Government unveils details of First Homes scheme

Government unveils details of First Homes scheme

By Chloe Cheung

The government has set out how it plans to structure the First Homes scheme to provide discounted homes for first-time buyers in England.

The First Homes policy was first announced in the Conservative party’s manifesto in November. It promises a 30 per cent discount for first-time buyers who, according to the government, will save around £100,000 on the price of an average new-build property in England.

In a consultation outcome published today (August 6) the government confirmed that under the scheme properties must be marketed and sold at a discount of at least 30 per cent below market value.

However, acknowledging that in some parts of the country property prices were “very high”, the government said local planning authorities will be able to require a higher minimum discount of up to 50 per cent on first homes built in their area.

The authorities will also be able to set specific ‘local connection restrictions’ to help local people on the housing ladder, however these should be restricted to three months after the property goes on sale to avoid houses remaining unsold.

After that the properties should be open to all first-time buyers across England at a 30 per cent discount.

Eligibility requirements

Properties under the First Homes scheme will also be subject to a £250,000 price cap across England, while a higher cap of £420,000 will apply in London. Price caps will apply after the discount to all initial sales.

Local planning authorities will also be able to set lower price caps for the first three months of sale, as the government recognised that in some areas the caps “may not be an ideal fit for local housing market conditions and it may be challenging to target support for lower income groups where the price cap is high”.

In addition to caps on property prices, buyers looking to benefit under the scheme will be subject to household income caps of £80,000 across England and £90,000 in London. Again, local planning authorities will have the ability to set lower caps for the first three months of sale.

While the government intends to focus the scheme on first-time buyers “as a rule”, it said it recognised “compelling reasons for making allowances in certain, limited circumstances” to other buyers. It will publish a list of circumstances under which non-first-time buyers should be eligible in due course.

Impact on mortgages

Among the eligibility requirements set out by the government were that properties under the scheme should only be purchased with a mortgage or home purchase plan covering at least half of the purchase value.

Additionally, so that lenders can offer competitive rates on mortgage and home purchase plan finance, the government said a “mortgage protection clause” would be developed to provide “additional assurance” to lenders, including a waiver on the discount in certain circumstances if a property is repossessed.

Under the government’s plan, properties under the scheme will have a restrictive covenant against the title to ensure that relevant restrictions, including the original level of discount, are passed on to future buyers.

By Chloe Cheung


‘Build, build, build’ planning reforms to help key workers

Ministers want to make it harder for Nimbys to block new homes


Tim Shipman, Political Editor | Oliver Wright, The Times

Sunday August 02 2020, 12.00pm, The Sunday Times


Ministers will unveil a “blockbuster” planning revolution this week to fulfil Boris Johnson’s pledge that the government will “Build, build, build” and make it easier for key workers such as nurses to afford a home.

Robert Jenrick, the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, will publish a policy paper on planning that will make it much more difficult for local authorities to block new development.

He told Times Radio today: “It will be much simpler and faster, and enable people to get on and build.”

The paper, entitled “Planning for the Future”, will also outline plans to use money from developers to give discounts of up to one-third off the cost of a house to local people.

The move would allow councils to prioritise housing for key workers such as police, nurses and teachers.

The main change outlined in the document is a new zoning system for planning approvals, which will take individual decisions over planning permission out of the hands of town hall chiefs.

Local plans will designate specific zones where new homes can be built and within them there will be a presumption that new houses get the go-ahead.

In order to placate existing local communities, Jenrick will introduce new “design standards” to ensure that properties which get the go-ahead in this way are in keeping with the style and design of existing properties.

He said that local councils would still have a say in where the developments took place, but the new measures would prevent problems in the current system where housing is turned down by planning committees, even when it is in areas designated for development in local plans.

“It will be a system, which places a demand on local areas to build the homes that they need,” he said. “But they will be able to choose where they’re built. They will choose how they categorise land, whether it’s land where it’s time to get on and build or land where it needs to be protected and passed onto future generations.”

The policy paper, which will be published towards the end of the week, will rule out changes to allow more building on green-belt land.

But it will introduce a new system of developer contributions to infrastructure, taking money from those who make huge profits by sitting on undeveloped land.

The government will take a greater proportion of “land value uplift” from developers and landowners to fund infrastructure benefits to win support locally for new housing.

That means new developments will come with road upgrades and facilities such as new GP surgeries, schools and shops that new communities need to be viable.

The Conservative election manifesto last year pledged: “We will amend planning rules so that the infrastructure — roads, schools, GP surgeries — comes before people move into new homes. We will ask every community to decide on its own design standards for new development, allowing residents a greater say on the style and design of development in their area.”

The paper will also help people who want to build their own homes find land locally and access the Help to Buy scheme.

A Tory source said: “Once a local plan is approved and the zoning is done, it is much harder to block new development. But the flipside is that the house in question will have to be in keeping with local designs and come with facilities for schools and doctors which make those attractive places to live and are not a drain on existing public services.”


