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House prices see first fall since January as stamp duty holiday ends

The average house price dipped for the first time since January, falling by 0.5% in June, according to the latest Halifax house price index.

As a result, annual house price inflation eased to 8.8%, compared to 9.6% in May.

Despite this, average prices are still more than £21,000 higher than this time last year, following a “broadly unprecedented period of gains”, according to the research.

Additionally, whilst the two Midlands regions and Greater London saw slightly slower annual price gains compared to May, all the other regions and nations continued to see a strengthening of inflation.

Wales (12.0%) continues to lead the way on annual house price growth, registering its strongest performance since April 2005, whilst Northern Ireland (11.5%), the North West (11.5%), Yorkshire and Humberside (10.9%) and Scotland (10.4%) all registered double-digit gains.

For Northern Ireland and Scotland, the annual price rises were the highest recorded since late 2007, while for the North West and Yorkshire, inflation was the strongest since early 2005.

At the other end of the scale, the South of England continues to lag somewhat behind the rest of the country, with Eastern England and the South East recording inflation rates of around 7%.

Greater London saw house price inflation of just 2.9% year-on-year, though Halifax says “there are several unique factors likely to be weighing on the capital’s property market”.

Halifax’s managing director, Russell Galley, said: “With the stamp duty holiday now being phased out, it was predicted the market might start to lose some steam entering the latter half of the year, and it’s unlikely that those with mortgages approved in the early months of summer expected to benefit from the maximum tax break, given the time needed to complete transactions.

“That said, with the tapered approach, those purchasing at the current average price of £260,358 would still only pay about £500 in stamp duty at today’s rates, increasing to around £3,000 when things return to normal from the start of October.

“Government support measures over the last year have helped to boost demand, particularly amongst buyers searching for larger family homes at the upper end of the market. Indeed, the average price of a detached home has risen faster than any other property type over the past 12 months, up by more than 10% or almost £47,000 in cash terms. At a cost of over half a million pounds, they are now £200,000 more expensive than the typical semi-detached house.

“That power of homemovers to drive the market, as people look to find properties with more space, spurred on by increased time spent at home during the pandemic, won’t fade entirely as the economy recovers. Coupled with buyers chasing the relatively small number of available properties, and continued low borrowing rates, it’s a trend which can sustain high average prices for some time to come.

“However, we would still expect annual growth to have slowed somewhat more by the end of the year, with unemployment expected to edge higher as job support measures unwind, and the peak of buyer demand now likely to have passed.”

Tom Bill, head of UK residential research at Knight Frank, commented: “The figures indicate how the second half of the year is unlikely to bear much resemblance to the first half for the UK housing market. We expect house price growth to narrow to mid-single digits as tax breaks wind down and supply picks up. Comparisons with the global financial crisis are misleading given how low interest rates remain and the fact the mortgage market acts as more of a brake and less of a lubricant for housing market activity than it did in 2007.

“House prices were driven higher by a supply squeeze as the UK came out of the pandemic, an effect seen in other sectors of the economy. If you add in a stamp duty holiday and the fact pent-up demand had been building for five years against the uncertain backdrop of Brexit, the result was a burst of house price inflation. In what may be a sign of things to come in the UK, housing market activity is now beginning to moderate in North American markets as the distortive effects of the pandemic recede.”

Sundeep Patel, director of sales at specialist lender Together, added: “Today’s figures reflect the first signs of stamp duty winding up, with house prices falling by -0.5% in June, the first monthly dip since January. Annual growth also softened at +8.8% compared to May’s +9.6%.

“While the average house in the UK costs £260,358 – and prices are still over £21,000 more than they were this time last year – this dip has largely been anticipated given activity is expected to slow further after the summer. Indeed, it’s likely we’ll see figures dropping from the top end down to lower single digits by the end of the year. With the hotly anticipated Freedom Day back in our sights, a slight return to normality could see more sellers list their homes, offering broader supply in what’s been an overpopulated market.”

“Specialist lenders will be paying close attention to the shape of the market over the next few months. There are likely to be opportunities created from the backlog in demand from keen buyers needing better flexibility from the highstreet in order to quickly snap up properties.”

