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MP triggers debate on future of stamp duty  28 Jul 14

An MP is to stage a special all-party parliamentary debate on the future of stamp duty on homes and the way in which, she says, it distorts the housing market.   Anne Main, Conservative MP for St Albans, has persuaded the Backbench Business Committee of the House of Commons to give consent for the debate. Because it is not part of a new law, it will not be debated in the Commons chamber but in Westminster Hall on Thursday September 4. As an indication of the all-party nature of the discussion, Main has won support for the debate not only from fellow Tory MPs Dominic Raab and John Redwood but also from Labour MP Steven Pound. Main has told EAT that “this matter has resonance not only in St Albans, but throughout the country as more and more people are being dragged into paying an absurd amount to the Exchequer just to move home.” She promises that the debate means “MPs will be able to speak freely on the impact the tax is having on the housing market. From my point of view, St Albans has some of the highest house prices in the country, and residents are writing to me with their concerns about the expense of simply moving to a more appropriately-sized home.”   stamp dutyhousing marketAnne Main]]>

Stamp duty revenues hit £10 billion  28 Jul 14

HMRC has raised £10 billion through stamp duty on property transactions in the year to the start of July.    This includes commercial property too but the surge in revenue to the Exchequer is largely down to sharply rising transaction volumes and prices on residential properties in many areas of the country. This total means more stamp duty has been paid on property in the past 12 months than in any comparable period since the start of the downturn in 2007/8, when a roughly similar amount was collected. HMRC’s release of these figures comes as a calculation by estate agent Haart shows that the average house will incur an extra £5,000 in stamp duty within two years if prices continue to grow at their current pace. It claims the average house price in England is currently £204,429 and the current rate of growth is 10 per cent a year - rather more optimistic than most agents report and much higher than many housing indices indicate.  But if that double digit house price growth occured for the next two year, it would push the average house into the three per cent stamp duty category by 2016.  Haart chief executive Paul Smith says policymakers should consider reforming the current duty thresholds. “The government and the Bank of England need to be careful not to over cool the market and by raising the threshold could help keep the market fluid” he says.  stamp dutyhousing marketHMRC]]>

Hunters boss Hollinrake wins safe Tory seat  28 Jul 14

The millionaire leader of Hunters franchise agency, Kevin Hollinrake, has been selected to stand as the Conservative candidate in the safe seat of Thirsk and Malton.   This means he will almost certainly become an MP at next spring’s general election.   Hunters has over 100 branches, mostly handling sales and lettings. Each franchise is run by the local owner who is also a partner in the overall business.    If Hollinrake gives up his role at Hunters upon election - and no announcement has yet been made on this - he will be a hard act to follow.    He started Hunters from just one branch in York in 1992. It then expanded in the so-called Golden Triangle area around Leeds, Harrogate, York and Wetherby, reaching 49 branches. Then in 2011 Hunters purchased the franchised branches of Countrywide’s Bairstow Eves, taking the company name across wider parts of the UK, including London for the first time.    Hollinrake has long made it public that he wants to be an MP. He was selected as Tory candidate for Dewsbury in 2007 but stood down in 2008 because of concerns over how the property slump would affect Hunters: his successes as Conservative candidate went on to win that seat in the 2010 election.   But his new seat is considered to be safer. It includes Pickering, Filey, Thirsk, Malton and Easingwold - where Hollinrake lives and is a school governor.   However, Hollinrake may require all of his business and agency acumen to succeed in what has become an acrimonious and divided local Conservative party. It has embroiled in a long-running dispute with its current Tory MP, Anne McIntosh.   McIntosh - who at 60 is 10 years older than Hollinrake - is a former MEP and has been an active member of the Westminster parliament but she was deselected by her local party early this year. Some political analysts say this came after years of so-called dirty tricks against her by local party members; others say McIntosh herself was “deeply divisive.”   Hollinrake may just be jumping from the frying pan into the fire...  HuntersKevin HollinrakeConservatives]]>

Agent studies US advice on use of drones  28 Jul 14

Lawyers acting for at least one British agency using drones to make aerial films of high-value homes on sale are studying advice issued to US realtors after growing concern about the ‘eye in the sky’ technology.   Many franchise holders for Coldwell Banker, the major US realtor, have received advice saying that until the US’s Federal Aviation Authority creates a clear policy on drones, use of the technology by realtors may be inadvisable.   The advice says that although the FAA is still in the process of drafting rules it has issued fines, penalties and so-called ‘cease and desist’ letters to commercial operators, such as realtors.    Drones in the US can reach heights of up to 1,500 feet and be operated via remote control from up to 2,000 feet away, making them ideal for photographing and creating videos of larger homes.    In the UK high-end agents including Carter Jonas and Strutt & Parker use drones while specialist UK firms such as Aerial Drones says it is generally considered to be necessary to get agreement from the Civil Aviation Authority to fly a drone as high as 1,000 feet - although it can routinely fly up to 400 feet high at any time.   One high-end agent - which does not want to be named - says it is studying the US situation to see if it highlights potential problems in this country once drone technology becomes more widely-used by the industry.  Coldwell BankerDronesCivil Aviation Authority]]>

