Will the surge in sales to landlords give way to a buyers’ market in north London?

Transaction numbers surged in March as landlords rushed to beat the stamp duty deadline

Transaction numbers surged in March as landlords rushed to beat the stamp duty deadline - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Landlords rushing to beat April’s stamp duty deadline have given the north London property market one of its busiest starts to the year for some time.

A surge in interest from investors started as far back as last autumn but picked up pace at the start of this year following the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement announcement of a three per cent surcharge on buy to let properties and second homes.

The number of properties sold hit unusual highs for the time of year in January and February this year according to estate agents in Camden and Haringey.

Sam Gould, director of Chestertons in Hampstead, said: “I wouldn’t call it a mad rush but there was a rush to buy certain properties before the end of March.

“Starting from around late December to early January people really began to up the tempo of their property search, where those months would usually be a bit quieter.

We had several completions in the last week of March, all on buy-to-let properties in Hampstead, which were sold for around the £500,000 to £1.5million price mark.”

Claire Beauchamp-Ward, director of Prickett and Ellis in Muswell Hill, also saw an unusual level of activity at the start of the year.

She said: “January and February were very busy months, which is unusual in the first quarter, but for most people that was when you had to be ready to have all your conveyancing done to beat the April deadline.

“A lot of our stock (about 60 per cent) was made up of flats at the start of the year, whereas our stock profile at the moment is mostly houses (about 80 per cent).

“In March all we were doing was closing down completions desperately.”

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This reflects a national trend with UK transaction numbers up 41.5 per cent month-on-month and 70 per cent higher than in March 2015, according to figures from HMRC.

Mortgage lending also hit £25.7 billion, 59 per cent higher than the previous March, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML).

CML economist Mohammad Jamei said: “Against a backdrop of a recovering market, the substantial jump in lending in March was significantly influenced by a late surge of activity to beat the government’s stamp duty change on second properties, which came into effect at the start of April. The distortion caused by this stamp duty change appears to be larger than any previous stamp duty change we’ve seen.

“As a result, we expect there will be about 10,000 fewer mortgaged transactions each month in the second quarter of 2016 than would otherwise have been the case, offsetting the increase in activity seen in March.”

Ben Felfelli, director of CH Peppiatt, said: “We were really busy up till March with lots of buyers rushing to complete before the three per cent stamp duty increase came into effect for buy to let.

“Come April 1 the phones just switched off.”

New instructions were thin on the ground in March with most of the property industry focussing on completing by the deadline, but several agents report that April has seen an upswing in new sellers entering the market.

Ms Beauchamp-Ward said: “April’s been very very busy. I’ve been rushed off my feet.

“I think you’ll see the stock levels go up now; we took five new instructions last week, a few more this week.”

This has led some agents to suggest we may be entering a buyers’ market in north London with sellers forced to accept price reductions.

“From being a sellers’ market it’s turned into a buyers’ market. They can bargain now. Investors want a three per cent discount – something on the market for £500,000 now will sell for £485,000, whereas before, something on the market for £450,000 would go for £500,000,” said Mr Felfeli.

However, higher up the market, those who can afford it are holding out for a better price.

“It only becomes a buyers’ market when sellers have to sell. The majority of people in Hampstead can afford to sit it out and wait for the price they want,” said Jack Malnick, flat sales department manager at TK International.

“Downsizers in Hampstead aren’t in a rush to exchange because, if you’re a certain age, you don’t want to move out in a day, you might prefer to do any work on your property before you move in, for example.

“There’s a 36-month window for people who buy a second home to sell their other if they’re downsizing, but some people in Hampstead may want to keep their second property for longer than that anyway, they may want to rent it out for example, and if they can afford to do so, they will.”