 

Landlords and buy to let landlords will also benefit from these reduced rates yet will still have to pay their additional premium for second homes (as they have since April 2016).

 

To give you an idea how significant this is, if these rules had been in place exactly a year ago for Luton properties purchased under £500,000 (i.e. between the 8th July 2019 and 31st March 2020).

 

Stamp Duty would not have been paid on 1,413

Luton properties, worth in total £376,669,700

 

Anyone buying any home in Luton over £500,000 are also winners in this, as they will save having to pay the first £15,000 in stamp duty (under the old scheme). This is because during these 9 months, stamp duty is only paid on the difference over £500,000 (so if you buy a property for say £620,000 – one only pays the stamp duty on the difference between £620,000 and £500,000 i.e. £120,000).

 

I’m all for reducing Stamp Duty, which is imposed progressively at higher rates the higher a property costs (as you can see from the tables above). Yet, short-lived changes to property taxation risk warping the property market and generating a ‘property market hangover’ in Spring 2021. I am part of a group of 2,500 estate and letting agents from the UK, and most of us were running at 150% speed before this announcement, coping with the post Coronavirus explosion in demand.

 

Now it seems that the ‘feast’ will continue until the end of March 2021 as many more people will move to take advantage of the cut in tax. However, some are suggesting this could lead to ‘famine’ down the line as it will stop people moving into the late spring and summer of 2021.

 

History tells us different stories on the influence on transaction volumes from changing Stamp Duty rates. In 1991 the Tory’s raised the Stamp Duty threshold at which house buyers started paying and Gordon Brown did so in 2008 when we went into the Credit Crunch. More recently, both George Osborne and Philip Hammond fine-tuned Stamp Duty so that landlords had to pay an additional Stamp Duty Premium after March 2016 whilst first-time buyers pay less Stamp Duty and the purchasers of more expensive homes (over £1.5m) pay more.

 

The Stamp Duty changes for landlords in 2016 affected the property market only for a short while and by the autumn, transactions levels had returned to normal. However, in 1991, John Major’s Stamp Duty change encouraged home buyers to bring forward home purchases but nevertheless the property market ground to a standstill again once the benefit ended (although the steps up the 1990’s Stamp Duty levels were much harsher as the tax applied to the whole purchase price, not the margin steps as it had in the 1990’s).

 

So how much money will Luton people save when buying a home under £500k?

 

The average Stamp Duty paid by those Luton home buyers in the 9 months between the 8th July 2019 and 31st March 2020 was £3,329

 

Being objective, I can see why the Chancellor could see this as a suitable way to motivate spending because when people move home, they are more inclined to spend comprehensively on property renovations and the services of solicitors, home removal people, tradesmen and estate agents. So, drastically reducing Stamp Duty will undoubtedly help the UK economy, or at least contain some of the damage from the Coronavirus.  

 

Also, the experience of being in lockdown will have confirmed to many Luton people that they need a bigger home or one with a bigger garden. I also suspect other people may be able to work from home on a more long-lasting basis, meaning there could be a shift from the larger cities to outlying towns and even a move to the countryside.

 

So, these are my thoughts, what are yours?

One of my Luton landlords contacted me last week from Breachwood Green, after he had spoken to a landlord friend of his from Chalton. He told me they were deliberating the Luton property market and neither of them could make their mind up if it was time to either sell or buy property following Covid-19. His friend said he would wait to see what would happen to property prices following Covid-19, yet my landlord wanted to pick my brain in order to help him decide what to do.

 

I said the press are aware bad news sells newspapers and the doom mongers are plying their trade on uncertainty in the world economic situation. Roll the clock back to the Credit Crunch of 2008/9, and there were quite a few landlords in Luton who had overexposed themselves with high percentage loan to value buy to let mortgages, backing the hope they would make their money on the capital growth, yet fell foul of a drop in rents and thus got bankrupted (but who could blame them when the property market was rising at 15% to 20% a year in the early 2000’s and banks like Northern Rock were giving mortgages out to anyone with a pulse and note from their Mum).