Foxtons share fall: symbol of market decline?  28 Jul 14

A leading financial online and print publication says alarm bells should ring about the start of the London market because the share price for Foxtons have fallen to a one-year low.   The outlet - Moneyweek - is not, however, yet another media outlet with a downer on Foxtons - in fact, quite the reverse.   “Whatever you might think of it, Foxtons has always innovated. It started with the longer hours and 0 per cent commission in the first three months of an office opening” explains Dominic Frisby, Moneyweek’s analyst.   “Then there was the distinctive branding, not to mention dramatic improvements in the ways property was presented on paper. The photography,  write-ups, brochures, magazines. It was the first to do 360° virtual tours. The branded cars (love them or loathe them, they stand out), the café offices, the persistent, commission-hungry sales force, the websites, the apps – it never stops” he enthuses.   But his theory regarding the gloomy warning from the firm’s share price goes like this.   Foxtons went public in August 2013, raised £55m, and entered the FTSE 250. At its peak in March the share price hit 398p, but since then it has fallen badly and last week hit a one year low of around 261p, making its market value around £740m instead of over £1 billion.    Frisby goes on to say that in many parts of London - if recent price indices and agents’ reports are to be believed - the market has slowed suddenly. But it is not the slowdown in price growth, or even price falls, that may cause damage to Foxtons’ share price - it is the threat created by falling transaction volumes, which more seriously impact the business.   “What we are seeing just now in London is a backing off from extreme valuations. But will it turn into something bigger? Foxtons could be our omen” warns Frisby.   His pessimistic piece came before Hometrack’s latest data which showed says that 11 per cent of London postcodes had registered price falls in the past month - roughly balancing the 12 per cent that saw gains.   Foxtonslondonhousing market]]>

Owner-occupation dips again in England  28 Jul 14

Only 65 per cent of the 22m households in England are now owner-occupied; 18 per cent are privately rented and 17 per cent live in housing association or council flats or houses.   The figures, from the latest findings from the English Housing Survey, apply to 2012-13 but represent the smallest proportion of owner-occupiers since the 1980s.    Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the proportion of private sector households was around 10 per cent but it has nearly doubled in the past decade; the private rented sector accounted for 4m households in 2012-13 with social rented at 3.7m households.   Some 18 per cent of households buying with a mortgage were aged below 35 compared with 21 per cent five years earlier.    In 2012-13, the average mortgage payment was £149 per week although payments differed markedly depending on the type of mortgage; interest-only holders were paying an average of £120 per week compared with £154 for those with repayment mortgages. Of the 14.3m households that were owner occupiers, there were 7.2 million with mortgages.   As always the EHS also provides a random selection of other barometers for England’s housing - its condition, level of overcrowding, energy-efficiency and the like. Here are some key facts:   - Some three per cent of households in England were overcrowded in 2012-13;   - Two-thirds of social renters had waited less than a year before being allocated a home;   - Sixty one per cent of private renters and 23 per cent of social renters stated that they expected to buy a property at some point in the future;   - The energy efficiency of the English housing stock continued to improve, with the largest increases in energy effectiveness seen in private rented and local authority sectors;   - The number of ‘non-decent’ (very poor condition) homes in England continued to decline. In 2012, 4.9 million dwellings - equivalent to 22 per cent - failed to meet the decent homes standard, a reduction of some 2.8 million homes since 2006;   - Between 2002-03 and 2012-13, the proportion of households with a working smoke alarm increased from 76 per cent to 88 per cent;    - Just over half of homes built after 2002 had one or two bedrooms compared with 37 of older homes; 24 per cent of homes built after 2002 had three bedrooms compared with 43 per cent of older homes. Owner OccupiersEnglish Housing SurveyPRS]]>

'Ethical' estate agency prepares to launch  25 Jul 14

Estate Agent Today has discovered that a so-called ‘ethical’ estate agency is launching in London.  It makes eight 'public pledges' to mark it apart from rival agents, including fixed fees and no individual commissions for negotiators.  Brickworks - which has a ‘work in progress’ website on www.brickworkslondon.com - is undergoing a ‘soft launch’ now and gathering a portfolio of properties for sale ahead of its official launch in September. Ellie Rees, who set up the agency with her partner and former Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward and Winkworth agent Rex Siney, has told Estate Agent Today that the aim of the agency is to be “anti-corporate” and “an alternative to what’s out there at the moment.”  “We want to sell the way we sell rather than be known for one type of property or operating in just one area” explains Rees. It is based in north London but has no high street office. However, Brickworks is not calling itself an online agency, because of the strong industry background of Simey and the promise that “there has to be a better way of doing things” with an emphasis on personal service that is not available through some online agencies.   Brickworks says it is committed to an ethical approach to business and sets out eight pledges including some on environmental responsibility, attention to photographic and descriptive detail in brochures and website displays, and using plain language throughout. But there are three particular pledges which mark out the firm as quite different to rival London agencies. Fair fees - “Everyone pays the same fixed one per cent to sell their property irrespective of value. It’s just fairer that way and there’s no haggling at any time” says Rees. No individual sales commission - Its website says: “We work as a team on your behalf and reward our staff on the quality of their customer care, not their sales record.” No cold calling - “Never. Like EVER” proclaims the website. Ahead of its formal launch, Brickworks currently lists only one property on Rightmove.  It is, according to the legal declaration, a garden flat “owned by one of our creative team.” But if the details are indicative of Brickworks’ approach, the offer to the public will be different from most of its London rivals. Details include ‘Brickworks says...’ (leading on to the classic estate agent description) and then ‘The owners say...’ (a more general descriptive and anecdotal section). There is also the painfully honest ‘Points to consider’ (which in the case of its one Rightmove listing, includes “trains run close by at the back of the property - the noise is something to consider but the kids love it!” and other candid comments). There are also 27 pictures of the property and local area for this one listing. Is this just going to be a one-off innovative agency or the template for more transparent fixed-cost agency in the capital in the future?   BrickworksAgents' FeesAgents' Commission]]>