Mortgage lenders begin return to 90% LTV

Mortgage lenders begin return to 90% LTV

By Chloe Cheung

Mortgage lenders are beginning to return to higher loan to value ranges, as three lenders have announced they will resume offering products at 90 per cent amid a “more active housing market”.

Nationwide Building Society has announced an increase in the lending limit to 90 per cent LTV for first-time buyers from July 20, with no set limit on the number of home loans available.

The building society said its return to higher LTV lending was enabled by the temporary stamp duty cut, announced by the chancellor last week, as well as a “more active housing market” following the lifting of lockdown restrictions that had effectively closed the property market until May.

Nationwide’s 90 per cent LTV mortgages will be available to first-time buyers direct and via brokers.

Henry Jordan, director of mortgages at Nationwide Building Society, said: “First-time buyers are vital to breathing life into the housing market and economy. We understand one of the biggest barriers to homeownership is raising a deposit. As a building society, owned by our members, we are extremely well placed to look at ways of helping people into a home of their own.

“While we will continue to monitor the market carefully, we feel it is the right time to enhance our lending, initially to those looking for their first home. We welcome the government’s announcement on stamp duty and hope our combined changes create a positive impact on a market that, despite being in relatively good health, is still recovering.”

Existing Nationwide mortgage customers who are moving home will be able to continue borrowing up to 95 per cent LTV, while the maximum for further advances has increased to 90 per cent LTV.

Meanwhile Coventry for Intermediaries has also announced its return to the 90 per cent LTV market with a limited launch.

The lender is offering two five-year fixed-rate products to new and existing borrowers from 8am today (July 14) until 8pm tomorrow.

Jonathan Stinton, head of intermediary relationships at Coventry Building Society, said it was “fully prepared to meet strong demand” throughout the two-day window.

Mr Stinton said: “This is about supporting the market without compromising on the high levels of service that we’re famous for. Transparency and certainty – especially in this environment – is essential for brokers so they can support their clients, which is why we have issued our pledge of 48 hours’ notice of withdrawal of these products at time of launch.

“We expect the next couple of days to be really busy and brokers can help us to process applications smoothly. Checking our criteria beforehand – particularly on self-employed and furloughed employees – will help to speed up the process for everyone.”

Mr Stinton added: “Only full applications will secure the product – as all AIPs will be temporarily suspended during this period. All the details are on our website along with a dedicated coronavirus update page”.

Additionally, in an email to brokers seen by FT Adviser, intermediary lender Platform announced it will be reintroducing a fee-free, five-year fixed-rate product at 90 per cent LTV to new business on July 15.

Platform had temporarily withdrawn its 90 per cent LTV fee-free range available to new business on July 9 due to “unprecedented demand”.

Chris Sykes, mortgage consultant at Private Finance, commented: “Three lenders announcing their return in one day should spur on other lenders to do the same.

“We have seen issues in the past few weeks with the lenders offering 90 per cent mortgages being inundated with applications and not being able to cope with the level of enquiries so spreading the cases more is an encouraging sign signally a potential widespread return of 90 per cent mortgages.”

Accord Mortgages, for example, temporarily withdrew its 90 per cent LTV products a second time this month, as the lender said it experienced the busiest month in its history.

Mr Sykes added: “With Nationwide being one of the biggest lenders for first time buyers hopefully it encourages the likes of Santander and Barclays to return to this market in the near future too”.

Data from Money facts shows there were 72 residential mortgages available at 90 per cent LTV on June 26, less than 10 per cent of what was available at the beginning of January (751 products).

By Chloe Cheung

Keep calm, review your finances

Keep calm, review your finances

With the COVID-19 outbreak impacting every area of our lives, it’s understandable that many of us are more anxious than normal.

One way to improve your mental wellbeing is to sort out your finances. In a survey, 45% of people said that money is a major cause of stress, rising to 66% among those with no savings or investments to fall back on. So, reviewing your finances is an excellent way to reduce stress levels during these difficult times.

 The perfect time to re-mortgage?

For many people, their mortgage is their biggest monthly outgoing, so it could pay to see if there’s a cheaper deal out there – especially given recent events. On 11 March, the Bank of England slashed its base rate from 0.75% to 0.25% as an emergency measure to limit the economic shock caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Shortly afterwards, it cut the base rate again to a record low of 0.1%.

 Banks withdraw mortgage products

Interest rates may be at an all-time low but finding a suitable deal may be tricky. Since the base rate cuts, banks have withdrawn over 1,500 mortgage products from the market due to the risk of offering certain deals in the current climate.

There are still excellent rates and products available, however, so it’s well worth putting in the legwork to secure a cheaper deal.

 Protecting yourself and your family

The rapid increase in confirmed cases has served as a reminder that illness can impact our finances when we least expect it. Reviewing your protection needs will reassure you that your family would be looked after if the worst happened. Check to see whether your existing policies still offer adequate cover and consider whether you need to take out any additional cover, e.g. life insurance, critical illness cover, income protection or payment protection insurance (PPI).

