Q. Has the property market really been as bad as the national press would have us believe this year?
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A. One of the problems with viewing the UK property market as a whole, of course, is that there is always so much regional and local variation as to render any talk of “national averages” virtually meaningless. Nevertheless, there’s no getting away from the fact that overall it has been quite a challenging year, and particularly so for first time buyers. Hence the various schemes devised by the Government to try and kick-start that end of the market – although the beneficial effect of these measures will be somewhat blunted by the ending of the Stamp Duty holiday for those purchasing properties between £125,000 and £250,000, due in March.
On the other hand, with increasing demand driving up rental values across the country – set against a background of low returns on savings and lacklustre performance by many of the traditional alternatives – the upsurge of investor interest in bricks and mortar has continued apace. As a result, the absence from the market of first time buyers has been offset to a considerable extent by steady growth in the buy-to-let sector.
Meanwhile, in other parts of the market – despite all the doom and gloom in the national press – sales have continued to happen, and prices have often succeeded in holding up quite well. People with plenty of equity – those, for example, who are moving sideways or down-sizing – have not generally encountered any particular difficulty in securing the necessary mortgage finance.
Nevertheless, the supply of properties coming to market and the demand from prospective buyers are both substantially down – and as a result, transaction volumes have also declined dramatically. At the same time, sales across the board are typically taking significantly longer to complete.
What all this suggests is that only those people who have a genuine need to move home – for example, because they urgently require more space for a growing family, or because their work is taking them elsewhere – are currently doing so. Purely speculative sellers are deciding to stay put, while would-be buyers are opting to keep their powder dry instead of over-stretching themselves.
In other words, perhaps what we have started to see emerging this year are the beginnings of a rather more stable, rational, balanced market. And in the long run, that would be in everyone’s best interest!