World's first all-online auction this autumn  25 Jul 14

The first-ever all-online property auction - where a contract is emailed and digitally signed by sellers and buyers, so the entire procedure happens via email and the internet - is now likely to be held in the autumn.  The event, staged in Dublin by Irish auction house Allsop Space, had to be postponed earlier this month because the IT system could not cope with the huge number of late bids. The object of holding the event online is to attract international bidders; at least one UK residential auction house has told Estate Agent Today - off the record - that it is interested in staging a similar event based in London.  Robert Hoban, Allsop Space’s director of auctions, says: “Everything was going smoothly, but we started to get word in from some bidders that they couldn’t get their bids in.” Around 70 potential buyers had registered to take part in the 24-hour auction, including Irish expats based in the United States, Australia and France. The idea of buying a home via an online bid is not, in itself, particularly new. Back in 2000 a company called Homes4Living sold two new apartments in a marina at Eastbourne by placing floor plans and 360-degree 'virtual tours' of the flats on a website. The auction allowed only online bids over a two-week period, and people had to provide evidence that they had the funds and legal go-ahead before being registered as bidders. The site had 150,000 - quite something as long ago as the year 2000 - and of those about 300 registered to bid, and both flats reached their reserve price. Another firm, Thepropertylot, made an attempt to set up a similar service on a larger scale in 2001.  However, this autumn’s Allsop Space auction is believed to be the first ever where all transactions will be completed online.  AuctionsOnline Agentsireland]]>

Agent tries abstract twist for board design  25 Jul 14

Newcastle-based agency Heywoods is trying a new twist to make its signs stand out from the forest of For Sale and To Let boards on the streets - with the help of local artists.   Although the firm has commissioned advertising and design agency Lesniak Swann to help with the fresh look for the boards, the result is not a variation on the familiar text-based image but something rather more unexpected.  The new boards feature bold artwork incorporating the company’s colours, but in an abstract style which aims to be both eye-catching and memorable.  The first of a series of new designs is just being commissioned and now the agency wants more local artists to step forward with additional ideas. The first board carries the words ‘for sale’ and Heywoods’ telephone number in a relatively small font, although the Heywoods logo and name is forefront over an abstract multi-coloured design.  “We wanted to differentiate ourselves and demonstrate to both buyers and sellers that using Heywoods isn’t like working with other agents. We’re proud of the difference our high levels of service make. Our new boards look fantastic and we’re really pleased” says Heywoods director Chris Stops. Each original will be displayed at the agency’s Newcastle office. Any artist wanting to try their hand should contact Lesniak Swann via its website.  HeywoodsAgents' BoardsNewcastle]]>

House price confidence goes into reverse  25 Jul 14

For the first time in two years there has been a sustained dent in the confidence of home owners that the value of their property is rising.    A survey by YouGov for the economics consultancy CEBR shows that for the second month in a row there has been an increase in the number of existing owners that prices will dip - the first two-month decline since 2012.  "The surge in consumer confidence over the past 18 months has largely been built on home owners' faith in property prices increasing. Now we are seeing a distinct cooling off in these expectations and, as a result, overall consumer confidence has stalled" claims YouGov researcher Stephen Harmston. This morning’s survey comes hot on the heels of a warning by the Bank of England that there are signs of the economy slowing slightly - throwing into stark relief the potential problem for affordability if house prices continue to rise. This in turn has prompted Bank governor Mark Carney to make another of his veiled warnings of an imminent interest base rate increase. "A prolonged period of historically low interest rates could encourage other risks to develop. In the UK, the biggest risks are associated with the housing market. History shows that the British people do everything they can to pay their mortgages. That means cutting back deeply on expenditures when the unexpected happens. If a lot of people are highly indebted, that could tip the economy into recession" Carney warns. The governor has repeated his message from earlier this year that when rates do start to rise from their current all-time low of 0.5 per cent, increases will be “gradual and limited.”  CBREhousing marketBank of England]]>

 
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