 Your policy and coronavirus

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) is now offering advice on whether different types of insurance policies are likely to pay out for policyholders affected by coronavirus. For those considering taking out a new policy, things may be more complicated, with some insurers introducing COVID-19 exclusions in a bid to stem their losses.

The importance of advice

The availability of mortgage and protection products is constantly changing, so financial advice is essential to finding the right deal. We are monitoring the situation closely and can provide clear advice to protect your financial wellbeing.

 As with all insurance policies, conditions and exclusions will apply
Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage.
You may have to pay an early repayment charge to your existing lender if you re-mortgage


Concise are supporting Tom in the Adidas Virtual City Run

Adidas Virtual City Run


Concise Financial Solutions are thrilled to announce that we will be supporting Tom in the Adidas Virtual City Run by donating 10% of every arrangement fee we charge throughout July and August to St Barnabas.

The Virtual City Run is a one-hour challenge that will push Tom to complete as many kilometres as possible within one hour. As a twist on the normal City Runs, Tom gets to choose the date, choose the time and choose the location.

With so many events cancelled up and down the country it is more important than ever to continue to offer opportunities to fundraise and support local charities and none better than St Barnabas.

St Barnabas Hospice is the leading charity in Lincolnshire providing palliative and end-of-life care to adults living with a life-limiting or terminal illness. The funds raised from this unique challenge will help to support patients and families across Lincolnshire when they need it most.

We know Tom would really appreciate your support. You can donate to Tom’s JustGiving page by clicking below:

Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to St Barnabas Hospice Trust (Lincolnshire), so it’s the most efficient way to give – saving time and cutting costs for the charity.

Your sponsorship money will give St Barnabas patients high-quality and compassionate care at a time when they are particularly vulnerable. St Barnabas has continued to deliver their services throughout the Coronavirus outbreak and they will be very grateful for your support.


Stamp duty cut up to £500,000: how much will you save?


Stamp duty slashed until 31 March for home buyers and buy-to-let investors

By Stephen Maunder, Which Website

8 Jul 2020

The government has scrapped stamp duty on house purchases of up to £500,000 until 31 March 2021, potentially saving homebuyers thousands of pounds in tax.

The move, which was announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday afternoon, is designed to reignite the property market after the COVID-19 outbreak.

Here, we explain how the new rules will work and offer advice on who could be the biggest beneficiaries of the change.

Stamp duty slashed on purchases up to £500,000.

The government has raised the stamp duty threshold in England and Northern Ireland to £500,000 until 31 March 2021.

Previously, stamp duty kicked in at £125,000 (or £300,000 for first-time buyers), meaning people moving home later this year can make significant savings.

The change will also help people buying properties costing more than £500,000. As stamp duty is tiered, they will pay nothing on the first £500,000 and then normal rates on anything above that (see the table below).

The government says the temporary move will mean nine out of 10 people buying a home this year won’t need to pay any stamp duty at all.

The changes will apply from today in England and Northern Ireland, but will not apply in Scotland or Wales.

The new rates until 31 March 2021

Portion of property price


£0-£500,000 0%
£500,001-£925,000 5%
£925,001-£1.5m 10%
Above £1.5m 12%


How much will you save?

Ultimately, the more expensive the home you’re buying, the more money you’ll save under these new rules.

The government predicts that the average stamp duty bill will fall by £4,500, but for properties priced at £500,000 the saving will be £15,000.

The examples below show how much you’ll pay depending on the price of the home you buy.

Property price £600,000 0% on the first £500,000; 5% on the next £100,000 – total bill of £5,000 (previous bill £20,000)

Property price £750,000 0% on the first £500,000; 5% on the next £250,000 – total bill of £12,500 (previous bill £27,500)

Property price £1m 0% on the first £500,000; 5% on the next £425,000; 10% on the remaining £75,000 – total bill of £28,750 (previous bill £43,750)

Does the stamp duty cut apply to buy-to-let?

If you’re buying an investment property or second home, you’ll still need to pay the 3% stamp duty surcharge, but this will be on the new temporary rates – so you could still make big savings.

The temporary rates for buy-to-let and second home purchases are shown below.

Portion of property price


£0-£500,000 3%
£500,001-£925,000 8%
£925,001-£1.5m 13%
Above £1.5m 15%


Before today, if you bought an investment property for £250,000, you’d have paid 3% on the first £125,000 and 5% on the second £125,000, resulting in a stamp duty bill of £10,000.

From today, you’ll only pay 3% stamp duty on the whole purchase price, meaning a bill of £7,500 and a saving of £2,500.



Housing market rebounds as sales increase by 137%

Housing market rebounds as sales increase by 137%

News 10 June 2020 10 June 2020 Business Matters

The property market has bounced back from a freeze over the coronavirus peak thanks to a build-up in demand and homeowners realising the shortcomings of their properties while cooped up during lockdown.

More homes were sold last week than this time last year and buyer demand is 54 per cent stronger than it was before the market was frozen on March 27.

Richard Donnell, director of research at Zoopla, the property portal, said that sales had risen by 137 per cent since the market reopened on May 13.

