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Isn’t it time that property remembered what is important?

For those of us working within the property sector, we’re in the very midst of what, for generations, has been one of the hottest topics in the UK’s economy. 

Not a day goes by when headlines don’t purport to have the inside track on what’s happening in the housing and property sector. It’s enjoying a boom. It’s suffering a slump. More homes need to be built. Too many properties stand empty. House prices are falling. House prices are too high…

At times, indeed much of the time, it feels like there’s so much chatter about the property sector that, and I suspect I’m not alone in this belief, there’s actually very little of substance being achieved.

In the last two years alone, we’ve gone through the relative disruption of a general election, a referendum, a change in leadership and yet another general election. 

Time and again, these have provided a platform for all those involved in property to discuss the housing market – to wax lyrical, but to achieve little.

So, what’s going on?

The fact that the UK needs more housing is universally agreed and we lobby for changes to planning to expedite this process. Yet when I recently attended a RICS event in Bristol to hear that 7,000 new homes in the city had been granted permission but were yet to see spades in the ground, I had to ponder why this might be. Could developers be holding out to achieve greater values for the homes they build?

As an industry we seek to increase the volume of homes being marketed for sale, but are consumers too holding out for further price increases to maximise their returns?

The government and opposition parties are yet to demonstrate a willingness to relax the punitive system of Stamp Duty, so whilst the Exchequer’s pockets continue to be lined, millions of would-be house purchasers are put off making a move.

What these three points have in common is, dare I say it, a certain level of greed.

Shouldn’t housing and property be fundamentally about something else? About providing a home – one that delivers security to a family; that ensures they’re close to good schools and jobs; and which, over time, provides financial stability.

And that’s just it. The property market here in the UK is based on financial gain rather than the provision of a home. I’m not against the financial gain aspect, but I can’t help but worry that we’ve allowed it to become too focused on that. 

There are times when the workings of the market are such that property values become falsely inflated and when that happens, we need to find a way of reigning it in so that expectations on all sides are met.

For us an industry, that means providing honest counsel on a property’s value and recognising what a purchaser – or tenant – really requires. In the absence of any unified housing policy from government, we need to work together to ensure that property remains focused on need and not greed.

*David Westgate is Group Chief Executive of Andrews Property Group

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