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With only around 1 in 5 Luton house sellers actually selling their home in the last month, Luton sellers and buyers will need to continue to be pragmatic if the surprisingly strong current levels of activity in the Luton property market are to be sustained.
To start, we had the once in a lifetime event of the credit crunch in 2008, we then had another once in a lifetime event with the Brexit vote in 2016 and now the mother of all ‘once in a lifetime’ events, Coronavirus in 2020 – three once in a lifetime events in the space of 3 Olympic Games!
The doom-mongers forecast that the British property market would drop like a lead balloon on the scale of the 1989 housing crash (where property values dropped by 30.87% in a couple of years) but would be nothing compared to the tsunami that was Covid. Yet in the first 100 days of the property market coming out of lockdown, behavioural and economic changes mean that many Luton homebuyers are now even more dedicated to moving home and the Luton property market is doing quite well.
Going into lockdown, the effect on activity in the Luton property market during those two months was expectable and predictable as it was placed in suspended animation during April and May. When the Luton property market re-opened in mid-May, nobody predicted what happened next. Of course, many of us in the property industry estimated some release of pent-up demand from the Boris Bounce, yet nobody anticipated such a ricochet in activity in the Luton property market.
This is particularly interesting when one considers GDP dropped by 20.4% in Q2 2020 (fascinating when compared to notable historic times when it dropped by 13.8% in WW2 and 16.7% in WW1), yet amidst the largest contraction in the UK economy ever in a single quarter, what wasn’t expected was an increase of potential property buyers and property sellers wanting to move post lockdown.
Some have cited this boost to the property market on a number of factors. Firstly, we have had the Stamp Duty Holiday, others have pointed at the never seen before 0.1% Bank of England base rates making mortgages cheap, then we had the furlough scheme which protected so many jobs and finally, the pent-up demand from the Boris Bounce.
Yet, when one actually talks with Luton buyers and sellers, whilst all of them cite one or two of the above reasons, all of them mention and talk about how the lockdown has made them re-evaluate and reconsider how they want to live, their work-life balance and where they want to live. This is also reflected with tenants changing their requirements when looking for a property to rent (so Luton landlords - be aware of this).
Demand for apartments in the centre of Luton has eased off, whilst demand for property with a good-sized garden or other outside space has increased. One question we get asked all the time is also the broadband speeds, although they are quite decent in Luton (the average broadband in our local Council area being 67.3 Mbps download and 12.2 Mbps upload).
So, with record numbers of Luton properties coming on to the market - is it boom time for Luton homeowners?
Of the 766 properties that have come onto the market in Luton over the last month, only 144 of them have agreed a sale
(a percentage of 18.7%)
That means around 4 in 5 Luton people that have placed their property onto the market have not found a buyer yet.
Yes, the Luton property market is good, yet the number of people who have placed their property on the market has also gone up. Luton estate agents have never been so busy putting property on the market and I feel sorry for the chap who is putting up all the for-sale boards – his wife hasn’t seen him in daylight for weeks!
But that does mean you are in competition with so many other properties on the market (the number of properties coming on to the market typically at this time of the year is about a third to half less). The Stamp Duty boost ends in March 2021, so that means you need to have found a buyer by November at the very latest. By overegging your asking price, to test the market, might mean you will lose out on this hiatus and could end up missing the boat!
The prices being achieved for the Luton properties that have been selling have been fair and realistic and have stood up much better than many were originally predicting.
Yet as the country looks forward, given the ambiguous nature of the outlook for the British economy and the possibility that Covid-19 may be with us for a little while yet, I must implore Luton property sellers to be realistic with their asking price so a greater number of you who want to make the move, are able to do so.
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Roll the clock back 20 years and any self-respecting late 20/early 30 something would never say on their first date that they lived with their mum and dad. It was seen as a sign of immaturity being tied to your mother’s apron strings as a failure to leave the family home. Yet over these last two decades, the age of leaving home has been increasing steadily from 20 years and 11 months in the late 1990’s to 22 years and 7 months today.