“The rebound in housing demand is not solely explained by a return of pent-up demand,” he said. “Covid has brought a whole new group of would-be buyers into the housing market. Activity has grown across all pricing levels, but the higher the value of a home, the greater the increase in supply and sales as people look to trade up. New sales in

London are lagging as buyers look at commuting and moving to the regions.”

The data was backed by analysis from TwentyCi, a market statistics company, which reported that 24,341 homes were sold subject to contract last week, compared with 22,880 this time a year ago.

Asking prices are 6 per cent above the level this time last year, according to Zoopla. In the week the market was frozen the average asking price was £245,000; in the week it opened last month it was £280,000, according to

TwentyCi. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that buyers are chipping prices down by 5 to 10 per cent.

Deals agreed have been particularly strong at the top end of the market. Those priced at more than £1 million have doubled in the past week to 664, compared with 494 a year ago. However, the largest number of sales last week — 8,956 properties sold subject to contract, compared with 7,744 this time last year — was for homes valued between £250,000 and £500,000.

Lucian Cook, director of research at Savills, estate agency, says: “That resurgence in sales at the top end tallies with our own numbers, Savills sales rose by 108 per cent last week and were particularly across the home counties where they went up by 148 per cent. This is a rebound far beyond what we expected.”

Mr Donnell sounded a note of caution, however. “The charts are off the scale but I do think this is a one-off surge in demand, a temporary jump,” he said. “No one truly knows what the economic impact [of Covid-19] is going to be.

The housing market is purely an extension of the economy and I am very cautious about the second half of the year.”

One of Britain’s biggest housebuilders has said that sales will be “severely constrained” until the lockdown is lifted.

Bellway has reported a 69 per cent drop in its weekly net reservation rate between March 23, when the lockdown started, and the end of last month.

The Centre for Economic and Business Research revised its house price forecast up from a fall of 13 per cent this year to one of 8.7 per cent.

Analysts have said the government’s furlough scheme and mortgage holidays are “softening the blow”. When they end it is feared that the market will be hit by unemployment and affordability concerns, leading homeowners to sell and driving prices down.

What impact has the lockdown had on First Time Buyers?

What impact has the lockdown had on First Time Buyers?

05 June 2020
By Daisy Stephens Really

Reallymoving takes a look at what impact the lockdown has had on First Time Buyers, what the post-lockdown market might look like and whether homes will be more affordable.

As we gradually ease out of lockdown in the government’s three-step plan (we reached step 2 on 1 June with schools reopening and some non-essential shops set to follow later this month), the property market is bouncing back strongly, with both Rightmove and Zoopla witnessing huge spikes in buyer demand.

But how will the post-lockdown market look for First Time Buyers, one of the most important buyer demographics? First time purchasers make up a sizeable portion of the market, with research at the start of this year revealing that the number of First Time Buyers was at its highest level since 2007, before the global financial crisis took hold.

According to research from the Yorkshire Building society, there were 353,436 First Time Buyers across the UK in 2019, up marginally from the 353,130 recorded in 2018 and the highest annual total since 357,590 in 2007. Albeit still some way off 2006 levels, when the annual total stood at 400,870.

First Time Buyer demand has been driven in recent years by strong competition between lenders driving mortgage rates down to near-record lows, historically low interest rates, helpful changes to stamp duty and various schemes introduced by the government to get people on the ladder.

However, is now the right time for buyers to purchase given how much uncertainty the coronavirus pandemic has caused? And what challenges will this demographic face?

In England First Time Buyers can now purchase again

From 23 March, when lockdown began, to 13 May, when the government allowed the property market in England to reopen, First Time Buyers were unable to continue with their transaction (unless it was absolutely critical) nor kickstart their journey onto the housing ladder as the country attempted to minimise the spread of Covid-19.

Since the government green-lighted the property market’s partial return, however, there has been a release of pent-up demand and those who were in the process of buying a home in England can now do so again, albeit with various government guidelines in place on moving safely. Equally, those First Time Buyers considering purchasing a home in England before lockdown hit can now take action again.

It will be very much the ‘new normal’ in terms of viewings and communication with agents and sellers, with the government still urging that this happen remotely wherever possible. In-branch visits are on an appointment-only basis, you must never travel in your agent’s car to a viewing, you must utilise virtual viewings in the first instance until you are sure the home is right for you, and on physical viewings themselves there are a number of measures you must adhere to, including staying two metres apart, washing your hands before and after, and potentially even wearing various items of PPE.

The process could be slower as everyone adapts to their new environment, but the government suggested there were a significant number of transactions in the pipeline before lockdown, and many of these should now be able to complete, or take a step closer to completion.

First Time Buyers still have a number of advantages when buying their first home, with no stamp duty payable on homes worth up to £300,000. For homes costing up to £500,000, First Time Buyers pay no stamp duty on the first £300,000 and only pay the tax on the remaining amount, up to £200,000.

First-timers purchasing a home through Shared Ownership can also claim stamp duty relief on homes worth up to £500,000 after a government amendment in October 2018. You can find out more about stamp duty here.