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Grand Designs water tower sold: Grade II-listed London home that cost £2 million to renovate sells after price reduction

Grand Design fans may recognise the water tower home which cost its former owners nearly £2 million to transform.

The Grand Designs water tower in Kennington, that once supplied the workhouse that Charlie Chaplin lived in as a child, has finally been sold after the price was slashed from £3.6 million to £2.75 million — Homes and Property can exclusively reveal.

The unique 10-storey property, which was rescued from dereliction just over a decade ago and underwent a £2 million transformation into 4,500sq ft home, has sold this time around in less than two months and has just made the stamp duty holiday deadline.

The Chancellor’s Covid tax break saves buyers £15,000 and ends on 30 June.

Dating back 150 years, the abandoned structure was bought in 2010 by a savvy real estate developer and his partner and converted on a nail-biting episode on Grand Designs.

The new owner is considering adding a hot tub to the unusual property’s glamorous roof terrace / Foxtons
Leigh Osborne and his partner Graham Voce spotted the tower from their rented apartment on the 36th floor of the Strata building, just a few hundred yards away.

They bought it for just £380,000 and spent close to £2 million in transforming the abandoned Grade II-listed building into a five-bedroom, four-bathroom home. They risked everything to complete the project, which cost far more than they had budgeted for, and even put some costs on Osborne’s grandmother’s credit card.

The home was first put on the market by Osborne and Voce in 2018 where it sat for six months before the price was lowered once and withdrawn. It was then launched again in April at the lower price as lockdown restrictions began to ease. Contracts were exchanged this week.

The tower was built in 1867 to provide a 30,000-gallon water supply for the nearby Lambeth Workhouse where more than 800 destitute families were once housed and where seven-year-old Charlie Chaplin lived with his impoverished mother.

The renovated tower’s top room is used as a reception area and covers 24 sq ft with panoramic views / Foxtons
The refurbishment included the restoration of the tower and the addition of a two-level glass cube on top giving views across central and south London with the largest sliding doors in Europe installed. The breath-taking top room is used as a reception area and covers 24 sq ft with panoramic views.

“I have always been fascinated by castles and this is the closest I’ll get to owning one in central London. I plan to put a dining table in the top observation room and may look into a hot tub if the roof terrace allows,” says Hamer.

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Property sales at record high

The UK is experiencing “one of the busiest markets in years” as the number of buyers enquiring about each home for sale hit a record high.

Prospective buyer numbers are 34 per cent higher than a year ago, before the lockdown in the housing market when the country was still in the midst of the so-called ‘Boris bounce’, following the decisive Tory general election win.

The latest Rightmove house price index said this was the best sellers’ market in a decade as two-thirds of properties on estate agents’ books have had their sales agreed.

As a result, the average asking price rose by 2.7 per cent in the year to hit £321,000.

However, the property website said that price rises should remain moderate through the year because of tighter lending criteria making it more difficult to secure a mortgage. It also expects more sellers to put their homes on the market this spring, tempted by the stamp duty holiday extension and surging demand.

“Record low interest rates and the new focus on what your home needs to offer after several lockdowns have led us to the greatest excess of demand over supply in the last ten years. This strong sellers’ market is good news for those who are looking to put their home on the market as the traditional Easter selling season approaches,” said Rightmove’s Tim Bannister.

“Blossoming buyer demand coinciding with blossoming gardens should put a spring in the steps of sellers, and more of them coming to market will provide a much-needed increase in the choice of property for the many who are looking to buy.”

Spring is traditionally the busiest time for the property market and this year is expected to be even busier, with Rightmove recording 40 per cent more traffic to its website than in the same period last year.

Marc von Grundherr, director of Benham and Reeves in London, said: ”We’re fast approaching what is traditionally the busiest time of the year for the UK property market. With the double pronged boost to buyer demand in the form of a stamp duty extension and government guaranteed 95 per cent mortgage products, sellers can ill-afford to sit on their hands with regard to getting their property on the market.”

