On the move?: How Stamp Duty changes have impacted on first-time buyers in Herts
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Since Stamp Duty was slashed last year, £300,000 has become a magic number for first-time buyers. Richard Burton looked at what’s for sale locally in this price bracket
Early signs that Government plans to get people on to the housing ladder by cutting Stamp Duty appear to be bearing fruit in Hertfordshire, or parts of it, at least.
The Chancellor’s Budget announcement that the tax would be abolished for first-time buyers on homes under £300,000 – and give substantial relief to those spending up to £500,000 – was predicted to benefit more than a million in the next five years.
The freeze will save buyers around £5,000, cash that could now go towards a deposit. Labour predicted at the time that it would backfire by driving up prices and some agents fear it may have the opposite effect as sellers are forced to reduce their asking prices to get within the threshold, in effect, creating a concrete ceiling.
Whatever the effect on the market as a whole, it’s been welcomed by many young Hertfordshire couples, the Generation Renters, who as we reported here recently, have been priced out of London and are flooding into Hertfordshire in search of a better life.
Countrywide were the first to report “early signs” of interest and Putterills told me last week they have seen “a marked increase in the number of first-time buyer enquiries - and sales agreed” in the county since the announcement.
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Managing Director Mark Shearing said: “We actually agreed our first sale on the same day the announcement was made in the budget to a first-time buyer who had been previously unable to afford the stamp duty.
“The saving of up to £5,000 gives buyers a bigger contribution towards their deposit and is starting to translate into real results.
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“We think an early start to the first-time buyer market will help feed through to the rest of the property market as we approach the normally busier springtime.”
Gary Young, branch partner of Connells in Stevenage has also seen early signs. “There’s a standard spike in January but we’ve definitely seen a decent increase in first-time buyers, something that has been down over the past few years,” he said.
“But I suppose, if you’re a young couple looking for a start in a two-bed modern apartment for around £220-£230,000, an extra few thousand in your pocket will obviously help. When you cash it all out it’s a fairly important component. It’s certainly another positive to throw into the mix.”
He added: “The dynamics of Hertfordshire means that there are hot spots for house price increases and Stevenage remains one of the most affordable in the area so it’s no big surprise.”
That rang true with Phil Miles, branch manager of William H Brown in St Albans where the early signs have not been so marked. He said: “We have had demand from the first-time end of the market but it’s been pretty constant for a while before the Stamp Duty changes came into effect.
“That’s largely due to the higher prices in this area. Apartments here can range from around £270,000 to £375,000 which takes it to a higher level.”
It certainly appears a far cry from a few years ago when online estate agent eMoov reported that Hertfordshire had experienced the highest rise in prices for typical first-time-buy properties in the country, outstripping London with increases of 47 per cent between 2012 and 2016.
And given that the Nationwide Building Society estimated that it can take a first-timer up to eight years to save for a 20 per cent deposit, many young couples may have seen the market moving ever further out of reach.
So just what can you get locally for under £300,000?
Well, surprising, quite a lot, if you accept the regional variations, which could translate into anything from a studio flat in St Albans to a three-bed family house in Stevenage.
A prime example is a ground floor apartment at Novus House on Hatfield Road, St Albans, which went on the market recently with Hamptons. It has two bedrooms running alongside a long kitchen and living area, and a small decked area at the back with high fences.
Similarly, a one-bed with its own private entrance to a quite striking development on Victoria Street comes with underfloor heating, a video entry system and an equally striking four-piece bath and shower room via Frosts.
There’s a neat one-bed maisonette in Camp Road with access to its own private garden, part of which is decked. And in Uplands, Bricket Wood, there’s a two-bed top floor flat with private balcony at Gateway Court with underground parking bays for two cars available behind an electric gate.
William H Brown managed to sell all but one of the 16 studio flats in the 90-property Abbey View development near Verulamium Park off-plan, with around 40 per cent going to first-time buyers.
True to Phil Miles’ point that “spec matters” in an area like this, they come with designer fixtures such as Quartz worktops in the kitchen, underfloor heating and tiled communal areas.
It’s worth noting that Harpenden has its fair share of retirement homes among the one-two bed range but one studio apartment stood out for its position alone - smack in the centre of the High Street with a bedroom overlooking Church Green with wooden floors and attractive, dark kitchen units giving it something of a show home feel. Connells are offering that for a slightly cheaper £295,000.
Radlett has fewer options but there are a few located in purpose-built blocks such as Scrubbits Square near Watling Street which recently had one on for £280,00 through Barkers and one set in leafy private gardens at nearby Outbank for the same price via Open Estates.
Nearby Borehamwood is awash with them, partly because of the plethora of purpose-built blocks such as Somerville Court, and Liberty Court. In Todd Close, there’s a third-floor one available at £275,000 through Squires Estates with its own balcony, additional visitor parking and use of a communal roof terrace.
There’s no shortage in Stevenage with developments such as Monument Court in the Old Town offering a quite striking two-bed apartment of 647sq ft which includes a spacious balcony and a secure car park patrolled by security staff for £250,000 through Haart.
At the slightly higher end of the market, there are a number of smart, stylish apartments in the Foundry development near the station at Cook’s Way, Hitchin. One and two-bed apartments come with fairly high-spec additions such as stone effect worktops and low-energy concealed lighting in kitchens fitted with integrated fridge freezers and built-in microwaves.
And as little as £190,000 will buy a modern one bedroom ground floor apartment in Swallowtail Court in Birdwing Walk. Advertised as a “superb first-time purchase”, it’s still under its 10-year NHBC warranty.
Hatfield has many small clusters of purpose-built blocks with flats available, some with starting prices below £200,000. But if you are prepared to sacrifice location for accommodation, you can find yourself a three, or even four-bed, mid-terrace house for sale with front and rear gardens.
All very encouraging but not all young people will be impressed by the Government’s financial incentives, however.
Researchers at the Halifax Building Society recently found that one in ten 18-21 year-olds thought Stamp Duty was something that paid for posting letters.
On the market: Three £300k (and under) properties currently for sale locally
St Albans: One-bed maisonette with small garden on fringe of the town centre in Camp Road. Price: £300,000. Agent: William H Brown
Harpenden: Studio apartment in the most central of positions and with fitted kitchen in High Street, Price £270,000. Agent: Connells
Stevenage: Four-bed ex-council house with garage, conservatory and garden in York Road. Price: £300,000. Agent: Connells