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By Phil Spencer

Founder, Move iQ

TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

Phil Spencer: Budget rumours - pros and cons for agents

With just two days to go, it's fair to say the property industry is eagerly awaiting Chancellor Rishi Sunak's Budget statement on Wednesday.

Last year's address, known as the Coronavirus Budget, delivered big on funding the fightback against the pandemic. On the housing front, perhaps understandably, we were left with very little to discuss except for confirmation that overseas investors will be hit with an additional 2% stamp duty surcharge from April this year.

Although the impact of Covid-19 is likely to dominate proceedings once more on Wednesday, there is hope that there may be more property matters on the table this time around.

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This is down to two reasons. Firstly, the vaccination programme continues to go great guns and Boris Johnson's roadmap, unveiled last week, provides a cautious but optimistic route out of the crisis.

Secondly, the pandemic has created a black hole in the coffers of the Treasury and property taxes are an effective way of raising funds.

There is also the elephant in the room that is the stamp duty holiday. Whether it should be extended or not has become a bone of contention between industry, public and government for many weeks now.

Of course, when it comes to any fiscal statement, we should be careful what we wish for as can be attested by the lettings sector, which has been hit hard by tax measures and regulation in recent years.

Ahead of the big day, I've taken a look at four of the rumoured announcements and analysed the pros and cons for agents…

Stamp duty holiday extension

What could happen? After a leak in The Times last week, it seems most likely that the stamp duty holiday will be extended by three months until the end of June.

Rightmove reports that a three-month extension could see up to 300,000 buyers benefit from a combined stamp duty saving of £1.75 billion.

Pros for agents: If transactions which would have fallen through complete as a result of the extension, agents will benefit from increased earnings.

What's more, an extension of this type will provide a market buzz and ensure consumers keep thinking about property.

Cons for agents: The phrase 'kicking the can down the road' has been said many times in relation to whether a short extension with a similar cliff-edge finish can prevent a drop-off in market activity when the stamp duty holiday ends.

Moreover, even a three-month extension may not be enough for thousands of purchasers who started their transaction months ago and find themselves beset by delays.

Capital Gains Tax (CGT) rise

What could happen? A report released last year by the Office for Tax Simplification called on the government to increase Capital Gains Tax rates and reduce exemptions.

It forecast that doubling CGT rates could net the Treasury an additional £14 billion each year, something that would be extremely welcome when considering the aforementioned deficit. Property tax reform may not now be unveiled until later this month, but it appears the government is planning some changes.

Pros for agents: While there may not seem to be many on the surface, further changes affecting landlords provide agents with an opportunity to promote the benefits of comprehensive property management.

Providing landlords with useful information about what CGT changes would mean for them provides you with an opportunity to re-engage, add value and start new conversations about future plans.

Cons for agents: Another hit for the buy-to-let sector could impact stock levels in the rental market. If CGT increases are put forward with a firm introduction date, there could be a rush of landlords looking to offload properties.

With many landlords worried about their ability to run a profitable property portfolio in the current climate, agents have a crucial role in reminding them about the positives associated with a long-term buy-to-let investment strategy.

Rent grants for tenants

What could happen? It has been suggested that the government could attempt to reduce rent arrears by introducing a financial support package for tenants in England.

Rent grants have already been introduced for struggling tenants in Scotland and Wales, while the idea has support from landlord associations all the way through to housing charities. There is also mounting speculation that the furlough scheme could be extended until the summer.

Pros for agents: Whether it is an extension to furlough or specific rent grants for tenants, anything which helps to reduce rent arrears will be welcomed by agents and landlords.

More financial support can reduce the pressure on agents tasked with chasing rent, while also helping to protect management fees and improve relations between all parties.

Cons for agents: Additional financial support, while welcome in the short-term, could blight the market with uncertainty and indecision for a longer period.

Measures such as these could also pave the way for the eviction ban to be extended further, which would cause problems for agents and landlords who have serious issues with tenants.

Market uncertainty over tenants' ability to pay rent could discourage landlords from investing further in buy-to-let, while the introduction of rent grants would likely mean more administration work for already time-strapped agents.

Business rates holiday extension

What could happen? Estate and letting agents were included in last year's original exemption of business rates for retail businesses, which the government estimates has amounted to almost £10 billion in relief.

Despite a clear roadmap out of lockdown now in place, it remains to be seen when public-facing businesses such as agency offices will be fully operational again. This could see the holiday on business rates extended to the autumn alongside other pandemic-related financial support measures. One note of caution, however, is that any extension may only apply to businesses which can’t open at all under the roadmap plan and therefore may not include agents.

Pros for agents: With many firms reviewing their branch operations and business structure, an additional period of business rate exemption could come at an opportune moment for the nation’s agents.

Cons for agents: There aren't many. However, it's important to note that the government has a business rates revaluation pencilled in for 2022. The longer exemption for retail businesses is extended, the more significant the impact of the revaluation could be as the funds will need to be recouped.

As all agents know, it's best to expect the unexpected when it comes to the Budget. Let's all hope there is at the very least some stamp duty clarity for the industry to work towards.

Whatever is announced, it will be important for agents to communicate relevant updates to sellers, landlords, buyers and tenants, helping them to digest what the Chancellor's measures mean for them.

*Phil Spencer is a presenter, author, businessman and property investor. Phil’s consumer advice platform Move iQ, is a website, YouTube channel and podcast. Each preserve and reflect the same impartiality that consumers trust and base their property moving plans. Coming soon: Move iQ Pro, Phil’s resource to support the property community. Stay tuned ready for launch!

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