Nick Leeming, Chairman of Jackson-Stops, said: “Buyers have snapped up stock rapidly across the housing market over the last six months, eroding inventory levels across the country. At the same time, lockdown has meant homeowners have continued to reassess what they want from their properties and this, coupled with the stamp duty holiday, has created a swell in demand. Add to this a renewed appetite for a British bolt hole and this has formed one of the busiest markets we’ve seen for years.”

House prices in London
However, house prices in the capital bucked the national trend, falling by 2.2 per cent year on year.

These price falls were led by more expensive central London boroughs, which have seen demand plummet as international buyers remain trapped abroad, while existing Londoners head further out to leafy suburbs in search of more space. Outer London boroughs accounted for 14 of the 16 where asking prices rose.

The biggest fall in asking prices was in Westminster, were the average price fell by 14.9 per cent to £1.27 million, followed by Camden where house prices dropped 8.0 per cent to £946,000.

Prices rose the most in the outer London boroughs of Croydon (5.7% to £452,000); Barking and Dagenham (5.0% to £330,000); and Bexley (4.8% to £428,000).

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Is the London propery market resilient enough to make it through the next year?

London property market predictions for 2021: six major threats identified from Brexit to a third wave of Covid

It’s hard to remember the last time London’s property market was poised quite so delicately on a knife edge. The capital’s property prices rose by almost 10 per cent in the year to November, according to the Office for National Statistics, while the number of homes sold was up on 2019’s figures.

This year, despite lockdown, demand for homes has held up. Rightmove recently reported its busiest-ever January. But with a series of hurdles to negotiate, is 2021 the right year to buy?

Threat 1: Stamp duty
The tax holiday encouraged buyers with a tax break of up to £15,000. But it is due to end on March 31, despite pressure on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to take a more tapered approach to help the thousands currently mid-purchase.

Winkworth chief executive Dominic Agace thinks the Government will compromise with a “short extension” to allow those already going through the buying process to benefit. “The Government has proven to be very pro-homeownership,” he said.

Threat 2: Mortgages
Lenders have struggled to cope with high demand for mortgages over the past year and thousands of deals are stuck in a massive backlog.

Rightmove says it now takes more than four months for a sale to go through, although choice is improving, crucially for buyers who only have a 10 per cent deposit. Interest rates are holding low and steady. The average interest on a two-year fixed mortgage is 2.52 per cent.

Lawrence Bowles, research analyst at Savills, believes that when the stamp duty holiday ends, first-time buyers will regain their “competitive advantage” because their pre-existing tax breaks will resume. “Banks may be launching more FTB-friendly products now anticipating them to make up a greater proportion of the market in the spring,” he said.

Threat 3: Brexit
Years of post-referendum uncertainty had a massive impact on consumer confidence, and the property market paid the price. Agace feels that now the deed has been done buyers and sellers feel reassured. “There is clearly a worry that the financial services industry will suffer job losses … affecting buyer demand in prime central London,” he said. “So far these concerns have been unfounded.”

Threat 4: Furlough
Buying agent Laura Johnstone, of London Property Search, believes the end of furlough in April will trigger a short-term increase in property for sale, as some of those out of work will have to sell or rent out, increasing supply and lowering prices.

Bowles is more optimistic. His take is that furlough will continue until lockdown restrictions are over. “This will allow businesses to bring their employees back to work,” he said.

In the longer term the Bank of England believes the economy could return to its pre-pandemic size early next year as those consumers who are still working begin spending the £125 billion in lockdown savings.

Threat 5: London exodus
The population of the capital is expected to decline for the first time in more than 30 years, according to PwC. It expects more than 300,000 people to leave London in 2021, and fewer people means less demand. Even with this, the capital’s population will still total 8.7 million. There has also been an exodus of over 1.3 million European workers, with over 700,000 leaving from London, so the true extent of the drop may be much higher.

As London reopens, Agace believes younger buyers and renters will return to the centre to “make up for lost time by enjoying all the bright lights a city has to offer”.

Threat 6: A third wave?
The evolution of the pandemic is, of course, the great unknown. Most of us are pinning our hopes on the vaccination programme to return the world to a relatively normal state by the summer.
But nobody truly knows how things will play out and even in a best-case scenario, the social and economic effects of Covid-19 will be felt for years to come.

