March 7th 2024. The day the property market exploded again 

Russell Quirk

Almost everyone I talk to now within the estate agency sector, in conveyancing and in mortgage broking says they’re busy. And they’re not even lying this time. 

Data from the portals, from agents and analysts at the coal-face such as Twenty Ci, Christopher Watkin and even the usually morose RICS all indicate significantly increased buyer demand. The consensus seems to be that applicant registrations, viewings and gross sales are up by about 20% on this time last year. 

In my view this return to buoyancy is due to a combination of ten factors.

+ Inflation has largely been tamed

+ Interest rates rises have ceased 

+ Swap rates, the benchmark for fixed mortgage rates, have settled (ish)

+ Unemployment has remained below 5% despite significant economic challenges

+ The doom-sayers in our midst have been proven (very) wrong and buyers and businesses have shrugged off their silly apocalyptic forecasts 

+ The media have stopped fuelling the consumer with negative stories around house prices

+ The resulting pent-up demand from last year’s fence-sitters is now translating into activity

+ There is always a shortage of property vs demand

+ Some feel the forthcoming general election will bring about positive change

+ Bribes 

Bribes? Well some would say political policy announcements but as we near that general election in the autumn we will see multiple incentives trotted out from all sides of the party spectrum designed to win/buy your vote. Bribes.

On March 6th Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will stand at the despatch box and pretend just for a day that he is an actual conservative as he delivers an ‘Election Budget’. Make no mistake, it will be overflowing with tax-cuts and giveaways and it will target the housing market.

There will be money for new homes (again), a probable cut to the income tax basic rate or an increase in the tax threshold and, I wager, a tweak to stamp duty – that hideous levy on aspiration that says ‘Bite me’ to everyone that has worked hard to buy a home in which to bring up a family and to grow old in, especially if you live in the South East. 

Did you know that SDLT now warms the Treasury’s cockles to the extent of £15bn annually, up 200% from £5bn in 2010 and so there’s room to play with and with which to grab a big headline.

That close cousin, inheritance tax, famously stuffs you again later when you’ve paid off your mortgage with taxed income and trotted off to the big guy in the sky. But Jezza may not tinker with that despite what the pundits say, given that it only affects ‘the rich’ and these days it’s just not the done thing to help people that have accumulated any wealth, for fear of upsetting nurses, union leaders and Carol Vorderman. 

So, the housing market is in pretty good shape having survived 2023. Yet Sunak, Hunt Gove & Co, a pompous sounding law firm if ever there was one, are about to throw fuel on it.

Because as if a stamp duty holiday or reduction in rate wasn’t enough to create the equivalent of a lit match at a petrol station, adding in a 1% deposit mortgage scheme will prove positively nuclear.

Housing secretary Gove is likely to announce/leak this Help to Buy type replacement either immediately before the Budget in order to claim the credit himself given his narcissistic tendencies, or he may be forced to allow Hunt to do so in order for the Conservatives to remind us that our Chancellor is not just an inanimate object. Either way, I’m pretty sure it will happen. After all, if you’re about to lose your electoral shirt you may as well go down fighting and to hell with the cost.  

But the effect of saying to first time buyers, a group that almost all avoid stamp duty in any case, ‘You can buy a home with barely any cash investment at all and still pay less per month than you would if you were to rent’ is to well and truly light the touch-paper on the spring market.

These likely moves by the government are entirely unnecessary right now and would actually be downright irresponsible, causing a further imbalance in demand vs under-supply and overheating prices once again. But as an industry we’ll take it, of course, because transaction volumes and commissions will inevitably follow. 

As for Keir Starmer, whilst his focus will be on schmoozing tenants for votes by painting landlords as pantomime villains, he can also be expected to incentivise home ownership in his policy statements – some of which he might even stick to. In fact he has already hinted at tearing up the green-belt to build more homes, a solution to our housing crisis that within reason has more merit than I’d usually expect from a Labour politician.   

If you have a holiday booked for Easter, cancel it. Maybe even summer’s too – because from the 7th March you’re going to be busy.


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