It’s a funny time to move house. On the one hand, many of us are itching for a change of scenery after a year of #stayhome. On the other, we’re wondering if we want to add the stress of a house move on to the stress of a pandemic.
Depending on your circumstances, moving house may either be a complete impossibility or a necessity, rather than a choice – especially if you’ve had a change in financial circumstances in the past 12 months.
But is now a good time to be a buyer?
Rishi Sunak’s budget announcement has left us with a lot to consider, whether you’re a first-time buyer, looking to downsize, have your sights set on a new location, or want to buy something bigger.
Here are the main changes to the housing market – and how they might impact your choice to move.
You can bag a home with a lower deposit
The government has announced a new 5% deposit home loan guarantee scheme, which will be available to current homeowners as well as first-time buyers looking to buy a house for up to £600,000.
The national average asking price of a first-time buyer property is £200,692, according to Rightmove. The scheme means you can now get on the property ladder with a deposit of just over 10K (£10,034 to be precise).
This initiative will be available to lenders from April onwards and is designed to increase the appetite of mortgage lenders to offer high loan-to-value lending to creditworthy customers across the UK. Sunak said banks including Lloyds, Natwest, Santander, Barclays and HSBC had already signed up to the scheme, with more to follow.
Under the scheme, the government will offer to take on some of the risk of low deposit loans, meaning lenders would have some protection from potential losses.
The scheme might appeal to buyers who were previously short of a deposit for their dream home, says Jo Thornhill, finance expert at MoneySuperMarket. But they should proceed with caution.
“It can be difficult for borrowers with only a 5% deposit to find competitive mortgage rates and deals, so any additional support to boost this sector of the mortgage market is helpful,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“But all borrowers should think carefully about mortgage affordability when buying a property. With only a 5% deposit you will be paying off the mortgage over a much longer period and interest rates could rise.”
With a 5% deposit you are also at higher risk of negative equity if property prices fall, adds Thornhill, so think carefully about your home purchase.
The stamp duty holiday has been extended
The stamp duty holiday on properties valued up to £500,000 was previously scheduled to end on March 31, but it’s been extended by three months in the budget, and will now be available until the end of June.
Then, “to smooth the transition back to normal”, stamp duty will be halted on properties worth up to £250,000 until the end of September.
The benefits of this really depend on where you are in a chain. First-time buyers were already exempt from paying stamp duty on properties worth up to £300,000. Therefore the stamp duty holiday will make little difference to you – and may actually increase competition for properties you’re looking at, driving prices up. It might be prudent to pause until June has passed.
The extension will also have limited benefit if you’re yet to enter a chain.
“An extension to the stamp duty holiday will be welcomed by those currently in the house buying process and concerned about losing the benefit before their sale goes through,” says Thornhill.
“But it may not be long enough for those yet to have offers accepted on a property and begin the process to get to the finishing line by the end of June.”
Rightmove’s property expert Tim Bannister agrees this will have little impact for those yet to secure a property. Delays are likely, as mortgage lenders and conveyancers may struggle to cope with the increased workload ahead of June.
These delays might be even more tricky if you’re trying to buy or sell a flat in a residential block with a height of 18 metres (about seven storeys) or above.
Due to the aftermath of the Grenfell cladding scandal, some mortgage lenders are demanding to see an EWS1 fire safety certificate for these flats before loaning money, to verify a flat’s cladding. However, surveyors are struggling to keep up with demand and if any problems are flagged, there’s then another queue of people waiting to have cladding replaced.
“It’s worth remembering that the huge log-jam will mean a new sale being agreed is still likely to take over four months on average to complete, so really an extension for a few months would be an indication that it’s to help those already trying to get their purchases through,” says Bannister.
House prices are expected to drop
The average UK house price hit a new record high of £231,068 in February, according to the Nationwide Building Society House Price Index. Property values climbed by 6.9% annually, up from 6.4% in January, in what the building society described as a “surprise” acceleration. But the trend isn’t expected to continue.
House prices were high in February due to demand outstripping supply, according to Tom Bill, head of UK residential research at Knight Frank real estate consultancy. But he expects this will change as lockdown eases.
“Sellers who are home-schooling or simply concerned about opening their home to viewings due to new Covid variants have hesitated in the first two months of the year,” he told PA.
“With the return of schools and Covid cases falling, more sellers are now gearing up to list their property, which will put downwards pressure on prices from this month.”
Howard Archer, chief economic adviser to the non-governmental economic forecasting group EY Item Club, said house prices are predicted to fall by around 3% over 2021 – but the market will be volatile until later in the year.
“[We] expects housing market activity to gradually improve late on in 2021 allowing prices to stabilise as the UK’s economy establishes a sustained firmer footing and the labour market comes off its lows,” he said.
“Very low borrowing costs should also help with the Bank of England unlikely to lift interest rates from 0.10% during 2021 and for some time thereafter.”