 

Thankfully the Bank of England changed the rules on all mortgages in 2014 banning self-certification mortgages, tightening the rules around interest-only mortgages and the requirement around affordability to be checked, plus a tough stress test if interest rates rose. It’s obvious we are going to enter into a recession because of Covid-19, yet this time the Luton property market is better placed to weather the storm.

 

However, gone are the days when you could buy any old house in Luton and it would make money. Yes, in the past, anything in Luton that had four walls and a roof would make you money because since World War 2, property prices doubled every seven years … it was like having a free cash machine.

 

If a landlord bought a Luton terraced / town house in the summer of 2000, he or she would have seen a profit of £136,200 to its current value of £205,400, a rise of 196.9%

 

Nonetheless, if that landlord had bought the same property in 2010, the Luton landlord would have only made £51,900 profit (a 33.8% increase). Yet since 2010, the country has experienced 31.5% inflation, meaning our Luton landlord has seen the ‘real’ value of their Luton property increase by only 2.3% (i.e. 33.8% less 31.5% inflation).

 

And this is my point. Nobody has been complaining about the property market in the last ten years, yet even after inflation, landlords are still making only the smallest of profits. If we do see a slight dip in property prices because of Covid-19 (looking at the market at the moment I haven’t seen any indication of its slowing down from its post lockdown takeoff), but if we do, Luton landlords need to realise property values aren’t the only indicator of whether the property market is good or not.

 

The reality is, since around the early 2000’s we haven’t seen anything like the capital growth in property we have seen in the past and it’s not predicted to grow at the rates it has previously done either. So, I believe it is high time for any Luton landlord, pondering investing in Luton property to stop believing the hype and do some serious research using independent investment expertise. You can still make money by buying the right Luton property at the right price and finding the right tenant.

 

Think about it, properties in real terms are only 2.3% higher than a decade ago, so investing in Luton property is not only about capital growth, but also about the yield (the return from the rent). It’s also about having a balanced property portfolio that will match what you want from your investment – and what is a ‘balanced property portfolio’? Well we discuss such matters on the Luton Property Blog ... if you haven’t seen the articles, then it might be worth a few minutes of your time? 

…. and should Luton landlords & Luton homeowners be worried?

 

In 2019, the private rented sector accounted for just over four and a half million households or 19.9% of UK households, no change from the year before. Interesting, when compared to the proportion of private rented households in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when the proportion of private rented households was stable at around 9.5% to 10.8%.

 

Most of that growth in the private rented sector came in three main spurts. The first growth spurt was between 1999 and 2003 and that was caused when property values were increasing at 20% per annum, the second came from the migration of 1.69m people from the EU8 countries after 2004 and the final growth spurt came about because of the property crash of 2008/9. When I look at the local stats…

 

8.2% of Luton properties in 1991 were privately rented,

whilst the most recent stats stand at 22.2%

 

Apart from social housing, the other pillar of home tenure is owner occupation. Owner occupation is made up of two separate groups: outright owners and those who own their home yet are buying the property with a mortgage.

 

In 1991, 19.9% of Luton households owned their property outright and 54.2% of Luton households were buying with a mortgage, whilst current stats show 25.6% of Luton households are outright owners and only 35.5% are buying their Luton home with a mortgage

Looking at these numbers, two things are clear-

  1. The increase in the proportion and number of Luton outright owners is at least somewhat caused by Luton’s baby-boomer population retiring, being able to pay off their mortgages and thus going into outright homeownership.
  2. Overall homeownership is down. These figures will be of no surprise to many readers with heightened barriers to home ownership, as saving for the deposit became the prevailing hurdle to getting on the housing ladder together with a substantial increase in the amount of private rented accommodation, provided by an ostensibly ever-growing cohort of buy to let investors.

So, on the face of it, everything looks rosy for Luton buy to let landlords with the private rented sector growing ever upwards.

