Whether you’re looking for your dream home or want something more suitable for your current needs, many of us have been thinking about moving home recently.
And with new government announcements seemingly offering ways to make the process cheaper and more attractive you may be thinking it’s best to strike while the iron’s hot.
After all, the Chancellor’s latest budget announced that the stamp duty holiday, introduced last year, is now extended until June 30. This means that until that date, all properties under £500,000 in England and Northern Ireland, and under £250,000 in Wales, will not have to pay the tax that often costs movers thousands.
Meanwhile, the government has also launched a new guarantee scheme encouraging lenders to offer 95% mortgages which are expected to help not just first-time buyers to buy a home, but anyone with a smaller deposit.
House prices rose by 7.3% last year and are expected to grow by a further 4% in 2021, so it might seem like a good idea to move. now. But with uncertainty about the economy and how the year will pan out, is selling up in the next few months really the best option for you?
The cost of downsizing
If your home is too big, now may be a good time to move. Stamp duty is one of the biggest reasons people are unwilling to downsize – a £400,000 house, for example, will usually cost buyers £10,000 in stamp duty so a break from that tax could hugely cut costs. “Now is a good time to downsize as you could save money compared to the bigger costs you might incur in a few years’ time,” says Paul Malone, founder of affordable moving site, movingsoon.co.uk.
1.8 million of over-55s are actively thinking about downsizing their home earlier as a direct result of the last year’s events.
Rising property prices and buyer demand could also swing in your favour. “Downsizers selling a family home with good size bedrooms and a garden are in a strong position as these are proving very popular among young families,” says Jennifer Mullucks, from Garrington Property Finders garrington.co.uk. But downsizing is a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The benefits include having a property that’s easier to manage, typically lower bills and maintenance costs as well equity from your house sale. But it may also involve leaving behind friends as well as having less space, so weigh up all the pros and cons before taking the plunge.
The cost of relocating
Whether you want to move nearer friends and family or are planning an escape to the country, there’s expected to be a huge surge in people choosing to relocate.
While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, increased buyer competition could make it harder to get the property you want, especially in time to make the most of the stamp duty break. “Because of the shortage of properties available in especially desirable rural areas, and the high number of buyers, you need to give yourself an edge to make sure you don’t miss out on the home you really want,” says Jennifer at Garrington.
Property prices in Yorkshire and the North West could rise the most (by almost 30%) in the next five years according to Savills.
“If your home is already under offer and you either have a mortgage approved or are a cash buyer, your offer will be viewed more favourably by the seller.” Jennifer advises always asking the seller’s situation and their timetable for moving before making an offer.
“Looking at properties just outside popular areas can also help you find houses at the best value,” Paul Malone adds.
What’s more, if you’re totally upping sticks, make sure you’ve thoroughly checked out the new area to make sure it fits your needs for the long-term. Around 40% of people who move to rural communities move back to towns and cities so consider trying before you buy, perhaps by renting a property in the area or even just taking a short holiday there first.
If you’re investing...
If you have a nest egg, you might be considering property investment. Buy-to-lets or buying a property to renovate and sell on can give impressive returns, but they can also come with risks and unforeseen expenses.
“The events of the last year have moved the goalposts, especially now people who used to work in city offices every day may be home-working for the foreseeable future. This means a number of new outer-city property hotspots will emerge that offer great investment potential for buy-to-let and capital growth investors and you should carefully research these areas,” says Jennifer Mullocks.
You also need to be aware of potential pitfalls. “With buy- to-lets you need to consider the tax implications,” says
Paul Malone. This is especially important given 2021 is the first year in which landlords cannot deduct any mortgage expenses from rental income to reduce their tax bill. Instead, you get a 20% tax credit on mortgage interest payments, but this can still hit higher-rate taxpayers hard. “You should also consider the costs of handing over the day-to- day management of the property to an agency. If you don’t do this you’ll need to factor in the time needed to deal with tenants calling about broken boilers, etc at all hours,” says Paul.
Currently most estate agents are offering virtual viewings for prospective buyers, but in-person viewings are likely to become more common over the next few months.
There’s also the risk that if you struggle to find tenants, you could lose money. If property investment doesn’t feel right for you, consider other options for your nest egg such as shares, bonds or pensions.
Whether to move or stay is down to your own personal circumstances, depending on your current financial situation, the market trends in the area you’re selling and looking to buy and how urgent it is for you to move. The stamp duty holiday is an extra incentive but remember, it only runs until the end of June and house sales take time. That means even if you start the buying process now you cannot guarantee that you’ll be able to make the most of the tax break.
“There’s also the fact that a continued surge in demand for properties could push prices higher, which may actually cancel out the savings you make from the extended stamp duty holiday,” says Jennifer Mullucks.
While that’s bad news for buyers who may prefer to wait until prices have settled, it does mean that for sellers with a desirable property, you should be able to sell quickly and at – or maybe even above – your asking price. Just make sure you do your homework and take time to consider all your options.
Although stamp duty is abolished until July, don’t forget you’ll still have other costs to pay when moving house, including agents’ and legal fees, surveys, and removal costs. Nationwide’s Cost of Moving calculator (search ‘cost of moving calculator’ at nationwide. co.uk) is a handy way to work out these extra costs.
Securing a mortgage
While many lenders had to make changes to their mortgage offerings when the pandemic first hit, experts say the options for borrowers are opening up – especially with the government’s new incentive for 95% mortgages. “Mortgage rates are really low at the moment so borrowing is fairly cheap – although lenders will always test that you can borrow at a higher rate should interest rates rise,” says Joanne Leek from Ipswich Building Society.
What’s more there’s good news for over-50s who have historically found it tricky to secure a mortgage. “Many lenders now have no upper age limit for mortgage applications and will often allow pensionable income to be included in your affordability calculations,” says Joanne.
There’s also a relatively new type of mortgage aimed at borrowers over 55, known as a retirement interest-only mortgage – or RIO for short. These mortgages allow you to borrow against the value of your property and only pay back the interest rather than the cost of the loan itself in monthly instalments.
Designed for those who struggle to qualify for a standard mortgage you only pay-off the original loan when you die or move into long-term care.
If you need a mortgage, talk to an independent financial advisor. If you’re considering moving soon, sort out a mortgage as a priority as there’s currently a backlog of applications due to increased demand.