There are also various housing schemes in play – from Shared Ownership to Help to Buy – and several lenders now provide 100% guarantor mortgages to help young people onto the ladder.

Interest rates being at incredibly low levels (just 0.1% in an attempt to protect the economy from the damage caused by Covid) also make borrowing more appealing, and could help First Time Buyers to get a good deal on their mortgages.

Will house prices be more affordable?
It’s likely to be unclear for some time yet just what impact the coronavirus crisis has had on house prices, with data hard to come by in recent times as the property market was effectively put into sleep mode while the pandemic raged.

However, the release of Nationwide’s well-respected monthly house price index for the month of May 2020 has revealed that house price growth slowed sharply as the impact of the pandemic begins to filter through.

Annual house price growth slowed to 1.8% in May, while prices were down 1.7% month-on-month, after taking into account seasonal factors.

Robert Gardner, Nationwide’s Chief Economist, said mortgage activity has declined sharply. “Nevertheless, our ability to generate the house price index has not been impacted to date, as sample sizes have remained sufficiently large (and representative) to generate robust results. Low transaction levels may still make gauging price trends difficult in the coming months – especially for regional indices, which by their nature have lower sample sizes.”

Gardner believes behavioural changes and social distancing will disrupt the flow of house transactions for some time, but where is next for the property market?

“The medium-term outlook for the housing market remains highly uncertain, where much will depend on the performance of the wider economy,” Gardner commented.

“We have already seen a sharp economic contraction as a result of the necessary measures adopted to suppress the spread of the virus. Indeed, the 5.9% decline in UK economic activity recorded in March was only a little less than the decline recorded over the entire financial crisis.”

However, he thinks the raft of policies adopted to support the economy should set the stage for a ‘rebound once the shock passes’, helping to limit long-term damage to the economy.

“These same measures should also help ensure the impact on the housing market will ultimately be less than would normally be associated with an economic shock of this magnitude.”

It’s commonly accepted that we’re already in a recession, as vast parts of the economy are still effectively shut down, but the concern is that this will move into a depression – with potentially devastating effects.

That said, the government – through initiatives like the Job Retention Scheme, the Business Interruption Loan Scheme, mortgage holidays, VAT deferrals and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, not to mention the cuts in interest rates – is attempting to limit the economic shock, to keep unemployment down and to try and get the economy back on its feet as soon as possible.

Many First Time Buyers may have been furloughed or work in an industry – such as travel, the arts, hospitality or sport – which has been severely hampered by the pandemic, in turn meaning they are less willing or able to continue with their home-buying dreams.

But it’s hoped the various support measures the government has put in place will prevent mass unemployment and major financial complications from being an issue.

There is a chance houses could be more affordably priced in the short to medium-term, as sellers become far more eager to sell quickly and buyers are put in a stronger negotiating position, but we’ll need a few more months of house price data to know for sure.

Demand recovery well underway, portal date shows

On Wednesday 27 May, only two weeks after the property industry in England restarted, Rightmove witnessed visits to its site surpass six million in a day for the first time, up by 18% on the comparable day of 2019.

On Saturday 23 May, the portal recorded its busiest ever day with regards to time spent on the site, with over 47 million minutes spent collectively.

Rightmove says home-mover momentum has been building since the housing market reopened in England, with ‘a new wave of buyers now entering the market’ since the easing of lockdown.

The findings also revealed that more a quarter of buyers who had no plans to relocate earlier in the year are now planning to move.

Meanwhile, Zoopla’s latest Cities Index Report recorded a surge in activity from buyers, sellers and those in the private rented sector in May.

Buyer demand increased by 88% in the week after the government’s housing market announcement. While this spike in part showed how low the market had fallen, Zoopla expects this upwards trend to continue, albeit at a steadier pace over time.

The north of England and a number of coastal towns saw a huge revival in demand, the report said. By contrast, there was a much smaller rebound in demand for London property.

With the Yorkshire Building Society data showing that those entering the property market for the first time accounted for more than half (51%) of homes purchased with a mortgage in 2019, there is a strong likelihood that a significant number of these buyers are of the first-time variety.

It should also be noted that some developers, agents and schemes are offering discounts and special offers for NHS and key workers, who have been at the frontline of the pandemic. If you are a First Time Buyer and a key worker, it’s worth exploring whether there are any offers or discounts being provided in the area in which you are looking to buy.

UK house prices 2020: how has coronavirus affected the housing market so far?

UK house prices 2020: how has coronavirus affected the housing market so far?

By Carol Lewis Sunday June 07 2020, 12.01am, The Sunday Times

We’re still in the “discovery phase” and opinion is divided, but here’s what the latest numbers show.


However, buyers are having none of it. “Since the market burst back into life halfway through [last] month, 79% of buyers who had already agreed purchases before lockdown tried to reduce their price. Most succeeded, but not on the scale they were expecting,” says Lucy Pendleton, managing director of James Pendleton estate agency. “In all, 99% of them failed to achieve a reduction of more than 2.5%. The only exception has been a 6% reduction on a house that had been listed for sale at £2.5m.”