On the other hand, the past year has made us all appreciate the importance of where we live more than ever and the deeply imprinted desire for homeownership will continue to drive demand — for those in a financial position to step on to or up the ladder.

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Rishi Sunak is rumoured to be considering an extension to the tax break

Londoners trying to buy a property will save £168 million in tax if the Chancellor decides to extend the looming stamp duty holiday deadline. This equates to an average of £10,514 per household. New research by Rightmove, exclusive to Homes & Property, reveals that between 12,000 and 16,000 buyers could benefit if Rishi Sunak keeps the window open for just another six weeks.

The Chancellor is rumoured to be considering an extension to the tax break – a measure he announced in his emergency Covid-19 July budget last summer to boost demand in the midst of an economic crisis. On the flipside, if Sunak refuses to buckle under mounting pressure from the property industry then these householders – who are desperately trying to exchange and complete on their purchases by March 31 – will lose the stamp duty saving.

On homes worth less than £500,000 stamp duty during this July-to-March window has been completely scrapped. Above the £500,000 threshold it equates to a three per cent reduction.

On average in London buyers will save £10,514 on their move if they beat the deadline or he extends it.

What happens if Rishi Sunak doesn’t extend the stamp duty holiday?
Sellers could be left in the lurch this spring as prospective buyers who have failed to exchange and complete by the end of the stamp duty holiday walk away.

A perfect storm is brewing in the London housing market. Activity is expected to slow when the tax break ends on March 31 just as unemployment is forecast to peak following the end of the furlough scheme in April. In addition, agents warn, some buyers who miss the deadline will pull out.

“Families looking for more space to work-from-home and bigger (or any) garden for their children drove the surge of demand to move house in 2020 and into this year. The stamp duty saving covered the cost of moving for many of these households – who might also be on furlough.

“This incentive will be lost at the end of March, unless the Chancellor decides to extend the scheme, and I expect deals to collapse as a result,” says Becky Fatemi, founder of Rokstone Properties in Marylebone.

Tim Bannister, director at Rightmove agrees: “We know the stamp duty holiday was intended as a temporary stimulus for the market, but the delays we’ve seen in the home-moving process have been through no fault of the buyers and sellers who agreed a sale last year and are now trying to get their deals over the line.
“If there was a six week extension it should give the majority of the sales from last year the chance to complete.”

The tax break has created a log-jam for lenders, solicitors and agents as they try to process offers before March 31. “We should not underestimate the psychological pressure this deadline has put upon buyers and sellers at a time of great stress,” Fatemi adds.

The tax break ‘means more in London’
The tax holiday has been pivotal to propping up the expensive London housing market during the pandemic, explains Lawrence Bowles, analyst at Savills.

“The pressure to complete before the holiday ends is likely to be greatest where average values are around this level, such as in London,” he says.

“The impact of the stamp duty holiday has been more limited in lower value areas such as the North East of England where the stamp liability was low or nil to begin with, or in central London where the saving is small compared to the overall stamp duty bill.”

He argues that given the delays caused by the current lockdown there is “almost a stronger case for extending the deadline than introducing the tax break in the first place.”

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Has Lockdown 3 caused a drop in London house prices?

 

London house prices rise as lockdown inspires home movers but sellers hold off for spring
The highest demand was for moves to outer London as buyers continue to seek space over location

Asking prices for homes in London rose this month, as the current lockdown has driven people’s desire to move.

However, home schooling and freezing weather conditions mean many people who are considering selling their home are waiting until the spring – as is typical in the property market.

After three consecutive months of falls, price tags increased three per cent in the capital from January to February, compared to a national average rise of 0.5 per cent.

Unsurprisingly, the average asking price is down very slightly in London (1.1 per cent) this February compared to the same month in 2020 – when the country was still in the throes of a property bounce following the General Election and before Covid-19 truly hit the UK.

Looking beyond the stamp duty holiday
Property industry expects predicted buyer demand to slow this February as purchasers would now miss the impending stamp duty holiday cut off. However, the Covid-19 pandemic and multiple lockdowns has highlighted the need to live in the right property and place, explained JLL’s head of research Nick Whitten.

