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Most people pay Stamp Duty Tax when they buy a property, house, apartment or other land and buildings over a particular price in the UK. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak (quickly followed suit by the Welsh and Scottish Governments), announced last July that Stamp Duty was partially being suspended on all English property transactions up to £500,000 (£250,000 in Wales and Scotland) - a Stamp Duty Holiday.

 

That meant only 1 in 8 English buyers would pay any Stamp Duty Tax on their home purchase (if it was over £500,000), saving any buyer up to £15,000 in tax on the purchase. The problem is the property needs to have been purchased and bought by the 31st March 2021. Complete the transaction a day later, and those buyers will have to pay Stamp Duty.

 

The issue is local authorities are snowed under with local search requests, mortgage companies and conveyancing staff are working from home, so property transactions are taking much, much longer. This means many Luton (and UK) buyers who have currently sold (subject to contract) will miss out on the stamp duty saving.

 

Most (not all) estate agents have been warning the buyers and sellers in their property chains that some deals might not make the 31st March 2021 deadline and pleasingly, most people aren’t moving because of the Stamp Duty Holiday (they are moving because they need extra space because of the pandemic). However, it only takes one person in the chain not to be ‘singing off the same hymn sheet’ for the whole chain to collapse … so keep in touch with your estate agent.

 

A campaign by one of the national newspapers and an online petition to extend the stamp duty holiday has meant the topic could be debated in Parliament in the next few weeks, after 100,000 home buyers and sellers signed that petition, asking for an additional six-month Stamp Duty Holiday. The home buyers and sellers are worried the property market will collapse after March 31st when the Stamp Duty Holiday is removed.

The last time British home buyers were conscious of upcoming Stamp Duty changes, it distorted the number of properties sold. The bigger question though is, did it change the overall number of people moving home?

In November 2015, the then Chancellor, George Osborne, announced in his Autumn Statement that buy to let landlords would have to pay an additional 3% in Stamp Duty (over and above owner occupiers) for all property bought after the 1st April 2016. As shown in the graph below, this caused a surge in property buying (which we have seen since this summer with the Stamp Duty Holiday), with many Luton buy to let landlords completing their property purchase in March 2016, as they dashed to complete their property purchase before the tax increase.

In the 3 years of 2015/6/7, the average number of Luton properties sold (transactions) per month was 227 per month, yet in the month before stamp duty was changed in March 2016, transactions rose to 422, an uplift of 85.9% from the average or an extra 195 transactions in that month alone. Yet, look at the months of April and May, the property transactions numbers slumped, meaning in those two months combined, there were 134less transactions.

So, if the Stamp Duty Holiday isn’t extended, what will that mean for the UK and Luton property market?

London and the South East seem to be particularly exposed to the removal of the Stamp Duty Tax break because it has such a high proportion of property priced between £300,000 and £500,000. These areas benefit from the highest tax savings relative to house price.

Yet, with the average value of a Luton home at £254,900, the stamp duty cost if the sale is delayed after the 31st March 2021 is £2,745 – a figure that shouldn’t break the bank

So, if the Stamp Duty Holiday isn’t extended – it might not be such the nightmare scenario as some people believe.

 

My advice to all buyers and sellers is to be constantly talking to your estate agent, your solicitor and your mortgage broker. With your estate agent to ascertain if they have asked every person (or asked the other agents in the chain to ask the question), “What if we don’t meet the stamp duty deadline?” With your mortgage broker and solicitor to give them all the information they need to ensure there are no delays with any information they request from you.

 

One final thought, some mortgage providers allow insurance policies to be purchased by your solicitor in case your searches (from the local authority aren’t back in time) … the cost of those will be much lower than the cost of the stamp duty ... again, speak with your solicitor.  Irrespective of whether you are a client of mine or not, if you would like a chat about anything mentioned in this article, don’t hesitate to contact me.