Aneisha Beveridge, head of research at Hamptons International, says that in England sellers went from achieving 98.9% of their asking prices in January and February (a discount of 1.1%) to 97.1% last month (a 2.9% discount).
Savills, which tends to sell prime properties, reports a slightly larger discount of 5% now, compared with 2% before the freeze. At Knight Frank, average discounts on London properties of 6.4% during the freeze have narrowed to 5.5% since the market reopened.

So, where have the much touted discounts of 10-15% gone? “Some buyers are very optimistic and trying for double-digit reductions on asking prices, these are often rejected and more sensible negotiations follow,” says Tom Bill, head of London residential research at Knight Frank. “At the other extreme for best-in-class properties you are actually seeing competitive bidding that usually starts at or above guide prices. We have deals agreed pre-lockdown, renegotiations, optimistic discount bids and competitive bidding all going on at once. It will take a while for things to untangle and the market to find its feet.”
The opening of the market unleashed a wave of pent-up demand, but this has not been matched by a wave of sellers willing to sell at any price. Data from View My Chain shows that new listings are down by a third on usual levels.
Richard Donnell, research and insight director at Zoopla, says: “Demand rebounded strongly with an initial surge as the English housing market reopened and is now 34% above early March.”
This strong demand is holding up prices — for now.

Nonetheless, the publication of the first set of house-market indices since the unfreezing of the market made for sensational headlines last week. Nationwide’s data suggested that house prices had fallen by 1.7% from April to May, the biggest monthly drop for more than a decade, wiping £4,000 off the value of the average property. However, Halifax reported a much more subdued 0.2% drop in house prices over the same period.
The average asking price of a property now, according to Nationwide — whose calculations are based on its mortgage lending — is £218,902. The lowest it has been since February, when it stood at £216,092.
Despite the reported fall in values in the past month, Nationwide reports that house prices are now 1.2% higher than they were three months ago and 1.8% higher than a year ago. Halifax’s data puts the average value at £237,808, 2.6% higher than a year ago.

However, a key problem with the Nationwide and Halifax research is that it is based only on mortgages that they have agreed and from a time when transaction levels were very low. During the seven weeks the property market was closed, an average of 3,809 sales a week were agreed in the UK (this fell to just 3,125 a week in April). This is less than a fifth of the usual number.

Andrew Goodwin, senior economist at Oxford Economics, says: “The figures for the past month are almost meaningless because there were so few transactions. Prices only go down if people are forced to sell, if they are unemployed so can’t pay the mortgage, or are hard-up, so can’t service their debt. I don’t see a lot of people losing their jobs while the furlough scheme is running, and while we have low interest rates and mortgage holidays there is no incentive to sell up.”

He predicts that prices will remain flat this year with lower house prices next year. He says prices will be only 3% lower if unemployment, which is now at about 4%, doesn’t rise beyond 6%.

The Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) said on April 14 that property prices would fall 13% by the end of 2020. On April 20 Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, launched the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
This week the CEBR revised its forecast to a fall of 8.7% this year. Kay Neufeld, head of macroeconomics at the CEBR, says that there will be a gradual decline in house prices this year and that there could be “a bit of a cliff edge” when furloughing comes to an end. “We are still at the start of a major recession and as soon as the job-retention scheme comes to an end we could see a reduction in household incomes and reduced demand for housing,” Neufeld says.

Bill agrees that there is a bumpy road ahead for the housing market. “Over the summer I think we might see some pretty nasty GDP data, which could tip us into recession, and that will negatively impact on sentiment, which will inevitably have a knock-on effect on the housing market. Then the furlough scheme will unwind and we will see how that affects employment,” he says.

What of the thinking that we are in a three-month buying opportunity? Few experts believe that it is that simple; prices are likely to fall farther yet, although how far may not be apparent until the autumn.
Lawrence Bowles, research analyst at Savills, says that he expects to see people sell now and buy later — renting in between, particularly if they want to test out a new location.

Jonathan Mount, managing director of Sterling Private Office, a buying agency, says: “If you find something that might not come back to the market for years don’t delay. If it is going to be your home for a long time, then there is no point waiting. If it is a pure investment play, then hold off and see what happens.”



First-time buyer guide: tips for how to get onto the property ladder

Sunday Times 17th May

First-time buyer guide: tips for how to get onto the property ladder

 Your pub money is tucked away in a high-interest savings account and you’ve heard that house prices could fall. Are you gazing wistfully up at the property ladder wondering if now is the time to grab on to the first rung?

The Times has compiled the ultimate guide to buying your first home now, with up-to-date information on the post-Covid-19 market, the financial help available and how to go house hunting without leaving the sofa.

Is now a good time to buy?

It depends on what you’re looking for and, most importantly, how long you’re expecting to hold onto your property.

In the time of coronavirus, the biggest uncertainty is pricing. Lloyds Banking Group had the most pessimistic predictions earlier this month when it estimated a whopping 30.2% fall in house prices over the next three years. That’s more than after the 2008 financial crisis, when they tumbled 19.4% between 2008 and 2011.