“Despite the enormity of the virus and the economic headwinds it has created, London’s housing market has continued to show great resilience, and we expect that the market will perform better over the next five years than the underlying data would suggest,” he said.

“Ultimately, homes are more important to us than ever before. They are no longer just a place to sleep – they are places for us to work and play – and this will drive buyer behaviour in 2021 and beyond,” he added.

“Last year the market was unexpectedly buoyed by buyers’ determination to move and satisfy their new lockdown-induced housing needs. We may well be seeing a continuation of that this year,” said Rightmove’s Tim Bannister.

“Despite the imminent end of the stamp duty holiday (on 31 March), there are good reasons to come to market now, especially if selling a property suitable for a family,” he said.

However, due to the backlog of sales that are hurriedly being processed to complete before the stamp duty holiday deadline, it is taking 72 days on average to buy a home in London, up from 62 days last month, Rightmove’s monthly House Price Index showed. This is still 16 days quicker than in May.

Where are house prices rising most in London?
The Covid-19 pandemic has polarised performance across the different housing markets that make up London, as buyers chased more space and better value in the more affordable outer boroughs or the affluent super suburbs.

As a result asking prices have risen most steeply in Croydon, on the London-Surrey border, up 6.2 per cent this February compared to the same time last year, followed by Hackney (5.5 per cent) and Redbridge (5.2 per cent).

At the other end of the performance spectrum was Westminster where asking prices have been reduced by nearly 10 per cent over the course of the pandemic due to a lack of international buyers. Price tags also fell in Camden, Lambeth, Wandsworth, Tower Hamlets, Kensington and Chelsea, Islington, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kingston upon Thames and Brent.

House prices in the UK
Rightmove’s Bannister believes the high demand to change dwellings is set to continue for the rest of 2021.

“With the current speed of the vaccine roll-out, the new school year will hopefully be spent in schools and out of the home, but many of the other new needs for more space both indoors and out will remain.”

Of the 11 regions in the UK, seven saw a month-on-month rise in asking prices. After London the largest jumps were in the North West (up 2.5 per cent) and the North East (2.2 per cent). The biggest monthly fall was in the East Midlands (-2.1 per cent), followed by the West Midlands (1.4 per cent).

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The most expensive streets in London

The roads where homes have sold for the most money since 2011.

A street in Chelsea which has been called home by everyone from Madonna to Jeffrey Archer and the Hollywood star Douglas Fairbanks Jr has been named the most expensive road of the decade. Between 2011 and 2020 the average sold price on the Boltons in SW10 was £36.6 million, making it the priciest street in the UK, according to new analysis.

During the same period, the average house price in London almost doubled to £514,000.

The Material Girl singer owned a house on the street, with its private communal gardens, between 1999 and 2006.

Lord Archer bought number 24a in 1972. Although he was forced to sell the house four years later the street features in two of the politician/novelist’s books.

The two next most expensive streets of the decade were Campden Hill Place (average price £20.8 million) and Ilchester Place (£15.8 million), both in Holland Park, the report by property data website Mouseprice, part of Propertyheads, found.

Meadow Road in Virginia Water in Surrey, was the fourth most expensive street of the decade, and the most expensive outside London, with an average sold price of £15.6 million.

The road is on the Wentworth Estate, where Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, Bruce Forsyth and Cliff Richard have had homes and where General Pinochet was held under house arrest in 1998 before being extradited to Chile.

The only other roads outside west London to make the top 10 were Courtenay Avenue (£15.1m), a private, gated road in Highgate, and Whitestone Lane (£14.4m) in Hampstead, both in north London.

A house on Courtenay Avenue is currently for sale for £8.65m, just over half the average price, with Arlington Residential who have acted on five of the seven sales on the street in the past decade.

Sales of London’s most expensive homes surged in the second half of 2020 despite the coronavirus pandemic and the finalisation of Brexit negotiations.

A total of £1.13 billion was spent on ‘super-prime’ property between January and August last year – a 16 per cent increase on the year before.

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990 Year Leases Announced in Leasehold Law Shakeup

Plans are afoot for millions of leaseholders in England to be given the right to extend their leases by 990 years while paying £0 ground rent, the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced in a move described as being one of ‘the biggest reforms to English property law for 40 years’.

