It’s fair to say that the property market has seen some ups and downs this year .... perhaps more than in anyone’s living memory. The year started with a buoyant market, rising on the back of the General Election result and then an interest rate cut. Then Covid-19 not just affected the property market but completely halted it. The market got moving again with enthusiasm in May and then the recent Stamp Duty holiday scheme added yet another twist.

In the midst of all this many people will be asking the same question: Is now a good time to buy? So whether you’re buying a home for yourself, or looking to invest in property, let’s try and come to some conclusions.

First of all, one thing that has recently changed everything overnight is the Stamp Duty holiday, which has suddenly made buying property seem much more tempting.

Let’s suppose you want to buy a £450,000 house to live in yourself. You would have paid £12,500 in Stamp Duty (based on Stamp Duty Land Tax or SDLT in England and assuming you’re not a first time buyer) before the Stamp Duty holiday. Today, and assuming you complete before the end of March 2021, you’ll pay zero. That equals almost a 3% discount on the price of the house.

The Stamp Duty holiday has made buying more attractive for investors too. For example, if you want to buy a £250,000 flat you would have paid £10,000 before the Stamp Duty holiday. Today you will pay only the second home/buy to let surcharge of 3% and will instead pay £7,500.

Looked at in hard cash terms that saving could easily be the equivalent of an extra four month’s rent for free up front. Plus it will very marginally improve the yield the property returns you each and every year going forward.

Here’s a useful Stamp Duty Calculator so you can work out the impact for yourself.

Of course, it’s wise not to be swayed too much by the offer of what seems like Stamp Duty ‘free money’ when deciding whether to buy. The bigger picture need to be considered too.

Some property experts believe that the Stamp Duty holiday could actually cause house prices to rise. That could mean that some or all of the Stamp Duty saving would be neutralised.

Even last month property portal Zoopla forecast that property prices could see a ‘surprise rebound’ and rise by up to 3% by this autumn before slipping back later. That could easily wipe out the Stamp Duty saving for many buyers depending on their circumstances.

Some experts say that house prices are likely to fall anyway. Again that could mean that any Stamp Duty saving would be wiped out, and then some, if you buy before a fall.

Again last month Savills forecast that property prices could fall 7.5% on average this year before climbing slowly next year.

Here are some other property price forecasts you might like to take on board too.

What else should you consider when deciding whether to buy property or not?

The answer is that you should really consider the same things that you would have considered anyway, regardless of the latest developments in the property market.

The state of the economy and sentiment about it (what buyers and investors think might happen) have always exerted a significant impact on the property market and prices. No one really knows what is going to happen there.

Supply and demand also affect prices. Even with the ongoing Covid-19 situation a lot of people are still keen to buy property. Not quite so many seem keen to sell. So the supply of new property reaching the market could tighten and that could affect prices.

And no one can say for sure yet whether developers will add to supply and keep building so many new properties .... although the Government’s so-called build, build, build strategy might encourage them.

Mortgages are cheap. Cheaper than they have ever been. You can even get a mortgage at a shade over 1% interest fixed for two years – something that’s pretty much certain never to be repeated in the longer term. However, some reports suggest that lenders are tightening their lending criteria, so it could become harder to get a mortgage even at a super-low rate.

So is now a really good time to buy property?

The best advice is probably, regardless of all the turmoil in the market, do what it has always been sensible to do when deciding whether or not to buy property: Consider all the relevant factors and take a long term view. Because buying property is a long term proposition, whether you’re nesting or investing.

Go back 10, 20 or 30 years and there have been events that have caused major changes in the property market. But people who bought property 10, 20 or 30 years ago have still by and large done pretty well by deciding to buy or invest. Of course, nothing quite like Covid-19 has happened before.

Above everything else consider your own financial situation, and likely financial situation, carefully. It’s sensible right now to apply at least a basic ‘stress test’ to your finances: If your mortgage payments go up and/or your income falls will you still be able to afford to buy that property? That, rather than what the market itself is doing, is probably the very best way of deciding whether or not to buy now.


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