 

When William the Conqueror invaded our fair shores in 1066, like all good kings, he needed to buy loyalty and raise cash to build his castles and armies. He did this by feudal law system and granted all the faithful nobles and aristocrats with land. In return, the nobles and aristocrats would give the King money and the promise of men for his army (this payment of money and men was called a ‘Fief’ in Latin, which when translated into English it becomes the word ‘Fee’… as in ‘to pay’).

These nobles and aristocrats would then rent the land to peasants in return for more money (making sure they made a profit of course) and the promise to enlist themselves and their peasants into the Kings Army (when requested during times of war). The more entrepreneurial peasants would then ‘sublet’ some of their land to poorer peasants to farm and so on and so forth.

The nobles and aristocrats owned the land, which could be passed on to their family (free from a fee i.e. freehold), while the peasants had the leasehold because, whilst they paid to use the land (i.e. they ‘leased it’ which is French for ‘paid for it’), they could never own it. Thus, Freehold and Leasehold were born (you will be pleased to know that in 1660 the Tenures Abolition Act removed the need of Freeholders to provide Armies for the Crown!).

4.3 million properties in the UK are leasehold

… and 7,695 properties in Luton are leasehold. By definition, even when you have the leasehold, you don’t own the property (the freeholder does). Leasehold simply grants the leaseholder the right to live in a property for 99 to 999 years. Apart from a handful of properties in the USA and Australia, England and Wales are the only countries of the world adhering to this feudal system style tenure. In Europe you own your apartment/flat by using a different type of tenure called Commonhold.

The average price paid for leasehold properties in

Luton over the last year is £165,876.

 

The two biggest issues with leasehold are firstly, as each year goes by and the length of lease dwindles, so does the value of the property (particularly when it gets below 80 years). The second is the payment of ‘ground rent’ – an annual payment to the freeholder.

Looking at the first point on the length of lease, the Government brought in the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, which allowed tenants of such leasehold property to extend their lease by upwards of 50 years. However, this was very expensive and as such only kicked the can down the road for half a century (when the owner would have to negotiate again to extend another 50 years – costing them more money, time and effort).

Ground rents on most older apartments are quite minimal and unobtrusive. The reason it has become an issue recently was the fact some (not all) new homes builders in the last decade started selling houses as leasehold with ground rents. The issue wasn’t the fact the property was sold as leasehold nor that it had a ground rent, it was that the ground rent increased at astronomical rates.

 

Many Luton homeowners of leasehold houses are presently subject to ground rents that double every 10 years.

 

That’s okay if the ground rent is £200 a year today, yet by 2121, that would be £204,800 a year in ground rent, meaning the value of their property would almost be worthless in 100 years’ time.  One might say it allows for inflation, yet to give you an example to compare this against, if a Luton leasehold property in 1921 had a ground rent of £200 per annum, and it increased in line with inflation over the last 100 years, today that ground rent would be £9,864 a year.

 

This is important because the majority of leasehold properties sold in Luton during the last 12 months were apartments, selling for an average price of £160,468.

 

So, without reforms, the value of these Luton homes will slowly dwindle over the coming decades. That is why the Government reforms announced recently will tackle the problem in two parts.

Firstly, ground rents for new property will effectively stop under new plans to overhaul British Property Law. Under the new regulations, it will be made easier (and cheaper) for leaseholders to buy the freehold of their property and take control by allowing them the right to extend the lease of their property to a maximum term of 990 years with no ground rent.

 

Secondly, in the summer, the Government will create a working group to prepare the property market for the transition to a different type of tenure. Last summer the Law Commission urged Westminster to adopt and adapt a better system of leasehold ownership – Commonhold. Commonhold rules allow residents in a block of apartments to own their own apartment, whilst jointly owning the land the block is sitting on plus the communal areas with the other apartment owners.

 

These potential leasehold rule changes will make no difference to those buying and selling second-hand Luton leasehold property.

