When we put our house on the market in February of this year, we were prepared for the tediously slow process of negotiations, paperwork and uncertainty that ensues whenever you head off in search of your dream home. But I don’t think anyone could have been prepared for the major standstill that COVID-19 put on the house moving process, like everything else in its wake.
While it became very apparent that the market needed to grind to a halt the moment lockdown took place (online viewings are helpful, but I don’t know many people willing to invest in their biggest lifetime purchase through a casual Zoom), I don’t think many of us were prepared for the huge uptick in the market that was to happen as soon as we were able to don our protective foot coverings and get looking in person again.
The generous offering from Rishi Sunak to exempt the first £500,000 of a house purchase from stamp duty gave an unsurprising kick start to the market as UK buyers took to house searching with gusto again once the lockdown restrictions eased in May this year. And it has worked; figures from Halifax show average house prices in August were 5.2% higher than the same month a year earlier.
But is this really a sign of a sustained bounce in the property market? When you look at what is happening at the bottom end of the market, you can begin to see why some people are claiming this boost might well be short-lived.
New mortgage products are rarely able to make headline news, but anyone reading the papers last Friday would have struggled to miss the ‘one day only’ First Time Buyer mortgage offer from TSB which received blanket coverage across the national papers.
The five-year fixed-rate deal, which was available exclusively through brokers, was open to those with a deposit of between 10 and 15% and came with a range of strict criteria, including a maximum loan amount of £350,000 and excluded those wanting to buy a flat – which most would consider a standard First Time Buyer home, especially in the capital.
So why did such a restrictive product gain more fanfare than a perfectly baked banana bread in the first week of lockdown? Because the mortgage market for anyone with a deposit of 10% or less has all but dried up. A quick look across the best buy mortgage tables shows that unless you have a 40% deposit, a cool £98,000 on the average £245,747 UK home, there aren’t many lenders willing to lend.
In fact, Moneyfacts data reported in the Sunday Times shows there are 1,096 fewer mortgage deals for those with a 10% deposit than this time last year. While some of the lucky few could still turn to ‘the Bank of Mum and Dad’ to help them increase their deposit, lenders are beginning to put the brakes on there too, with Nationwide recently asking First Time Buyers to prove they had saved 75% of their deposit themselves.
Some caution is to be expected. With unemployment rates rising and further woe to follow as the furlough scheme comes to an end, it’s unsurprising that lenders are unwilling to take on risks – especially when there is more than enough lending to be done among the wealthier homeowners or those looking to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday to buy a second home by the sea.
But the housing market is built on chains, starting from the bottom up. If First Time Buyers can’t buy up the entry-level flat, then those who are ready to fly the one-bed flat and move into the 2-bed terraced house are stuck. And so on and so on until the market stagnates – which is why it’s no surprise commentators are already suggesting a hefty dip in the property market next year once the pent up demand and stamp duty holiday come to an end (the latest figures from the CEBR suggest a 14% dip).
As a result of this looming crash, some property commentators are suggesting now is a crazy time to move, as house prices may well look much more appealing later this year or early next.
But regardless of a property crash or not, the main question for many First Time Buyers will be, will we ever get the chance to decide when is a good time to buy? The brands who stick their neck out now with headline-grabbing offers for the First Time Buyer segment will likely be remembered in years to come when the First Time Buyers of today are the lucky ones buying a second property by the sea.