The Government says the planned reforms – which are based on recommendations made by the Law Commission – are set to save leaseholders £1,000s if not £10,000s.

What’s Going to Change?

These latest changes (once brought into law) would mean both house and flat leaseholders will be able to extend their lease to last for 990 years with a ground rent of £zero.

A cap will also be introduced on ground rent payable when a leaseholder chooses to either extend their lease or become the freeholder. Furthermore, an online calculator will be introduced to make it simpler for leaseholders to find out how much it will cost them to buy their freehold or extend their lease.

The government also plans to abolish ‘marriage value’ charges. Marriage value is the additional market value of a property when it has a longer lease. As the freeholder grants any lease extensions, any increase in the property value (from a lease extension) currently has to be shared equally between the freeholder and leaseholder. So, at the moment, leaseholders are under pressure to extend their lease before it falls below 80 years in length when they become liable to pay ‘marriage value’ on top of the costs of the lease extension as this can be costly with properties having shorter lease terms being harder to sell.

The Government is also proposing further measures to protect the elderly and retirees that will not only restrict ground rents to zero for new leases but also for leasehold properties built specifically for older people, so purchasers of these homes have the same rights as other homeowners.

Leaseholders will also be able to voluntarily agree to a restriction on the future development of their property to avoid paying ‘development value’, which is a premium usually placed on property leasehold or freehold values if the property in question has the potential to go up in value, for example by adding another floor, like a penthouse.

Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said: “Across the country, people are struggling to realise the dream of owning their own home but find the reality of being a leaseholder far too bureaucratic, burdensome and expensive.

We want to reinforce the security that homeownership brings by changing forever the way we own homes and end some of the worst practices faced by homeowners.”

The Current Leasehold Rules

Under the current rules, leaseholders have to pay annual ground rents to the freeholder (or landlord) who owns the building that is being leased. Leaseholders may also have to pay maintenance fees, annual service charges and their share of the building’s insurance (if required under the lease agreement) as well as paying for any mortgage they might have taken out to purchase the lease on the property. Furthermore, as leaseholders don’t own the property outright, they often have to obtain permission from the freeholders to carry out major works.

The freeholder is usually responsible for the upkeep of the land the property sits on and the structure of the building (such as the roof and external walls) and sometimes the shared parts of the building such as lifts, stairways and communal gardens ­– and these costs can add up. So, they would argue that their current fees and ground rents are reasonable.

Ground rents are generally fixed for a certain number of years when the lease is purchased, meaning freeholders are then free to increase the ground rent following the fixed-rate period and this can lead to unexpected cost increases for the leaseholders. Higher ground rents can also make the lease less attractive to potential buyers if the leaseholder wants to sell up.

Leaseholders of flats currently have a lot more certainty than leaseholders of houses, as they can extend their lease at a zero ‘peppercorn’ ground rent as often as they like, but usually only for a period of 90 years while homeowner leaseholders have to pay ground rent and faced higher charges when trying to renew their leases, which can only be extended for 50 years, and only once. So, these proposed new changes will make a huge difference to leaseholders of houses.

Further Proposed Changes – Commonhold Ownership

The government also says it plans to introduce the commonhold ownership model, which is widely used around the world and allows homeowners to own their property on a freehold basis, giving them greater control over the costs of homeownership. Blocks are jointly owned and managed, meaning when someone buys a flat or a house, it is truly theirs and any decisions about its future are theirs too.

What Does All This Mean for Freeholders?

Of course, if all of the proposals come into force, property freeholders such as private landlords, housing associations, local authorities and developers could lose £millions.

In fact, investors who own shares in ground rent income funds have already seen falls in their share values on the back of this news.

Despite this fact, there doesn’t appear to be too much public response from freeholders since the announcement last week, but they are expected to fight many of these proposed changes. Steve Jones, Director of Valuation at Leasehold Valuers (part of the Leasehold Group) explains:

“We are concerned that the government’s commitment or ability to abolish “prohibitive costs like ‘marriage value’”, i.e., the additional amount paid to a freeholder when a lease falls below 80 years, is not explained in any detail. However, this will represent losses of billions of pounds worth of income for freeholders – and they are unlikely to give this up without a fight.”

