Supply and Demand
The London sales market enjoyed a buoyant start to the year, with committed purchasers seemingly tiring of Brexit speculation and other distractions and actively looking to buy. The number of newly registered buyers in the first three months of the year was up by 57% on the last quarter of 2016, while exchanges were 11% higher. Although exchanges were down by 18% on the same period in 2016, the numbers last year were heavily distorted by the rush to beat the 3% stamp duty surcharge on second properties – indeed, sales across England as a whole in March last year were the highest on record since 2002.
Sellers were more willing to market their properties and at more realistic prices, either because they needed to sell or because they did not want to delay their longer term plans any more – e.g. upsizing or downsizing or simply moving to a more desirable location. Consequently, the number of properties coming on to the market was again up on both Q4 (+53%) and Q1 (+3%) last year. As a result, despite the increase in exchanges the number of available properties rose by over 13% over the quarter.
Stamp duty remained a sticking point for many purchasers. Whilst some parts of the owner-occupied market may have largely absorbed and indeed benefitted from the changes in stamp duty, the top end is still suffering: purchases above £1.55m attract £100,000-plus in stamp duty, and purchases above £3.725m take a tax hike of £100,000 compared to the old slab system. Consequently, transaction numbers in the highest price brackets remain depressed.
At the end of March, sterling was a little over 13% lower against the US dollar (and by 8.5% against the euro) compared to that time last year. Despite the relative weakness of sterling, foreign investors did not increase their buying activity by a significant amount and adopted a similar strategy to their UK counterparts – i.e. looking for investment opportunities outside central London and focussing instead on markets where prices are lower and yields are higher. Overseas HNWIs (High Net Worth Individuals) remained interested in opportunities for owner occupation within Zones 1 & 2 but were reluctant to pay asking prices unless an exceptional property was involved.