However, as with all the stats, the devil is in the detail. Although the age of leaving home has only risen by 8% between 1997 and today, those that didn’t leave home in their early 20’s tended to stay much, much longer.
In 1997, 11.26% of 25yo to 34yo still lived at home with their parents,
yet last year that had risen to 15.74%, an increase of 391,000
‘stay at home’ Millennials
However, before we deride these Millennials for still being tied to their mother’s apron strings, I would say those very same Millennials (the mid 20’s to 30-year olds) have been pragmatic, being attracted to sacrificing independence in order to achieve their long-term life goals as they have seen rents rise and an inability to save for the mortgage deposit. All of this has seen the first-time buyer levels in this millennial age range rise for the last three years … so good news for everyone!
However, is all that about to change?
Just as mum and dads in Luton had thought their late 20 something/early 30 something offspring had flown the nest, Covid-19 has blown some Luton ‘chickadees’ back into the nest. Back in March, the lockdown saw many Millennials flee the big UK cities, with their constrained and poky shared HMO’s and flat shares, swapping their city centre private rented home for their parents’ Luton home.
Yet with lockdown lessening, it isn’t just remote workers who are unenthusiastic and disinclined to return to the big cities (fearful of a second lockdown) — many of these Coronavirus blow-ins are deciding to stay put too! A recent YouGov poll asked Millennials of private rented homes what their plans were and 1 in 6 tenants planned to hand their notice in on their rented home and fly back to the nest of mum and dad. The advantages are quite plain, especially as it could enable them to save for a deposit to buy their future home.
There are 77,462 households in Luton, made up of 21,062
single person households and 46,212 family households
(the remainder being made up of shared houses etc.)
Yet how many of those Luton family households had non-dependent children before Covid-19?
7,749 Luton households have children
that haven’t flown the nest
That’s 16.77% of Luton families whose kids are still to leave home … and it’s only going to get worse!
So, what does this mean for Luton homeowners and Luton landlords?
It will mean that Luton parents and their children will get to know each other better, build stronger relationships and it will enable their children, if they are wise, to save for their deposit for their first home purchase - who knows maybe in Luton, as working from home could become the norm.
Also, with remote working, many tenants are looking for properties with bigger gardens which could translate into greater demand for property with bigger gardens? It will also change the property needs of those Luton parents and potentially could mean instead of those parents moving down market, they could end up staying longer or moving up market?
Now of course these polls could be a load of hot air? What I do know is that this thing has not played out yet and only time will tell if this will make a concrete change to the way people live, rent and buy property.
These are interesting times and thank you for reading this. Do let me know your thoughts on this matter.
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The 1st July 1948 heralded a new dawn in how property was built, as the Town & Country Planning Act 1947 came into force, meaning no property could be built without the say so of the local authority. Now, Boris Johnson has announced a substantial change to that, by in effect, ending planning permission.
The decision of what gets built (and what doesn’t) will be removed from Luton Borough Council and replaced by Westminster governed ‘Zoning Commissions’. The anticipated reform will give presumptive building rights to any piece of land outside areas of outstanding natural beauty, green belt and national parks, although in the press release there was mention of protection for the countryside.
Travel to Europe and it’s common to see out of place haphazard development of new households or commercial buildings, surrounded by open countryside ... so, I hope these new regulations protect us against that.
The principles of the planning rule changes are a departure away from looking at each planning application as a standalone application to a ‘zone-system’ of planning. Land will be divided into three classes: 1st for growth, 2nd for protection and 3rd for renewal. Anyone applying for planning permission to develop homes, offices and shops on land zoned for growth, will automatically be granted planning permission; whilst land zoned for renewal planning permission will be granted in principle while Government officers perform checks. Local authorities have until 2024 to designate areas for the three classes and once agreed, planning departments will have little or no say over individual applications that fit the rules.
Interestingly, these changes come on top of new planning regulations coming into force this September which gives implied rights to demolish any office building and replace with a block of flats, and the right to build extra floors/storeys on your home.