 

Yet, if you are buying a brand-new leasehold property, most builders are not selling them with ground rent (although do check with your solicitor). The only people that need to take any action on this now are people who are extending their lease. If you are thinking of extending the lease of your Luton property before you sell to protect its value, your purchaser may prefer to buy on the existing terms and extend under the new (and better) ones later (meaning you lose out).

 

Like all things – it’s all about talking to your agent and negotiating the best deal for all parties. Should you have any questions or concerns, feel free to pick up the phone, message me or email me and let’s chat things through.

 

Christmas Eve brought the news that Boris Johnson had conclusively agreed on a Brexit deal for the UK with the European Union. This gave optimism that the economic turmoil of leaving the EU would be radically reduced, yet what will this ‘trade deal’ do to the value of your Luton home and the mortgage payments you will have to make?

 

Since the summer, the Luton property market has been booming, yet many commentators have cautioned that the momentum cannot last. With unemployment and the end of Stamp Duty Holiday  on 31st March, the Halifax reported last week that they believed UK house prices would drop by at least 2% (and in some areas 5%) in 2021.

 

I find it fascinating the Luton property market has defied the doom and gloom swamping the wider British economy in the last seven months. The Luton property market has profited from the large swell in demand from better-off existing Luton households trying to buy larger Luton houses (as they are required to work from home) together with the added benefit of saving money from the Stamp Duty Holiday.

 

Luton house prices are 2.7% lower than a year ago, making

our local authority area the 387th best performing

(of the 396 local authorities) in the UK.

 

With the Brexit deal being voted through in the Commons on the 30th December, many say this will boost the property market just as the Government-backed measures supporting the property market come to an end. Yet, in the face of rising unemployment due to the pandemic, the Brexit deal may do little more than avoid uncertainty for the Luton housing market.

 

What will happen to Luton house prices?

 

The Luton property market in 2019 was held back because of the uncertainty of the Brexit deal. In January 2020, we saw the demand released in the fabled ‘Boris Bounce’, only for buyer and seller activity to fall off a cliff in March during the first lockdown. It then took off like a rocket once lockdown was lifted. UK house prices are 4.19% higher today, year on year (although some areas are breaking the mould, like Aberdeen whose house prices have dropped by 5.1% and at the other end of the scale, Worcester’s house prices have increased by 11.9% year on year). A lot of that growth in UK property prices has been fuelled by buyers spending their stamp duty savings on the purchase price of their new home. Yet, it cannot be ignored.

 

Of the 100,400 workers in Luton, 9,400 are still on furlough (although roughly 40% of those people are still only on part-time furlough).

 

When the furlough scheme ends in April 2021, unemployment is likely to rise to in excess of 11%, whilst the protection for the homeowners utilising mortgage holidays will finish. 

Piloting the rocky shoreline of the recession is more important than any Brexit deal for Luton homeowners, buy-to-let landlords, buyers and sellers.

 

In April, the market will also be dealing with the end of the Stamp Duty Holiday, which is due to come to an abrupt halt on the 1st April 2021. Consequently, we will continue to see the house price index's show growth in the first half of 2021. They will then recede as the  prices of Luton homes purchased after the 1st April 2021 reflect the lower price paid (because buyers would have had to pay for their stamp duty again). Therefore, probably by the end of 2021, the Halifax may be correct, and Luton house prices will be 2% to 5% lower than they are today, simply because of the stamp duty.

 

What will happen to mortgage rates?

 

The real benefit from the Brexit deal is that there will be no tariffs on most goods coming into the UK. 52% of all goods imported into the UK are from the EU (totalling £374bn per annum). The UK Government were planning to add between 2% and 10% tariffs under World Trade Organisation rules on the vast majority of those goods. Price increases because of those tariffs would have fuelled inflation, meaning the Bank of England would have to increase interest rates. Although 77.2% of British mortgages are on fixed rates (paying an average of 2.16%), eventually those increased Bank of England rates would have fed through into higher mortgage payments. To show you how vital low interest rates are …

 

the average Luton homeowners’ mortgage is £384.35pm,

owing an average of £156,702.

