With Brexit still unresolved, the domestic agenda has been pushed from the headlines by the seemingly overwhelming public and political discord over our future relationship with the EU.
But the upcoming general election, called mainly due to the Brexit impasse, has seen national issues, such as housing, regain centre stage.
With less than a week until voting day, each of the main political parties has outlined its plans for the country, including for the housing market, with various measures aimed at correcting the imbalance between property supply and demand.
From rental reforms to big numbers around housebuilding, they have each set out rival plans to address the existing housing crisis.
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, commented: “In this Brexit election the main political parties mustn’t lose sight of the big issues facing the UK such as the current housing crisis. We are still not building enough new homes, and this has led to an affordability crisis and overcrowding.”
The party spin machines have been on full throttle with headlines pledging to increase housebuilding levels, including more affordable homes, in order to fix the dysfunctional housing market and make properties more accessible.
Labour has promised the biggest affordable housebuilding programme since the 1960s, including 100,000 new council houses a year by 2024, and assures 50,000 more “genuinely affordable homes” a year through housing associations, with the Liberal Democrats also pledging 150,000 new ‘affordable’ homes annually.
The Conservatives, in its manifesto, have promised to build “at least a million” residential properties over the next five years, which works out at 200,000 new homes a year, which is actually below the 241,000 additional dwellings provided in 2018/19.
However, the Tories do intend to see an average of 300,000 new homes a year built by the mid-2020s, and that is the same level as Labour and Lib Dems have said they will deliver annually, albeit sooner rather than later, if they win the election - which shows there is some common ground between the main political parties when it comes to housing.
Jeremy Leaf, a north London estate agent, commented: “Fortunately, the main political parties agree on some elements of housing policy - it’s just the method of delivery where they can’t seem to see eye to eye.
“All aspire to approximately 300,000 better-quality, especially affordable, new homes per annum on subsidised development land – and more for local people - within the next few years.
“They [the political parties] recognise too the importance of attracting the ‘tenant vote,’ bearing in mind the huge recent increase in numbers renting.”
Private Rented Sector
Given that the number of people living in private rented accommodation has grown, doubling in the past three decades, renters are now a political force that the main parties can no longer ignore - so it is no surprise that they are starting to take the renting crisis seriously at this election, with politicians in agreement that the rental system needs improving.
From the introduction of a ‘lifetime’ deposit that moves with a tenant to scrapping Section 21 notices to encourage greater security of tenure, there is a wide range of policies being proposed that will affect buy-to-let landlords.
But Leaf, a former RICS residential chairman, is concerned that some policy questions remain unanswered.
He continued: “As far as I am concerned, policies should not compromise the supply of homes for sale or to rent or increase upward pressure on rents and prices.
“For instance, if Section 21 is removed will the alternative Section 8 eviction process be improved to ensure the most difficult tenants can still be removed without too many landlords leaving the sector?”
Leaf added: “How do the Conservatives envisage ‘transferable lifetime 5% rental deposits’ to work in practice and impact on the market? And how will compulsory purchase of low-cost local authority/statutory undertaker-owned housing land be funded, as proposed by Labour?”
On the other hand, the Liberal Democrats are advocating minimum three-year rental tenancies and rents linked to inflation. But Leaf pointed out that most tenancies continue for longer than three years and “rents are either softening or increasing by less than CPI”.
In summary, Leaf said: “Trying to appeal to as much of the electorate as possible is understandable for political parties at the moment while we in the industry reflect on how some, if not all, of these and other policies are likely to be implemented.”
But while the main parties battle to win over ‘Generation Rent’ with policies aimed at attracting younger voters, they have also been urged to take into consideration that the votes of private landlords could prove pivotal in many marginal seats.
Guy Roberts, director and head of lettings at Adair Paxton in Leeds, said: “Targeting the voting tenant population seems to be highly popular with all parties at the moment, the ideas and initiatives put forward will in practice do more harm than good to the sector and consequently the tenants within it. Whether it be through higher rents or lack of supply as landlords decide to leave.”
The Residential Landlord Association (RLA) estimates that landlords’ votes could help decide the outcome in 124 constituencies across the UK in the upcoming general election.
David Smith, policy director for the RLA, commented: “Private landlords could be decisive in who ends up in Downing Street following the election.
“For those unable to afford a home of their own or unable to access social housing the rental market is their only hope of having somewhere to live. With that in mind, we call on all political parties to do more to support good landlords to provide the homes to rent we need.”
All the main political parties have proposed measures to support first-time buyers - which, as a proportion, made up 27% of property purchases in 2019, up 2% year-on-year, the latest data from NAEA Propertymark shows.
Lynda Clark, CEO of First Time Buyer Group, said: “The glass has certainly been half full for first timers, who are taking advantage of flatlining markets to get a leg up on the property ladder. This year we saw first-time buyer mortgages reach heights that haven’t been seen for over a decade.”
To help support first-time buyers, the Conservatives are promising to build 29,000 homes at 30% market discounts for local people who cannot otherwise afford to buy in the area, simplify shared ownership and Help to Buy loans until 2023, and introduce a new market in long-term fixed rate mortgages, with a 5% deposit.