The Housing Secretary has specified the motive behind the changes to the planning system is not to make planning permissions easier to get (although 88% of planning applications are approved by local authority’s already). Instead, they have been done to make the planning process quicker, less expensive and less likely to be held up by special ‘interest’ groups.
78% of planning permissions in Luton Borough Council
were approved last year (compared to the national average of 88%)
Noteworthy, the planning rules were changed in 2016 to turn disused shops and office space into residential homes (called ‘permitted development’ rights), yet these new regulations about to be announced by Boris will take that right even further. This is important because in 2019, there were 241,340 new households created in the country, yet 29,260 of those households came from turning disused shops and office space into residential homes (i.e. the planning permission rule changes made in 2016).
My concern is that the new planning rule changes do not make shop or redundant space into the new 21st Century ghettos. An RICS report in 2018 showed a massive difference between the conversion of office blocks with planning permission and those without (i.e. permitted development). What was interesting is that only 1 in 5 properties met the national space standards, a non-legally binding suggestion on the minimum size of home, minimum dimensions of bedrooms, natural light, storage & floor to ceiling height, whilst 3 in 4 of office block conversions that did obtain planning permission met the standard.
These planning changes cannot be a charter for cowboy builders or developers, otherwise your children or grandchildren could end up renting one of these sub-standard homes, thus stealing human dignity from thousands of youngsters who will end up renting these homes.
So, what does this all mean to Luton homeowners and Luton landlords? If you have been reading my articles you will know that one of the most important factors holding back the Luton property market is the lack of new properties being constructed and when they are, the lack of infrastructure surrounding them.
Since 1995, only 3,742 properties have been built in LU1 to LU4
Yet, these new planning changes will also introduce a new method of taking a lot more money off landowners and builders, as the Government will take a larger share of uplift in land value (i.e. the increase in value from farmland to building land) to finance infrastructure around the development. This would mean new housing developments would come with upgraded roads, GP surgeries, primary schools and shops that these new communities need to be viable. Also, communities will be asked to decide on their own standards on style and design for new developments in their area, allowing residents a greater say on the development in their locality.
Like all things, the devil is in the detail. All of us in Luton cannot deny that we need to build more homes to keep up with the ever-growing population and the fact that people are living longer. This new planning system should lead to more housebuilding, which in turn would increase the supply of property for those trying to get on the property ladder. Also, in the proposed legislation is the new ‘First Homes’ scheme, which would allow key workers, first time buyers and people who live or work in the Luton area to purchase their new home at 30% less than its market value and when they come to sell it, that 30% discount would be passed on to the new buyer (if they also met the criteria).
With regard to what can be built and where, Luton people will have a say upfront (i.e. between now and 2024 when the zoning rules are drawn up) but once the zoning has been established, then ‘nimbyism’ will become a thing of the past and hopefully we can construct the Luton homes we are proud of for our children and for Luton generations to come.
Please do let me have your thoughts on this matter.
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The Government is on track to borrow £400bn because of Coronavirus and that needs to be paid back at some stage. Last year alone, before Coronavirus, the Government brought in £824 billion in taxes whilst they spent £887 billion, meaning they had to borrow £63 billion. In fact, the last time taxes were higher than spending in the UK was 1998, meaning since then the country has been living beyond its means.
Interestingly, whilst these are certainly eye watering numbers (£400bn is a lot of money in anyone’s book) most people aren’t too concerned in the short term. Because interest rates are so low, the Government are able to borrow this money at 0.39 percent per annum over a 10-year period on the Gilt Markets. There are even 3-year Government gilts at a negative interest rate. This is because the UK has been considered (and still is considered to be) a monetary sanctuary/safe haven for the last 20 years because of the country’s robust credit worthiness. Cheap money – yet it still needs paying back in the years to come and that can only be funded by taxpayers.
