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Henry Pryor: my predictions for 2016

Posted on 2016-01-04

So, you thought George Osborne and the Conservatives were friends of the property market did you? Like the other main parties, the Tory manifesto pledged to build more homes, to rent and to buy, and they made much of schemes like Help to Buy that might enable people to afford homes that were otherwise beyond their reach.

They also pledged (and have now delivered) changes to the way parts of the Social Housing sector operates, extending Margaret Thatcher's Right to Buy scheme out to Housing Association tenants.

In his emergency summer Budget, it became clear that the Chancellor wasn't as fond of private property investors as we had thought. He made changes to the mortgage interest relief that can be set against tax, and to the repair costs that can be claimed.

At the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, David Cameron announced that he wanted to see "Generation Rent become Generation Buy". New homes were to be built - but they are for owner occupation - and Brandon Lewis hopped up and down with excitement, as he became the first housing minister to be given real support to get out and change planning rules to allow more homes to be built.

Then came the 2015 Autumn Statement. More bad news, it seemed, for residential property - with 2nd home buyers told that they would have to pay 3% more in Stamp Duty.

Agents almost melted in their frustration as they took to the press to raise concern about the wrecking ball that was being swung about in the housing market. Clearly, the good times were at an end. Capital growth at 7% a year and rental growth of 4% was too much and the Government had decided to act.

200,000 homes bought in 2014 would have fallen foul of the new 2nd homes rule had it existed and, now that the tax also applies to 2nd homes bought in Scotland, this is getting on for 20% of all transactions - enough to move a market.

The Treasury is consulting on the detail of all this - the deadline is 1st April but will it include second homes necessary for work (think MPs' flats in Pimlico!) or homes owned by each spouse? It seems certain to apply to foreign nationals, but how will this be policed? Most importantly, what might the impact of this be and what can landlords and tenants expect through 2016?

Taken as a whole, the changes announced since the 2015 General Election will make it less exciting to be an investor on residential property. It will be more expensive and potentially less profitable for some who are highly geared, but it may result in higher yields which may return towards their historic trends.

Whilst rents may continue to edge up due to the excess demand for rented property, they are unlikely to rush ahead. Capital values at the top end of the market took a knock when these costs rose in the 2014 Autumn Statement, and the same may happen in 2016. If rents remain stable, and prices fall back, so yields should improve.

Changes to mortgage interest relief and, perhaps, to more understandable relief on actual repairs may be difficult to mitigate, but the SDLT changes need to be viewed over the longer term. They (and other associated costs, like buying agency fees) can be off-set against future Capital Gains Tax and, in the event of losses, can be carried forward at present indefinitely.

As a result, if prices do slip in the second quarter of 2016, then the additional cost faced by new buyers of property to let can make them additional profit when they come to sell.

This may be scant comfort to those who have taken money out of their pension and reinvested in property. Like others who saw buy-to-let as a simple and profitable option, the biggest threats to the property market remain Government intervention and civil unrest.

The damage politicians can do has been clearly demonstrated over the past year, with the impact of Stamp Duty made last December - especially to the top end of the market; resulting in fewer homes selling and the cost being passed onto sellers. Prices in the affected price bands have suffered as a result.

Back in 2011 we saw how fragile and how valuable 'policing by consent' in this country is. People were not protesting about housing specifically that summer, but the impact that the disorder had, on parts of the country that witnessed the disturbances first, was measurable. The market in Enfield in North London still suffers from the collective memory, even though it was five years ago.

If the younger generations, and the poor, feel that they will never have a shot at home ownership - or if they feel that they are not going to be able to live in housing that they can afford, in areas they want to live - then they will protest, and we will all feel the impact of this if the action is widespread.

Henry Pryor is a buying agent & "the BBC's favourite property expert". Any views expressed in this article are those of the author.

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