With the considerable loss of ground rent income for freeholders, it is only to be expected that they will somehow seek to claw back income from their investment portfolios in other ways, perhaps by influencing the algorithms agreed in the proposed online calculator, which is very likely to see deferment and capitalisation rates manipulated towards the favour of freeholders. This could have dire and unpredictable consequences for leaseholders and may even see the costs of lease extensions rise in future in some cases,” Jones added.

When Will These Proposed Changes Come into Force?

The Government says legislation to set future ground rents to zero will be brought forward in the upcoming session of Parliament. The timing for any further changes such as the introduction of Commonhold Ownership has not yet been set.

Are you a freeholder who will be affected by these proposed changes? Alternatively, do these changes make leasehold properties a more attractive property investment proposition? What are your thoughts?

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One in seven London renters now behind on payments

One in seven London tenants are in arrears. Now pressure is growing for the Government to do more than delay evictions.

The Government is coming under increasing pressure to step in to assist London’s renters after figures showed that more than one in seven tenants in the capital have fallen behind on rent during the pandemic.

A study published today by Citizens Advice found that almost half (46 per cent) of London renters have lost income during the pandemic, compared with around a third UK-wide, and 15 per cent are now in rent arrears, compared with 11 per cent nationally. The number of private renters behind on their rent has also doubled since last February.

On average rent arrears stand at £720 but for more than half of those in arrears, a grant of just £600 would get them out of debt. Without help they could be evicted and find themselves homeless.

“The relentless financial and mental strain of arrears has a significant impact on renters’ wellbeing, making them less likely to self-isolate and more likely to experience mental health problems,” warned the report.

Campaigners agree that unless the Government grasps this particular nettle, things will only get worse.

Analysis by LSE and Trust For London predicts that the number of private renters falling into arrears could increase to 700,000 nationwide by November. Since the formal eviction process takes at least six months and courts have a backlog of cases, evictions could carry on long after the pandemic is over.

Those who don’t get evicted may find themselves back with parents or moving to cheaper homes, in what LSE describes as “overcrowded and insecure conditions”.

“We’re likely to see a slow burn of evictions that will go on at least into 2022,” said Christine Whitehead, LSE’s emeritus professor of housing economics. “This will leave tenants, and sometimes their landlords, facing months of insecurity, mental stress and hardship.”

The Government announced that bailiff action against renters would be paused during the current lockdown except in the most “egregious cases”, like antisocial behaviour or extreme arrears.

However, Alicia Kennedy, director of Generation Rent, warned that this would not keep renters safe from the spectre of eviction.

“Landlords can still serve notice and courts continue to hear cases, putting pressure on renters to move out before the bailiffs arrive.”

Generation Rent calculates that more than half a million households are in rent arrears because of the pandemic. What is needed, Kennedy said, is a package of financial support. “Without further support they will get deeper into debt and face homelessness.”

Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, criticised the Government’s current efforts on rent arrears, which can be summed up as a series of extensions to the eviction ban since last spring.

“Kicking the can down the road just means larger debts piling up, creating a bigger problem for tenants and also for landlords,” he said. “The Government needs to provide an urgent financial package to get rent debts built due to the pandemic paid off.”

Deputy housing mayor Tom Copley is another supporter of renters. “At every stage of the pandemic, ministers have treated renters as an afterthought,” he said.

“We need the Government to provide grants for people who have rent arrears, and to abolish no-fault eviction.”

Know your rights

If you are struggling to pay your rent, try talking to your landlord or letting agent. You may be able to negotiate an affordable repayment plan with them.

Although bailiff action is halted until at least the end of the current lockdown, landlords can still begin proceedings against tenants who are in “substantial” arrears.

In most cases, if your landlord wants you out they will have to give you at least six months’ notice before launching possession proceedings against you — and there is a large backlog of court cases so there is no need to panic immediately.

It is illegal for your landlord to bully or harass you. If yours is trying to force you out, hang on to any emails or other evidence and contact the police.