Labour plans to deliver 50,000 new homes for key workers under the age of 45, at 20% to 50% market discounts linked to local incomes, create a new English Sovereign Land Trust, which can acquire land cheaply for low-cost housing, and focus existing Help to Buy loans on first-time buyers with “ordinary” incomes and give local people first refusal on new homes nearby.
However, the Greens want to scrap Help to Buy altogether. But many people disagree with this proposal.
Clarke added: “While they may have their critics, there can be no doubt that Help to Buy and Shared Ownership have played a role in what has been a milestone year for first-time buyers all across the UK.
“Overall, a strong year for first-time buyers, which has set the groundwork for more successes in 2020.”
Political uncertainty has dogged housing market sentiment for a while now, so it comes as no surprise that unpredictability around the outcome of a general election continues to have a negative impact on the market, although it is worth pointing out that UK house prices rebounded in November.
The average price of a home rose 1% to £234,625 last month, Halifax said, marking the largest monthly rise since February.
It signals a slight recovery after two months of declines, and that is a trend that is likely to continue if there is a decisive result in the general election.
Marc von Grundherr, a director of Benham & Reeves, said: “The focus now must be setting a firm political foundation on which we can build and doing so will ensure a swift return to normality over the year ahead. Failure to do so will no doubt leave the UK property market in further limbo, with no real movement on either side of the coin and stagnant growth for the foreseeable future.”
Historical house price data shows that the housing market responds depending on the level of certainty an event brings. When a prime minister is elected or re-elected prices tend to rise in the aftermath.
Following the previous two elections, we have seen the highest level of house price growth, post-election, for 20 years.
Analysis by SevenCapital reveals that following David Cameron’s successful second election in May 2015, house prices grew 4.56% over the following six months, from £195,313 to £204,223. Whilst Theresa May’s election in June 2017 saw slightly more modest growth than this, the UK still saw a 3.62% increase in house prices in the six months following, from £221,833 in election month, to £229,865.
Andy Foote, director at SevenCapital commented: “What the figures over the past two elections have shown us is that, despite much speculation around whether the UK’s house prices are stagnating, the reality has been far more positive.
“Should investors and home buyers be worried about the outcome of the election? If history is to be repeated, they should expect modest growth initially, but once the new PM is in place and their plans for the UK, the economy and, importantly Brexit are laid out, there’s no reason at the moment to not expect a positive rise over the following six to 12 months.”
There are a number of taxes that property professionals would like to see addressed, including the scrapping of mortgage interest relief and a U-turn on stamp duty hikes.
Stamp duty reforms have had an adverse impact on housing transactions and prices at the upper end of the market, while those purchasing additional properties, including buy-to-let investments, are being unfairly treated by having to pay a 3% stamp duty surcharge.
However, there will be no property tax giveaways, but instead more levies on foreign buyers.
Overseas nationals purchasing properties in England will be forced to pay 3% more in stamp duty than UK residents, if the Conservatives win the general election.
Labour is also proposing a levy on overseas companies buying housing, as part of the party's wider tax plans and would charge offshore firms 20% for property purchases, on top of existing stamp duties and surcharges.
The Liberal Democrats would like to increase council tax by up to 500% where properties are being bought as second homes.
The party is also proposing to graduate stamp duty according to the energy efficiency rating of a property, while they would also levy a stamp duty surcharge on overseas residents acquiring UK properties.
Marc Schneiderman, director at Arlington Residential, commented: “One would have thought that by now they [political parties] would appreciate that overseas investment in the UK market should not be penalised but encouraged.
“Overseas investment is to be welcomed. It brings money into the economy and work for a great many trades most of which have been effected by the economic downturn.”
So what are the main political parties proposing when it comes to housing?
The Tories have pledged to build 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, review new ways to support home ownership following Help to Buy’s completion in 2023, scrap Section 21 notices for landlords, introduce a ‘lifetime’ deposit that moves with a tenant, ban the sale of new leasehold homes and restricting ground rents to a peppercorn rent.
The Labour Party has set a target of delivering 300,000 new homes a year, including an extra 150,000 council and social homes annually, introduce a new range of tenants’ rights, including open-ended tenancies, government-funded renters’ unions, and the scrapping Right to Rent checks, give councils powers and funding to buy back homes from private landlords, and mooted the idea of introducing rent controls.
The Lib Dems also want to deliver 300,000 new homes annually, a third of which will be homes social rent, devolve Right to Buy powers to local councils, introduce a new Rent to Own scheme for social housing where rent payments give tenants an increasing stake in the property, owning it outright after 30 years, and increase council tax by up to 500% on second homes.
The Green Party wants to ensure s focused every home in the country is well insulated, as well as deliver at least 100,000 new council homes a year.
The SNP wants to incentives councils and individuals to bring empty properties into use, making them available to rent or buy, as well as restore housing support for 18 to 21 year olds across Britain.
The party aims to increase the number of homes built through market mechanisms, such as easier planning for brownfield sites, and allowing flexibility on other planning areas and the number of affordable homes. But the policy also states it should be made easier for councils to borrow to build social housing.
*Marc Da Silva is Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today Features Editor and Editor of Landlord Today. You can follow him on Twitter @propertyjourno