This is not the case though, because these stats on private rented and homeownership on Luton are from the last census. However, the Government have a number of in-depth annual surveys on the property market and since 2016, the proportion of privately rented properties has remained stagnant at between 19% and 20%. Also, over the same time frame, the proportion of homebuyers with a mortgage has increased quite considerably from 30.7% of all households nationally to 35.5% last year. This increase is mainly attributed to an increase in first time buyers.

So, why have we seen an increase in the number of first time buyers?

 

Firstly, the government introduced their Help to Buy Scheme in 2013 helping first time buyers get on the property ladder with interest free loans and mortgage guarantees. Secondly, the wide availability of 95% mortgages since the mid 2010’s (meaning first time buyers only need to find a 5% deposit), and finally the continued increasing reliance of deposits from the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ have helped to support this growth.

 

Interestingly, age is an important factor in these stats, as it’s the 25 to 35-year olds that have seen the biggest increase in home ownership, yet it’s decreased for those in the 35 to 45-year old bracket.

 

So, what does all this mean for Luton landlords and Luton homeowners?

 

In the next six months, I believe the growth in first time buyer numbers will ease slightly. The pent-up demand of the Boris Bounce in January and February has now been released, and whilst the early signs are very good, we are still to see the effects of the curtailing of the furlough scheme on the people’s ability to move home.

 

Many doom-mongers were predicting the banks would remove 95% mortgages after Covid-19, yet looking on a well-known comparison website, at the time of writing, there were 183 ‘95% mortgages’ available to first time buyers, with eye watering low rates of 1.53% with the Halifax on a 2 year fixed rate and 5 year fixed rate with the Skipton at 1.83%. The Bank of Mum and Dad might be a tougher nut to crack for first time buyers’ deposits - the fall in the FTSE and the repercussions this will certainly have on older households’ pensions income may restrict its availability.

 

This means even though the Luton property market is doing reasonably well, Luton homeowners wanting to sell shouldn’t get carried away and ‘over-egg’ their asking prices. The information available today at all buyers’ fingertips means your property can so easily be overlooked as being overpriced, and thus become ignored.

 

My advice to Luton landlords is, even though the proportion of private rented properties isn’t growing, in real numbers it is, as we created 230,000 residential homes in the country last year alone, so we aren’t seeing a mass exodus out of private renting.

 

Yet, now might be the time to consider spending money on upgrading what you already own instead of buying another property. Depending on the type and location of your Luton rental property, the return on investment of certain upgrades can be in the order of 20% to 30% per annum. Don’t fall for the trap many Luton landlords fall into and upgrade without speaking to a property professional. Whether you are a client or not, I am always here at the end of the phone to give you my advice and opinion.

 

Please do let me have your thoughts on the matter – thank you in advance.

Should you wait to buy your first home in Luton or buy now? What sort of mortgages are available? What sort of deposit is required? These are questions all Luton buyers are asking at the moment, yet this week I would like to focus on Luton first time buyers and what it means directly and indirectly to Luton homeowners looking to move up the Luton property ladder and Luton buy to let landlords.

  

Well quite frankly, to answer that question it’s contingent on what Luton property you are looking to move into and even more significantly, how long you are hoping to live in that property.

 

We have many armchair economists and even professional economists predicting Armageddon when it comes to the property market, yet the Luton (and UK) property market is essentially very sound. Don’t forget the Chancellor himself, George Osborne warned that if we voted to leave the EU two things would happen. Firstly, the UK property market would crash and property values would drop by 18% in the two years after the vote. Secondly, there would be an ‘economic shock’ to the country’s economy that would increase the cost of mortgages (through increased interest rates as there would be a run on the Pound). UK GDP rose by £132bn in the two years after the referendum and interest rates actually dropped locally, with regard to property values …

 

Luton house prices rose by 9.8% in the 2 years

following the Brexit vote

 

Lloyds have predicted an enormous 30% fall in property prices over the next 36 months whilst Savills have suggested a short dip of 5% during the summer, based on very low transactions numbers, with property prices bouncing back to be just over 15% higher in 5 years’ time. This assumes that the UK plc economic downturn is short & sharp, and that no substantial gap opens up between supply and demand in the property market (i.e. everyone doesn’t dump their property market all at the same time).