Seek help from your local council and advice agencies as soon as possible to sort out your living arrangements. Shelter and Citizens Advice have help on renters’ rights, while The Money Advice service can find you free, confidential debt advice if needed.

Rent arrears repayments are piling on the pressure

As a frontline key worker, the pandemic has been particularly tough on Rudolf Bozart — and not just because he works with vulnerable elderly people.

This time last year, life was looking good. Rudolf, 27, worked as an agency carer in nursing homes and private homes and was earning enough to pay his rent and live his life.

In spring, everything changed. Rudolf had just moved to a two-bedroom £700pcm flat in Colchester, Essex, when employers cut back on agency staff and his work, which was previously regular, evaporated.

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Incredibly stressful: Rudolf’s landlord is anxious for him to repay his rent arrears but he can’t afford the extra monthly payments — nor can he afford to put down a deposit on a cheaper rental

In an “incredibly stressful” period — during which the only work he could find was making food deliveries on his bike — he racked up £2,000 in rent arrears, which his landlord is understandably anxious for him to repay.

“It is really, really difficult to manage things because carers are not getting paid enough,” Rudolf said. “At the end of every month it is a struggle.”

There is some good news for Rudolf, however. In October, he got a full-time job close to his home, which means he can pay his full rent.

But, with a take-home pay of £1,400, once his rent, bills (another £200pcm) and basic living costs are added, he doesn’t have much leeway to repay his arrears.

His landlord would like an extra £300pcm, which Rudolf said would leave him unable to buy food. He can’t move to a cheaper flat because he would need to pay three months’ rent upfront and, while he owes rent, his landlord would not repay the money he put down when he first moved in.

“I have had weeks of sleepless nights over this,” he said. “My work is already very stressful and I can’t afford to stress even more when I get home.

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Why the world is going through a property price boom

Massive monetary stimulus from central banks and governments stepping in with fiscal support have driven house prices higher around the world.

Covid-19 has pushed the global economy into the worst downturn since the Great Depression, says The Economist. During the 2008 crisis, real house prices fell by 10%, and similar pain was expected this time. Yet house prices in developed countries rose by 5% in the second quarter. In Germany, they were up by an annual 11% in August.

There are two main causes. Firstly, massive monetary stimulus from central banks has kept borrowing costs low. At the beginning of the year a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage in America carried a 3.7% annual interest rate. Today the rate is 2.9%.

Secondly, governments have stepped in with massive fiscal support. Thanks to furlough schemes and other measures, household disposable income in the G7 was “about $100bn higher” than “before the pandemic” in the second quarter. Elsewhere, such as in Spain and Japan, governments have suspended mortgage repayments and eased repayment terms respectively.

The boom is also being driven by a shortage of homes, says Nicole Friedman in The Wall Street Journal. In the US, the number of single-family homes for sale in July hit its lowest level for the month since records began in 1982. New home construction in the country has never regained its mid-2000s highs, and that structural problem is being aggravated by homeowners reluctant to move, owing to economic anxiety and fear of being infected with the virus by visiting buyers.

The most overpriced markets

Hong Kong remains the world’s most unaffordable major city. The latest UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index, which monitors rent-to-income levels and “excessive lending”, reports that it would take 20 years for a skilled service worker in the city to save enough money to acquire a 650-square-foot apartment. The equivalent figure for London is about 15 years.

The average cost of a residential property in Hong Kong is a “staggering $1.23m”, notes Jason Hung in The Diplomat. Yet the city is becoming slightly more affordable as foreign investors pull back in response to the new national security law. Home rents fell by an annual 9.2% in August and commercial property has slipped by 30% over the past 12 months.

The UBS index shows that many European cities are overvalued, writes Diana Olick for CNBC. Munich and Frankfurt top the bubble list, while Paris and Amsterdam also look frothy. Beyond Europe, Toronto and Hong Kong are at risk of a real-estate bubble. London, Tokyo and New York are overvalued but not in bubble territory, while Chicago looks undervalued. Rents are falling in most cities, says Mark Haefele of UBS Global Wealth Management, so a “correction phase” for property prices in the world’s great metropolises could be looming.