 

Yet if interest rates rose only 1.5%, Luton homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments would rise to £580.23 pm, and if interest rates were at their 50-year average, then the mortgages payments would be an eye-watering £1,129.99 pm (note all mortgage payment figures mentioned above are only for the interest element of the mortgage- the capital repayment element would be additional and variable depending on the length of mortgage).

 

As I have mentioned many times in the articles I have written about the Luton property market, low interest rates are vital to ensure we don't have a property market crash. That's not to say just because they are at an all-time low of 0.1% to aid the economy that there won’t be some form of realignment of property prices later in the year (as mentioned above). Yet low interest rates mean people can still pay their mortgages, so there won't be panic selling. That would mean there won't be a flood of property come to the market (like there was in the 1988 and 2008 property crashes when interest rates were much higher), suggesting property prices should remain a lot more stable.

 

 

12 months ago, the unemployment rate in Luton stood at 3.1% of the working population, yet with Coronavirus hitting the UK, what impact will this rise in unemployment have on the Luton property market?

 

As I have discussed a number of times in my articles on the Luton property market, this summer saw the Luton property market do exactly the opposite of what was expected when Covid hit.

 

The Stamp Duty holiday added fuel to pent up demand for people to move to property with extra rooms (to work from home) and gardens. This prompted a brief hiatus in the number of people selling and buying their home in Luton over the last summer and autumn.

 

Yet, insecurity around rising unemployment, led to many mortgage companies becoming more cautious in the later months of summer, predominantly when lending to the self-employed or first-time buyers borrowing more than 85% of the value of the home (as they wouldn’t want to lend money to someone that could not afford a mortgage due to an insecure income or not having a job).

 

Back in the late spring, economists were predicting that UK unemployment would rise to a peak of 6.5% in Q3 2020, returning back to the 2019 levels (3.4%) by 2022.

 

As we speak (Christmas 2020), nationally the unemployment rate stands at 6.3%. The toll Covid has had on people’s livelihoods has been massive, with an additional 1,434,515 people out of work, although it is important to note this unemployment rate is still lower than the five years following the Credit Crunch years - 2008 to 2013.

 

So, with such a growth in unemployment and the spectre of a ‘No Deal Brexit’, this may hold back the enthusiasm of many companies to take on more staff, reducing any rebound in employment. If unemployment remains high, this will influence perceptions of employment and personal/household financial security, which are the ultimate drivers for both house prices and whether people buy and sell.

 

4,220 Luton people were unemployed a year ago and today that stands at 11,580.

 

Looking at all the study papers on the topic, there is a link between unemployment and house prices, yet it’s not as strong as you would think. The larger factors are the demand and supply of property on the market and interest rates. Interestingly, in the past two recessions, the comparatively richer regions of London and South East house prices have been more sensitive to unemployment and house price changes than the rest of the UK, yet London and the South East also bounced back quicker and higher after the two recessions. 

The concept behind this is that more expensive house prices in the South drop more than lower priced houses in the rest of the UK. Why? Because those more expensive regions have, by definition, more expensive house prices meaning the homeowners have higher mortgages, so if they become unemployed, their homes are more likely to be repossessed (because of the high mortgages), and consequently that reduces house prices in that area quicker because repossessed houses tend to sell much more cheaply compared to normal house sales.

 

The health of the Luton property market in 2021 and beyond really depends on what happens to the economy as a whole and more specifically what is happening in the Luton economy.

 

When we drill down though, unemployment has hit different sectors of the economy to a lesser or greater extent. For example, for office workers, people who work in tech & sciences and the professional services, the impact on jobs has been comparatively mild, with many personnel able to work from home. Yet for others, such as those who work in the hospitality, leisure, retail, entertainment and catering industry, remote working is simply not an option and these have been hit the hardest.