 

Luton Property Values after the 2008 Credit Crunch crisis plummeted 13% between 2008 and the end of 2009.

 

Yet, the circumstances of the 2008/9 property crash were fundamentally different to today. Many ‘armchair economists’ assume there will be a re-run of the 2008/9 and 1988 property crashes in the coming 12 months in terms of house value falls. Yet, dissimilar to the last recession, this dip has not been led by previous years of strong property price growth like the other two crashes. House prices in many parts of the UK have been down in the last 12 months.

 

You would think Luton first-time buyers who have already saved their deposit could grab a bargain in the coming months, you would believe they would have less competition in the market because of landlords holding back buying additional rental properties. This is because of the press speculation that rent arrears are sky high from tenants who are unable to pay their rent. Yet evidence from many professional bodies in the private rental sector state rent arrears across the whole of the Country are appearing to be very low indeed, despite Covid-19. 

Interestingly, the firm Yomdel who handles ‘web live chat’ and ‘phone support’ for thousands of estate and letting agents have reported national activity is higher than the two months of the Boris Bounce (in January and February 2020). The number of new buyer enquiries for the last two weeks is double (108.9% higher to be precise) than the 2019 yearly rolling average. New landlord enquiries are 32.1% higher than the 2019 average and tenants are 150.1% higher than the 2019 average ... these are all great signs and go against the doom monger economists.

 

My best advice to all Luton property buyers is, be they second time buyers, first time buyers, landlords … whatever number buyers, they should buy with a medium-term view of future Luton property values, instead of an expectation of always looking to making a quick few pounds flipping a property (i.e. selling it quickly).

 

Let’s not forget that mortgage interest rates are another important factor: they are at a 325-year low, so borrowing money has never been so inexpensive. If you know you are going to be living in your first (or second) Luton home for five years and you want the peace of mind of knowing precisely what your mortgage payments will be, then it’s very attractive. At the time of writing, Barclays are offering any first-time buyer a 95% mortgage on a 5-year fixed rate of 2.95%. The average value of an average terraced house in Luton is £231,800 and so with the 5% deposit of £11,000 on a 35-year term the …

 

Mortgage payments on a typical Luton terraced house would only be £844 per month (i.e. much cheaper than renting)

 

Many lenders are lending money even if you are on furlough, yet you may find you won’t be able to borrow as much pre Covid-19. Interestingly, some mortgage companies will even take into account total income, where your employer is topping up the Government’s furloughed amount, whilst other lenders will consider mortgage applications on a case-by-case basis. The best advice I can give is, don’t assume what you can or can’t borrow. Speak to a whole of market mortgage broker, to see what is possible – not what your friend on Facebook tells you, what you can or can’t borrow.

 

You only need to put down a 5% deposit

for the property you would like to buy

 

If you think about it, it’s inconsequential if Luton property values drop or not, or if they do drop whether they bounce back quickly (or not as the case maybe) because it’s impossible to know the bottom of the property market. I would say if you find the right Luton property for you, at the price that feels right, that will be your home together and you are going live in that Luton property for the next five to ten years, it’s not a bad time to be buying. It is like waiting for the next piece of tech – there will always be a better model or an assumed better time. We are talking about your home here – a home for you and your partner and family, be that your kids, dog, cat, pet or favourite pot plant because …

 

Spending money on rent is all wasted money – at least when you buy your own home, you start to pay your mortgage off from day 1

 

So many first-time buyers use the Bank of Mum and Dad to help with their deposit, yet I have spoken to many parents who wouldn’t want to interfere in their mature children’s life and subsidise day to day expenditure, yet are embarrassed to offer their help with the deposit. If you don’t ask …you don’t get!

New Electrical Safety Regulations could cost each Luton Landlord £350+ in the next 13 months

 

Luton Electricians are going to very busy in the next 13 months as they will have to test the electrics of every private rented property in Luton and potentially may have to install new fuse boards and wiring in some circumstances.

