Buy to let stamp duty to increase – initial thoughts

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So George Osborne has decided to add an extra 3% stamp duty charge on second home purchases. The idea being that this move will bring some much needed cash the Government’s way and it should slow down the buy to let frenzy which in turn will enable individuals to purchase homes to live in. The theory here is that better-positioned buy to let landlords have been snapping up all the ‘first time buyer’ type properties to rent out thus meaning that there is nothing left for first time buyers to buy. There also seems to be a theory that buy to let has pushed housing prices up to beyond the reach of many first time buyers. I’m not convinced…

Let’s take the first point – landlords have been snapping up all the buy to let property because of their favourable position over first time buyers – I don’t really see why a landlord would necessarily have any advantage over any first time buyer. In fact, I think the first time buyer has several advantages over a landlord. For starters, a buyer looking to take out a residential mortgage (rather than a buy to let mortgage) will have access to much lower rates and almost certainly higher loan to value products. This instantly means their mortgage costs will be lower, they won’t need as big a deposit and may be able to borrow more than their landlord competition. How is a landlord in a better position to purchase a property than a first time buyer? I accept that landlords will tend to hold onto property once purchased and therefore this takes the house/flat in question off the market and means someone else can’t buy it but increasing stamp duty for future purchases isn’t going to help here. Anyone with a portfolio of properties is even more likely to hold onto them going forward, since selling one to buy another will result in a large tax bill. And yes, the number of potential landlords trying to buy means more competition for other buyers but again, I can’t see that increasing stamp duty is going to stop landlords from buying. It might put the odd one or two off but most will just consider the extra cost an irritation.

What about BTL pushing up house prices? Well, in the south east where I live, it certainly isn’t BTL which is forcing prices skyward, it is the London effect. Prices in London have risen dramatically in recent years largely because of foreign investment. Many property owners in London are now having their eyes opened to the fact that if they sell their two bedroom central London flat, they can use the money to buy a substantial detached house with grounds less than an hour from town. It’s a no-brainer and estate agents are wise to it (obviously). I have spoken to several agents in recent months who have admitted that they have properties listed for in excess of £1m when they are really only worth £750k/£800k but they know there is a good chance that a London buyer will see them as an absolute bargain at £1m+. You think that BTL landlords are pushing prices up? They may have a small impact on pricing but they certainly aren’t the main culprits in my opinion.

In the short term, I see house prices increasing, certainly for properties up to around £300k, as landlords try to get the deals through before the April deadline. That won’t help first time buyers one bit. After April things will settle down but, as I’ve already said, I doubt that a bit of stamp duty will put career landlords off – it’s just an additional cost of doing business which will need to be absorbed and, ultimately, passed down the line in the form of higher rents. I’ve seen many comments online since the changes were announced saying that it serves landlords right and that people shouldn’t be allowed to own more than one home, it’s not fair etc. At the end of the day, if an individual has earned the money to be able to buy an investment property, why shouldn’t he/she be allowed to do so? I saw one individual comment that you shouldn’t be able to make a profit on something which is basic human right (a home). Are we going to stop the supermarkets selling food for a profit then or the water companies selling their product at a premium? No of course not. Many new landlords are merely trying to secure their financial future in a time of low interest rates and poor pensions. Property is just an alternative form of investment which, in the past, has done very well over the long term.

Annoyingly, it is the small/medium sized landlords/investors which will be hit by this change. Corporates with more than fifteen properties in their portfolio won’t be affected. Surely if the BTL market is doing so much damage, these are the very people/businesses who should be paying the highest price, not being let off completely? It would seem that the view is that ‘corporate’ landlords are helping the Government with their housing problems and should be assisted whereas smaller, private landlords are not.

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