The Consultation is Over: A view of the London property market post-April

As the Government decides whether to press on with the proposals announced in November’s Autumn Statement, David Hannah paints a bleak picture of the capital under the cosh of...

As the Government decides whether to press on with the proposals announced in November’s Autumn Statement, David Hannah paints a bleak picture of the capital under the cosh of higher stamp duty costs…

With the Government’s consultation for higher Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) for second homes closing last week, all eyes now shift from scrutinising the proposals, to predicting the likely fallout if the reforms become legislation in April this year.

We are already witnessing a flurry of buy-to-let and second homers to the market, looking to secure property before the changes become law on 1st April. However, the remainder of the market seems yet to realise how they too could be impacted by the changes.

When examining the proposed legislation in some detail it is evident that the tax is not directed merely at one particular group, but will impact regular homeowners with wide-reaching impact.

The proposed new tax will discriminate against so many including first-time buyers, home movers, retirees, property owners – both joint and outright – and investors. In fact, first time buyers and families could be the worst casualties. The proposed measures will stagnate and increase competition in the lower and middle ends of the property market, exacerbating slowing of prime central London, driving up prices for regular home owners and causing catastrophic effects for the UK’s capital.

  • Slowing prime central London even further

Reforms will certainly exacerbate and accelerate the falls in price and demand currently being experienced in prime central London as people opt out of key locations. Amendments to residential tax last year had a significant effect, and there is every reason to expect the latest change will dampen the prime market further.

Though there may be a slight uplift in the run up to April, a myriad of things can happen as a result of the extra three percent levy for additional homes. As prices have risen to exorbitant levels, many have already sought alternative areas to live and invest in and, given the importance buy-to-let and second home purchases play in prime central London property, the additional tax could have a devastating effect on affordability, desirability and, as a result, the rate of property growth.

  • Stagnating the market and tempering liquidity

The knock on effects could, rather than help relieve property pressure, increase competition and raise prices for the middle and lower ends of the market – lowering transaction levels and stagnating the market as people choose not to move. This will not just be the result of people withdrawing or failing to buy additional properties in prime locations, but will be directly impacted by the stagnation of the wider market, starting right from first-time buyers who rely on help from their parents. For many this would traditionally involve their parents registering on the deeds of the house to financially help out but, come April, this will result in the property technically being classed as a second home, making them liable to pay the additional tax. The same is true of anyone who is considering buying a home – jointly or otherwise – but is already on the deed for another whether by choice or otherwise, for example, in cases involving inheritance, separation or divorce.

Additionally, it seems likely that normal homeowners will become reticent to move from one property to another simply because any overlap in ownership would result in paying the three percent fee and reclaiming it back within 18 months. Those who own property abroad, for example retirees, would also be stung by the additional three percent if they chose to move their UK-based property, simply because all homes regardless of location would be counted.

  • Foreign over domestic

Overall, higher SDLT would reduce confidence and punish the domestic over the international. For most foreign investors, the additional three percent is unlikely to act as a deterrent from coming to the UK; yet that same three percent poses a significant barrier to our domestic first-time buyers, investors and regular families. The new tax will inevitably sway the market towards foreign investors, who could snap up properties in the lower and middle end brackets, leaving fewer properties available for the very domestic buyers that the government claims to be attempting to assist.

  • Shift employment habits and hinder talent retention

We’ve already seen a shift away from prime central London property as many are priced out. This is set to go further; reaching beyond the Home Counties, it could soon be completely unaffordable to live within commuting distance to London. For the rental market, higher property prices are often offset in rent which could have devastating consequences for staff retention, particularly for middle-manager and executive levels. With the latest ONS stats showing average rental growth in London of 4.2% towards the tail end of 2015, it seems unlikely that salary growth can keep pace. London, therefore is likely to see an exodus of mid-level employees who, rather than splurge half of their salaries, leave the area altogether to seek a better work/life balance. This will all contribute to reduced overall confidence in London as a liveable city, something which has already started to happen. In a broader term, impacts could be felt on the commercial property market and destabilise London economically, as the city is seen as an unattractive location for commercial investment and business.

  • Hindered regeneration of prime central London

With central London developers already struggling to sell flats under development – recent reports suggest as much as a 19 percent slump on pre-sales before April’s deadline -a three percent tax hike could hamper the development of further residential sites.

This comes at a time when prime land in Zones 1 and 2 are being released for development and regeneration; many sites are public sector sites being made available in an attempt to tackle the housing shortage. TFL is seeking partners to develop 300 acres with the potential to develop 10,000 new homes, 67 percent of which is in Zones 1 and 2 – including Southwark Station and Parsons Green depot. George Osborne in 2014 announced the development of 50,000 homes on 20 brownfield sites in a new “housing zone” scheme – which is yet to become reality. In fact, there are a number of land release programmes in the pipeline, but with a lack of buyers and affordability, and the higher SDLT proposed, it is questionable whether developers will view prime areas as providing high enough profit margins in relation to Zones 3 to 6.

As a result, a large proportion of this prime land could remain undeveloped, perpetuating the Capital’s lack of property to meet demand, high prices and even culminating in the London property bubble bursting.

David Hannah is Principal Consultant at Cornerstone Tax

London, Leaving the City or The March of Bricks & Mortar by George Cruickshank 1829 (CC-BY-PD-MARK)


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