Estate agencies Knight Frank and Savills, however, are more optimistic, forecasting a fall of between 7% and 10% this year and, potentially, some price growth late next year or in 2022.

Lucian Cook, head of residential research at Savills, thinks that first-time buyers who already have their deposit saved up will have less competition in the market in the coming months.

“Some buy-to-let investors, especially those who have experienced a build-up of arrears during the lockdown, will be looking to offload stock, while housebuilders will be keen to maintain their rates of sale, possibly through use of incentives,” Cook says. “With all of the uncertainty hanging over the market, [first-time buyers] should buy with a five- to seven-year view of future prices, rather than the expectation of making a quick buck.”

Tom Bill, residential research partner at Knight Frank, agrees. He argues that some people assume there will be a re-run in terms of house price falls but, unlike the last recession, this downturn has not been preceded by years of strong growth. Prices were already down.

“Whether now is a good time to buy depends on your time horizon,” Bill says. “In the next few months there will be discounts available. Over the course of 2020, we forecast prices will fall. Beyond that, we expect price growth will return.”

Ultimately, it’s unimportant if prices bounce back or not because it’s impossible to time the bottom of the market, says Camilla Dell, founder of buying agency Black Brick.

“If you find the right property at the right price and you’re going to be in that property for the next five years, it’s not a bad time to be buying,” she says. She adds that people shouldn’t worry too much whether prices go down after a purchase.

“Are you going to be selling at that moment and time?,” she asks. “Probably not, because the cost of moving, buying and selling is so high. Most people don’t sell six months later.”

Interest rates are another key factor: they are at an all-time low, so borrowing is cheap. Predicting severe economic distress, the Bank of England is keeping the base rate at 0.1%.

Simon Gammon, managing partner of Knight Frank Finance, says many first-time buyers opt for a fixed-rate mortgage. “If you know you’re going to be there for five years and you want the peace of mind of knowing exactly what your mortgage payments are, then it’s very attractive.”

The downside of a fixed-rate is that it often comes with early repayment or redemption penalties. In the long-term, a fixed-rate option might be cheaper than a tracker mortgage – knowing that the Bank will raise the base rate sooner or later – but it has less flexibility.

You can still apply for a mortgage if you’re on furlough, but you may have less borrowing power. “Some lenders will take into account total income, where an employer is ‘topping up’ the furloughed amount, and some will consider applications on a case-by-case basis,” Gammon says. “It’s worth getting in touch with your lender, or a whole-market broker, to see what’s possible.”

However, Gemma Godfrey, executive editor of the Times Money Mentor, warns that the number of mortgage products available in the UK has reduced by more than half.

“Tracker mortgages in particular have been cut by two thirds,” she says. “This means that despite these products seeming like a good option right now, as they followed interest rates lower, they’re also much harder to find.

“You should also be aware that lenders will be assessing your finances more closely, to make sure you would still be able to afford your mortgage payments in the future if interest rates rose.”

A general rule is: the bigger your deposit, the more choices you’ll have.

What can I afford to buy?

A deposit can be as little as 5% of the value of the property you would like to buy, but the average first-time buyer puts down 15% to reserve a home, according to advice site Bankrate. The latest government statistics show that the UK average house price is £230,332, so a 15% deposit is £34,550.

This can vary dramatically throughout the UK. In Northern Ireland, the cheapest region, the average house price is £140,000, so you would usually need £21,000. In London, the most expensive region, the average house price is £477,000, so a typical deposit is £71,550.

You can search for average asking prices and sold prices by postcode online using property portals such as Rightmove or Zoopla, or you can search the Land Registry, the government’s database for England and Wales, to get a better idea of how much you need.

If your salary has been mercifully untouched by the coronavirus downturn, then this lockdown period can be a good time to save.

Reducing your monthly outgoings will also make you look like less of a risk to lenders when you apply for a mortgage, as will improving your credit score. Outlandish or fluctuating expenses and bad credit will affect the amount you can borrow for your first home and could even mean you are rejected for a mortgage.

Find out what your credit score is by signing up for a free credit report online. There are simple things you can do to improve your credit score. You can register to vote, pay off any remaining debts, cancel unused phone contracts or store cards, and apply for a credit card, if you don’t already have one (but make sure you pay the amount owed in full every month, not just the minimum amount).

Many banks and brokers have online tools on their websites that calculate how much you can borrow. You can even apply for a mortgage in principle online. Be mindful that this is only a rough estimate and you will always get a more detailed assessment by talking to a mortgage adviser or a broker.

This is especially important if your employer has placed you on furlough or if your income has been affected by the coronavirus lockdown. Many lenders have changed their products recently as a result, so shopping around with expert advice is the best way to get a good deal. Some brokers charge a fee that is based on a percentage of the value of the property you are buying. If they don’t, they may get a commission from the lender you apply for a mortgage with.

If you’re struggling to borrow the amount you need, you can apply for financial help through one of the government-backed schemes outlined in more detail in the next section, which also includes information on how to buy with family or friends.

