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Autumn Statement: Treasury pledges £3m to ‘improve homebuying process'

The Autumn Statement ended up being silent on Stamp Duty reforms and direct housing market stimulus but there were some nuggets hidden in the Treasury’s documents on improving the homebuying process that could support estate agents.

Many in the industry had hoped that rumours of Stamp Duty reforms would come true but were left disappointed as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt didn’t even mention the tax.

Richard Davies, chief operating officer at Chestertons, said: “Aspiring homeowners will feel disappointed about the Autumn Statement not including measures to help property buyers. 


“Many would have welcomed cutting Stamp Duty which would have resulted in house hunters, who previously paused their property search, to re-enter the market.”

“A Stamp Duty exemption for downsizers would have also been a crucial step to help those wanting to move to a smaller property. Each year, we meet countless homeowners who are planning to downsize but, due to the Stamp Duty which can be as much as 12%, are put off to do so. A tax exemption would have encouraged downsizing which in turn frees up large, under-occupied family homes.”

Iain McKenzie, chief executive of The Guild of Property Professionals, added: "While the housing market was largely ignored, the incentives that will put money back into peoples’ pockets, such as the 2% cut in national insurance should at least improve confidence to some degree."

Instead, the industry has had to make do with Treasury plans to consult on providing permitted development rights to convert one house into two flats without changing the façade.

This was mentioned during the speech Autumn Statement speech, along with £32m of investment to clear planning backlogs and develop new housing quarters in Cambridge, London and Leeds, but there were also two announcements hidden in the Treasury document.

This includes a pledge to provide £3m for a “range of measures to improve the home buying and selling process, including pilots to develop property tech products and to digitise local council property data.”

The document also revealed that the Mortgage Guarantee Scheme – which supports the availability of 95% loan-to-value mortgage products – will be extended until the end of June 2025.  

It was supposed to end on 31 December 2023 but will now continue for a further 18 months, “to continue helping prospective borrowers with smaller deposits buy a home.”

The extension of permitted development rights did at least please commentators.

Paula Higgins, chief executive of the HomeOwners Alliance, said: "We hope that making it easier to convert houses into flats will boost private rentals and create more right sized homes. 

“Our research has shown that 46% of downsizers say that a lack of suitable housing is a barrier to them moving.  But the Government doesn’t have a good track record on extending Permitted Development Rights.  The quality element can be missing and is too often not up to standard, as we have seen with these office to flat conversions,.

“Standards need to be maintained as deregulation in this area does mean a greater risk of bad conversions - for example, minimum space standards are often not adhered to. And unlike when you buy a new home, buyers of these conversions will not be given a warranty. 

“Potential buyers will need to be educated about the risks and an independent survey will be a must. Newly converted flats without planning permission should be required to be subject to more stringent building control checks. "

Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and a former RICS residential chairman, added: 'All of the planning measures mentioned by the Chancellor are welcome.

“One of the issues in both the sales and lettings markets is the lack of choice, which is partly to do with a shortage of supply. Any measures which seek to alleviate that shortage will help to keep not just prices but rents, which have been rocketing, in check, which is good news.

“However, we need more meat on the bone – when are we likely to see a difference and what is the timescale for their introduction? The housing market is crying out for more activity which is good for the economy generally bearing in mind the knock-on effect to so many businesses. A thriving housing market has a multiplier effect in terms of its impact on other businesses and industries.”
Meanwhile, Jeremy Raj, head of residential Property at Irwin Mitchell, said the promise of measures to improve the homebuying and selling process is to be cautiously welcomed.

He said: “Most in the industry will want far more detail before they can judge and the £3M promised for this will not go far. 

“Having said that, a great deal of excellent work has already been done in this sphere by a number of organisations and there is no doubt improvements can be made to both the process and at the Land Registry. The technology is already available to radically improve things, but Government requires a clear vision to ensure any reforms are robust and future-proof, not just a wish to make things ‘better’. 

“Likewise, the digitisation of local council property data is a much-needed reform that could cut transaction times but it must be properly funded and so far I have been unable to find any reference to extra money for this."

  • Andrew Stanton PROPTECH-PR A Consultancy for Proptech Founders

    In less than a year there will be a new Housing secretary, and a new housing minister whatever party 'leads' the nation. With an enormous in-tray that exists from cladding to planning to well I have a list of about 30 major points that governments have failed to address in the last two decades, it is all a bit of a farce.

    The good news is that bit by bit private enterprise is digitally recreating the workflows and operating systems of UK realestate, and whilst we will no doubt have the continuing 'Punch and Judy shows around landlords Vs tenants rights, FTB's unable to buy, etc, the serious work of getting the UK analogue property industry digitally transformed sweeps forward.

    There is just so much value and profit to be made, yet still 80% of UK c-suites have their heads in the sand, reacting slowly to the amazingly fast developments that will shape the 2030 digital world we are hurtling towards. I mean how many physical 'shops' will exist on high streets, those vacant commercial units in most mid-sized towns are empty for a reason ... the shift to online retail in all sectors grows by 12% a year. With no game plan - you are no longer a player - just an observer.


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