Published: 10:15, 19 January 2021
Housebuyers face a race against time to benefit from the stamp duty holiday before the big-money saving window slams shut at the end of March.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak appeared to rule out an extension to the holiday last week, which was introduced to kick-start the housing market after the impact of the pandemic.
Due to end of March 31, it means those buying a property under £500,000 pay no stamp duty at the point of completion - which for top end properties means a saving of up to £15,000. A property worth £340,000 - the average price a property in Kent sold for in 2019 - would carry a £7,000 stamp duty bill.
Previously, stamp duty was payable on all properties over £125,000.
But there are concerns those looking to capitalise on it now will be hard pushed to complete in time to take advantage - and, as a result, find themselves with an unwelcome bill for thousands of pounds.
And that is heaping pressure on the Chancellor's shoulders to extend the deal in some form when he announces his Budget on Wednesday, March 3.
Spencer Fortag is MD of Medway-based Dockside Property Services. He says the suspension of stamp duty has "categorically" had a positive impact on house sales, a boost going hand-in-hand with more sellers in the capital looking to sell-up and acquire property with more internal and external space as the move to more flexible working patterns beds in.
He adds: "I'm confident the stamp duty announcement led to a spike in buyers and in business being done.
"Ultimately there has to be a cut off point but I think it's fair to extend for those who have started the process, because solicitors, banks and surveyors are moving much more slowly than usual due to the challenges they face during lockdown.
"I would like to see an extension to it due to the increase in activity we've seen in the market. And there seems to be a real movement for that."
He proposes a three-month extension.
And his view is shared by others.
"It is clear to see the stamp duty holiday has had a positive impact on the property market," adds Mark Brooks, CEO of Miles & Barr - one of the county's biggest estate agents.
"We anticipate demand for homes across east Kent, whether it is extended or not, will continue to grow in 2021.
"We have strong transport links to the capital, beautiful settings and a lifestyle that many people are looking for if they are relocating or would like a change in pace to life.
"Our hope is for the stamp duty holiday to be extended as it will allow existing purchasers and sellers the time to find and complete on their dream home."
Yet, regardless of the stamp duty boost, it would appear the housing market for the remainder of 2021 looks buoyant.
Lucian Cook, is head of residential research at Savills.
He says: “Our expectation is that this further lockdown will make people more aware of the limitations of their existing home and increase their commitment to moving, likely leading to pent up demand as seen after the first national lockdown early in 2020.
"At the same time, however, the pool of those able to act on their desire to move will shrink. We’d expect sustained activity from those with secure household finances, which will help sustain activity levels in the prime market, but lenders are likely to become more risk averse which will make it harder for those requiring high levels of borrowing.
“The desire to beat the stamp duty deadline will help sustain activity in the first quarter of 2021, but it’s probably going to be harder to meet the existing deadline. The end of the stamp duty holiday will coincide with rising unemployment as the furlough scheme comes to an end, and this further lockdown may mean a deeper lull in activity mid-year but a stronger bounce-back as the vaccine roll-out progresses.
“Covid-19 will have a longer tail in the form of higher taxation. This will likely act as a medium term drag on the market, though low interest rates will help counter this.”
Certainly the big property portals such as Rightmove has seen a surge in interest, with its busiest ever start to a new year, with traffic up 30% on the same pre-pandemic period in 2020.
Rightmove’s director of property data, Tim Bannister explained: "The housing market has been allowed to stay open during these latest lockdowns and agents have already spent months working in a Covid-secure way and creating a number of property videos, so buyers and renters starting out on their search this year will find that, alongside the safe viewing protocols, more agents are offering virtual viewings to help buyers and renters better shortlist the properties they want to go and see.”