 

Unfortunately, the industries mentioned above are the ones that tend to employ the younger generation, who invariably live in private rented accommodation, rather than own their own home. Being made redundant puts their dream of buying their first home back even further as they try and get themselves back on their feet by initially finding a job (let alone save for a deposit).

 

Housing markets will recover quickest in towns and cities, where jobs are in more resilient employment sectors.

 

For example, in London, unemployment jumped really quickly (and high) in 2009 with the Credit Crunch, yet came down just as quick in 2011, just as the property market in London started to take off, whilst in Luton, it took a lot longer for unemployment to drop and the Luton property market didn’t really start to get going until 2012.

 

If we have a determined economic contraction, with a lengthier and leisurely economic recovery, impeded by financial stress, that will lead to much higher unemployment in the 10% to 12% range in the summer of 2021. However, before I get to the initial question, I need to highlight another interesting fact, because…

 

What is particularly interesting is the increase in unemployment in Luton amongst men has been higher than women, with a growth of 6.3 percentage points for men compared to 4.6 percentage points with women.

 

So, what is the prediction for the Luton property market under the cloud of this growth in unemployment?

 

One massive redeeming factor that could just save the Luton property market is low interest rates. This will keep mortgage payments low, meaning repossessions should be kept to a minimum (therefore, there shouldn’t be a flood of cheaply priced Luton properties coming onto the market all at the same time and dragging Luton house prices down with it, as it did in the previous two recessions of 2009 and 1989).  

 

Yet, irrespective of the ultra-low interest rates, I still consider property prices in Luton at Christmas 2021 won’t be much different from today, and in fact could be slightly lower.

 

This is because people have been paying top dollar in the last six months to secure their dream Luton home, quite often spending the money they saved on Stamp Duty on the purchase price. When Stamp Duty Tax returns in April 2021, there will be less money to pay for the property ... thus Luton property values will be, by implication, lower in a year’s time.

 

What about Luton landlords and the rents?

 

Nationally, rents fell just over 2.3% between 2008 and 2010, following the Credit Crunch, while national house prices fell 15.9%. I anticipate Luton rents will also remain comparatively robust in the coming months and years.

 

Rents are very much tied to the rise and fall of wage growth and I can’t see why this relationship shouldn’t continue. Rents will rise in Luton by between 13% and 15% in the next five years, yet if property prices do rise in 2023/24, that means future rental yields will be marginally lower in 2023/4 comparative to today, especially as ultra-low interest rate expectations (according to the money markets) seem to be here to stay for a long time.

 

Therefore, something tells me there could be some interesting Luton buy-to-let investment opportunities for Luton investors willing to play the Luton buy-to-Let market for the long term.

 

To conclude, these are just my personal opinions. If you are a Luton landlord looking for advice and an opinion on what to buy to maximise your returns, please don’t hesitate to contact me. If you are a Luton homeowner, looking to buy or sell and need any advice or an opinion on where the market is and where your Luton home sits in the bigger Luton property market picture – again feel free to drop me a line.

Roll the clock back to April 2020, and major financial economists and property market commenters were sounding the alarm. The very best-case scenario was a 5% drop in property values by the end of the year, and most were in the 10% to 15% range. They forewarned the Covid-19 stimulated recession would trim tens of thousands of pounds off the value of Luton homes.

Yet the Luton property market seemed not to get the memo on that, and now as we find ourselves at the end of 2020 and the worst of lockdown restrictions appear to be passed, vaccinations on the way and economy starting to grow, Luton property prices seem to be doing quite well.

What happened to the Luton house price crash that wasn't?

Before I answer that, it reminded me of what the Treasury said in 2016 about a leave vote on the Brexit referendum. The considered opinion of the Treasury was house prices would drop by 18% if the Country voted to leave the EU, so let us see what that would have done to Luton house prices if that had taken place and then what exactly has happened in the last four and half years …

 

 

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