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UK house prices hit record high as stamp duty cut powers market

UK house prices hit a record high in August after pent-up demand and the stamp duty holiday combined to power the market upwards, according to lender Halifax.

However, Halifax cautioned that prices were “unlikely” to continue on their current path, with rising unemployment set to catch up with the market.

Prices rose 1.6 per cent month on month despite the UK being hit by the worst recession in modern history. That meant prices were 5.2 per cent higher in August than they were a year earlier, Halifax said.

The surprising surge in prices has now been confirmed by numerous sources. Last week, building society Nationwide said UK house prices jumped two per cent in August to hit an all-time high.

“A surge in market activity has driven up house prices through the post-lockdown summer period,” said Halifax managing director Russell Galley.

He said the rise has been “fuelled by the release of pent-up demand, a strong desire amongst some buyers to move to bigger properties, and of course the temporary cut to stamp duty”.

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Tax cut has desired effect on UK house prices

The rise will please the government, which had sought to boost the property market. It increased the threshold at which buyers pay the stamp duty tax to £500,000 from £125,000 until the end of March.

Britain’s housing market was frozen in April and May. After it reopened in June, many who had scrapped plans to move put them in motion again. The market has also been helped by a rise in savings during lockdown.

The jump in prices now means the average UK house costs £245,747, according to Halifax. That is good news for property owners, but will hurt first-time buyers.

Lucy Pendleton from estate agents James Pendleton, said the figures confirm “the red hot finish to the summer suggested by the Nationwide last week”. She added: “The typically more bullish Halifax index hasn’t disappointed.”

However, Galley warned that the price surge is unlikely to be sustained in the medium.

Prices could fall three per cent by next year

“The macroeconomic picture in the UK should become clearer over the next few months as various government support measures come to an end,” he said.

Economic forecaster the EY Item Club predicted UK house prices could fall by three per cent by early 2021.

Howard Archer, chief economic adviser to the Item Club, said: “Housing market activity may well see a further pick-up in the near term providing some support to prices.”

But he added: “The current marked pick-up in activity and firming of prices will prove unsustainable before long.” He said the “upside for the housing market” will be “limited by challenging fundamentals for consumers”.

Andrew Burrell of Capital Economics said: “Pent-up demand will soon be expended.”

He added: “A weak economy, cautious lenders and the end of the stamp duty cut will weigh on prices.”

By Harry Robertson

Source: City AM

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Stamp duty cut sees London house sales rocket 27 per cent

The stamp duty holiday has significantly boosted London’s housing market, with new sales agreed up by over a quarter in just two weeks, new data has shown.

UK house prices rose 0.2 per cent in June as a jump in demand for houses outstripped a fall in the number of sellers, the figures also showed.

But the market has still taken a big hit this year, said property website Zoopla, which compiled the data. Housing sales in 2020 so far are around 20 per cent below the same period in 2019, amounting to around £27bn in lost deals.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak earlier this month unveiled a “holiday” for the payment of the stamp duty property tax in a bid to boost the market and the economy. This raised the threshold at which stamp duty is paid from £125,000 to £500,000 until March 2021.

The move has spurred activity in London, according to Zoopla’s data, with new sales agreed up 27 per cent over the last two weeks. That compares to a six per cent rise across the rest of the country.

Zoopla said this was because London’s higher house prices meant it stood to benefit relatively more from an increase in the tax threshold.

London and UK house prices continue to rise

Overall, London house prices rose 1.7 per cent in June – before the stamp duty cut came in – compared to a year earlier.

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Month on month prices flatlined. This meant the average London house price stood at £479,300.

UK house prices as a whole were up 2.7 per cent year on year, although the monthly growth rate halved to 0.2 per cent. The average UK house price is £219,500.

The rise in prices “certainly seems at odds” with a cratering economy and rising unemployment, said Richard Donnell, Zoopla’s research director.

Yet he said the release of pent-up demand for new houses after the market was put on ice during lockdown would likely support prices for the rest of the year.

In London, buyer demand is up 28 per cent in 2020 so far compared to the same period a year earlier. This was partly because Brexit subdued activity last year.

Supply has fallen 11.2 per cent, however, meaning relatively higher demand is pushing up prices.

House prices expected to fall by 2021

But Zoopla said prices were likely to eventually fall as job losses and uncertainty take a toll.

“We expect rising unemployment to weigh on market activity over the final quarter of 2020 and into the first half of 2021,” Donnell said.

“The impact on pricing looks set to be pushed into 2021 as a result of sizable government support for the economy.”

However, Zoopla’s data laid bare the damage that has already been done to the housing market, despite London and UK activity being boosted by the stamp duty cut.

The closure of estate agents over the lockdown reduced new supply and agreed sales by 90 per cent.

So far this year, sales are 20 per cent below 2019 levels. Roughly 124,000 sales that were expected to take place and could have been worth £27bn since March did not happen.

Zoopla said it expects sales to be around 15 per cent lower in 2020 than they were last year.

By Harry Robertson

Source: City AM