 

New regulations set out in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 gave the Secretary of State of Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government the authority to compel private landlords to test their fixed electrical systems.  Currently, these responsibilities only apply to licensable Houses of Multiple Occupancy (where a house is split into individual rooms) yet these new rules will come into force for any new tenancy or renewal of any private rented home from the 1st July this year (2020).

 

All new tenancies from the 1st July 2020 will need

to have had their electrics tested

 

The new IET electrical regulations enforce a duty on all private landlords to ensure that their electrical installation complies with the 18th edition (from 2018) of the IET wiring regulations.  Therefore, any property built before the middle of 2018 will have electrics to 17th edition regulations (or a previous edition).  It might not sound a lot, but the 18th edition regulations were a substantial update over the 17th edition which were published in 2008.  Now, just because a rental property was built with its electrics up to the prevailing 15th, 16th or 17th regulations at the time of building, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will automatically fail this test.

 

A qualified electrician will need to test your rental property against the new 18th Regulations (as that is standard practice in the industry), which will cost in the region of £150 plus VAT for a small one bed flat through to £250/£350 plus VAT for a large 4 or 5 bed house (again these are ballpark figures).  The Electrician won’t fail a property who complies with a previous regulation (e.g. 16th or 17th) unless there is a good reason to do so.  No doubt there will be further clarification notes issued before the implementation date to sort this out – and I will keep you informed in this blog.

Electricians are telling me any property built after 16th Regulations came into force in 1991 (and they deem it to have failed the test) will probably require a new fuse board and other minor works at an average cost of around £355 per property, although it could be as low as £300 and up to £500 per property to upgrade, meaning…

The potential cost of upgrading every Luton buy to let

Home to 18th edition regulations (if they all failed) could total £6,107,065

Some Luton landlords might think they can circumnavigate the regulations by renewing the fixed term every 6 months, yet the Government have  protected against that by stating,  irrespective of what tenancy is in place, all rental properties by the 1st April 2021 must have been tested against  the 18th Regulations standard.

My concern is all 17,203 rental properties in Luton will need

their electrics testing before the Spring of 2021 and that there are only 60 qualified electrician firms within a 2-mile radius of Luton to do all these tests and work

Luton landlords must give any new Luton tenant a copy of the inspection report before they start the tenancy.  Also, Luton landlords must give a copy of the report to any prospective tenant who asks for it in writing within 28 days of a request during the tenancy itself.  

Even with the coronavirus situation, only last week the Government indicated that Landlords should still make every effort to follow these new electrical safety regulations from the 1st of July, yet those same regulations also allow for situations where a landlord cannot carry out their obligations. To stay the right side of the law, they must demonstrate they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with the law. If they do that, they will not in breach of the new regulations (including the duty to comply with a remedial notice). My advice would be if a landlord could keep copies of all communications they have had with their tenants and with electricians as they tried to arrange the work, including any replies they have had, together with any other evidence they have on the electrics of their rental property.

The local authorities are tasked with policing this – and they too have the right to request to see copies of any Electrical Report and works done.  They can force a landlord to comply with the legislation and also may issue a civil penalty up to a maximum of £30,000.

Remarkably, if the letting/managing agent doesn’t organise the Electrical reports, there is nothing in the legislation which allows a landlord to pass the blame onto their letting/managing agent.  That means Luton landlords could be at significant risk from dishonest or badly organised letting agents who won’t/don’t sort the electrics out, so my advice to all Luton landlords is to speak to your letting/managing agent right now and plan ahead.  Rest assured, we have had plans well in hand for our Luton landlords since last year, because I knew this legislation was on its way.

The regulations are obviously important for the safety of tenants and, in essence, these new laws and regulations will mean new accountabilities for the private rented landlords with not much time in which to get prepared and be compliant.  If you are worried about these new rules or don’t have ultimate confidence in your current agent, then please do pick up the phone and let’s have an informal chat about how we can help you with this issue, you don’t want to fall the wrong side of the law do you?

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