Once you have a mortgage in principle, you can start looking at properties you might like to buy. If you have a rough idea how much you can borrow, this will make you more attractive to sellers who will know that you’re serious about purchasing their home. Mortgages in principle can expire — typically, they last between 60 and 90 days — and if you apply for too many, this could affect your credit score.

You can also apply for a mortgage offer once you’ve found a deal you can afford. The mortgage adviser or broker will give you a good idea whether you’re likely to receive an offer. Once one is accepted, these usually expire within three to six months, but some lenders have offered to make extensions for buyers who have been stymied by the coronavirus crisis.

What financial help is available?

Help to Buy (HTB) is a popular government equity loan scheme that helps first-time buyers purchase a property worth £600,000 or less. It’s a good option for buyers with less cash upfront — you need a deposit of at least 5% to get a loan of up to 20% of the purchase price (or 40% in London). This is interest-free for the first five years. After that, you’ll be charged 1.75% interest that increases with RPI plus 1% every year. You only repay the interest on the loan — the equity is repaid when you sell your home or after 25 years.

If you use this scheme, you can only take out a repayment mortgage to purchase a new-build, which tends to be more expensive than buying a resale. The comparison website estimates average sale prices are 10% higher on HTB properties.

The government will be extending HTB from 2021 to 2023. From April 2021, there will also be new regional price caps, which could reduce the maximum value of homes that can be bought through the scheme.

Available to anyone aged between 18 and 39, a Lifetime ISA (Lisa) is a government-backed savings account that you can use to buy your first home costing £450,000 or less. For every £1 you put in, you get a 25p top-up from the government. You can pay in a maximum of £4,000 a year, so the biggest bonus you could get is £1,000 per year.

It’s a savings account, not a “get rich quick” scheme, so you must adhere to strict rules about withdrawals. You will face a hefty penalty to withdraw money for any reason other than buying your first home or for retirement. Before the coronavirus pandemic, savers would lose their 20% government bonus plus pay a withdrawal fee of 5%. The government is temporarily waiving this 5% fee until April 5, 2021. You have to wait until 12 months after opening a Lisa to buy a property, you must use a solicitor or conveyancer to make the purchase and you’ll need to buy with a mortgage.

If you’re buying as a couple, each person can have a Lisa to double up on the bonus. It would take less than five years to grow a £50,000 deposit between you if you both saved £330 a month. You also earn interest on whatever you save — the best-paying Lisa currently pays 1.25% — and the interest is tax-free.

Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT, or simply stamp duty) is paid on property sales above £125,000. First-time buyers don’t pay stamp duty on the first £300,000 of a property. If the property is worth between £300,000 and £500,000, first time buyers will pay stamp duty at 5% on the amount of the purchase price over £300,000.

If the property is worth £500,000 or more, you will pay the standard rates of stamp duty and will not qualify for first-time buyer’s relief.

Join forces with friends or siblings: up to four people can be legal co-owners of a home, either as joint tenants or tenants in common. Under joint tenancy, you all have equal rights and own the whole property together. Most married couples typically hold their property as joint tenants.

Tenants in common each own a separate share of the property as a percentage, which can be equal or unequal. This is usually the simplest way for siblings or friends to be joint owners, however, a declaration of trust should also be written up with a lawyer to set out how ownership is divided, what should happen if one party wants to sell or let out their share of the property and it can also protect parents who have gifted or loaned cash.

Another way for parents or guardians to help is to act as a guarantor on their child’s mortgage. A guarantor mortgage, sometimes called a family-assisted mortgage, uses someone else’s home as security and passes some or all of the liability for a home loan on to the parent or close relative.

What does the buying process involve?

This week, the government announced that estate agency offices could reopen, surveyors could visit homes, conveyancers and removals firms could go back to work and prospective buyers can view properties in person as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Meanwhile, estate agencies have adapted by allowing customers to do “virtual viewings”. The government recommends you do viewings virtually before you consider visiting a property in person. Ask the estate agent if there is a virtual viewing option for the property you’re interested in — they are widely available.

Some agencies have made video tours that you can watch online or request to see. Others have teamed up with virtual imaging software companies to make 3D virtual walkthroughs: again, these can be posted online or are available on request.

In the majority of cases, the agent will arrange a video call (using WhatsApp, Facetime etc) with the seller who will take you around their home and answer your questions. Usually, the agent is on the call, too.

If you’re happy with the property, you can submit an offer that is above, below or at asking price via the estate agent who will negotiate with the seller’s estate agent. If an offer is accepted, you can then tell your solicitor to begin the conveyancing process to prepare the legal documents that you will need to buy the home and transfer the title deeds.

Once everything is agreed, you exchange contracts with the vendor (whether that is the housebuilder, seller or housing association) agreeing legally to buy the property. At this point, you lose your deposit if you back away from the deal.

Solicitors representing both parties will set a completion date and arrange the final balance of payments with the lender before the ownership is passed onto the buyer. Then all that’s left is to book a removal van, pick up the keys (usually from the estate agent) and move in.