Ultimately, the Government will have to try to balance the books and that means increasing taxation. I know many will say there is waste in the NHS and MoD procurement, but that has already been squeezed quite hard during the Credit Crunch crisis and years of austerity. Some have suggested stopping the triple lock on pensions, which costs the Exchequer £6bn a year more than if pensions had risen at pre triple lock rates, so that isn’t going to make much of a dent in the debt. Some have suggested we could enter into a second wave of austerity, like we saw from 2010, yet neither the voters nor the wage frozen public sector would accept that. That leaves tax rises as the only option for leaders who claim to take a responsible long-term view of the economy.
The Government could raise tax on spending with VAT increases, but they did that in 2011 when it rose to 20% (from 17.5%). Also, increases in VAT affect the poor more than the rich. Then they could raise it from earnings (Corporation Tax, Income Tax and National Insurance) yet it’s been proved raising these ‘earning taxes’ ends up being counter-productive to the economy, resulting in tax receipts going down (even though the tax rate went up). Both are unsatisfactory, not least because big rises end up being unfair to someone.
So, some ‘think tank’ groups have suggested that we look to unearned wealth and the equity people, especially the older generation are sitting on in their homes, to pay for Coronavirus. Whilst I am in no way promoting and advocating that idea, I thought it was a fascinating suggestion and wanted to know what that would mean for Luton homeowners if such a fanciful idea took hold?
OAPs in Britain sit on £1.425 trillion in
housing equity in their own homes
The average length of time an OAP homeowner has been in their property, according to official figures, is 24.7 years, meaning on average, 75.8% of that equity is profit. So, if say a capital gains tax of 10% was placed on any profit, it would raise £107.84bn over the next 20 to 25 years. So, what would that mean to Luton OAP homeowners?
Luton OAP homeowners own £4.086bn
worth of property
Taking into account the average length of time those homeowners have been in their Luton home, that is an ‘unearned’ profit of £3.092bn, or £1.636bn after inflation. Some ‘think tanks’ have said that should be taxed as some form of capital gains tax.
To give you an idea, if every OAP homeowner in Luton had to pay a 10% capital gains tax when they (or their descendants) sold their Luton home, that would cost them £15,722 each (or a total of £309.17m).
So, is this the answer to pay for Coronavirus? There needs to be tax reforms to protect the public finances yet is it fair to tax previous capital gains? Many people say no. Let’s not forget people buy their homes out of taxed income, then pay Stamp Duty, VAT on any improvements and inheritance tax if the property value is more than £675,000, so is it fair the Government want another slice of pie?
The older generation who bought these homes saw mortgage rates of 19% in the late 1970’s and 16%+ in the early 1990’s, meaning for every pound borrowed, they ended paying back £3 to £4 when you added up the interest. Also, let’s not forget all the money spent on keeping up the maintenance - money that has already been taxed. The upshot will be this would stop OAP’s selling their homes because it would discourage older people from trading down to a smaller home in retirement, making it even harder for younger families to find a big enough home to live in. Also, many people use the equity in their home to pay for retirement care, so if some of that is going to keep the debts down, that means the Government will have a larger social care bill in future years.
One school of thought could be taxing future tax-free gains for ALL homeowners, although given the Tory’s dependence on the more mature middle class (homeowning) voters, this might be a step too far for the Conservatives, so some have said this will be kicked down the road for Labour to sort. Sir Keir Starmer, who appears to be quite a straight-talking and even monetarily responsible Labour leader, is certainly a lot more voter friendly to the British electorate than Corbyn.
At the 2024 General Election, he could introduce what appeared to be a smart agenda of tax increases on unearned property capital gains and as long as it was presented in a clearly defined way, maybe turning the tables on the famous Tory General Election poster from 2010, when the Tory’s mocked Gordon Brown for doubling the national debt, implying it was Labour’s fault for the increase in national debt when in fact it was the Credit Crunch that caused it.
Starmer could soberly state Labour were the only party that could be trusted to make hard decisions to avoid burdening future generations with the £400bn ‘Tory’ coronavirus debt
One way or another, this £400bn (or £14,440.43 per household) is going to need to be paid back eventually; that means a rise in taxes. Nobody likes paying more tax - yet the truth of the matter is there is a lot of wealth tied up in property, especially with the older generation and so I suppose its introduction is inevitable in the future.
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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?