‘To buy, or not to buy’

With apologies to the Bard, I wonder, if like many, you are trying to make sense of the housing market? Should you sell, should you buy or is it all just too uncertain to make the commitment? I can’t pretend that I am certain about the answer but as a professional buyer I can share my approach and perhaps you can take advantage of my experience and in all probability improve upon them.

Uncertainty undermines all markets. When buyers and sellers are confused they tend to do nothing and wait for clarity. Eighteen months ago the ‘value spread’ (the gap between what a property might sell for if handled carelessly and what a diligent agent might get) was tight – perhaps less than 10 per cent. Today, thanks to Brexit, the American Presidential election, changes to transaction taxes, the upcoming election and the economic and political uncertainty that still buffets the UK following the Credit Crunch in 2008; I think that a poor agent in a hurry might undersell by this amount and a good agent could get a 10 per cent premium. That’s a 20 per cent spread!

Whilst yields drive underlying value London property and expensive London property in particular remains attractive to both domestic and international buyers. International buyers have a currency advantage since July last year but I have yet to meet a foolish foreign buyer who does not want to take advantage of the prevailing market conditions too. Whatever your motivations I am still nervous of residential properties that don’t offer a six per cent gross yield. There are only two ways to push up the yield – either achieve a higher rent or pay less for it. Prior to Christmas I was offering 20 per cent less than 2016 prices. There are always going to be more people who ‘must’ sell than buyers who ‘must’ commit. Death, debt and divorce continue even when the market is soft. With prices in prime central London down by as much as 15 per cent over the past year I am now advising clients to pitch their first bid as much as 30 per cent below the January 2016 figure.

Transaction volumes in 2016 in London and across the country compared to 2015.

It still isn’t easy to agree deals and it can be very hard to make them stick. Almost as soon as something is agreed someone either feels they have paid too much or that they have accepted too little. However, for those trading one house for another if they can get their sale away first and be able to deliver on what might seem a ‘cheeky’ offer, I am finding that many sellers resolve melts like snow in the spring sunshine.

Today, if you search a website like Rightmove.co.uk for one million pound plus properties inside the M25 it will return over twelve thousand. Across the UK there are over 24,000 listed. Whilst the total will grow, in March the Land Registry recorded just 305 sales! Sellers and their agents not only welcome viewings like a drowning man eyes a passing pallet, their resolve for their initial asking price can weaken once they understand that unlike recent years 2017 is a buyers’ market.

So, if you are buying then make sure you have sold first. Be prepared, get your finances arranged, make sure you have instructed a solicitor to prepare a file. I have listed below the firms I have used recently and who have done a great job for my clients. If he is any good then your solicitor will be able to recommend a competent buying agent to help you make the most of this exciting market.

Silverman ShirlikerDee Aylward, 020 7749 2730 – email dla@silvermansherliker.co.uk

Debenhams Ottaway – Jenny Lennon, 01727 735667 – email jml@debenhamsottaway.co.uk

Charles Russell (with their London rates) – Andrew Slatter, 020 7203 5159 – email Andrew.Slatter@crsblaw.com

Macfarlanes (ditto) – Simon Blackburn, 020 7849 2680 – email Simon.Blackburn@macfarlanes.com

Harold Benjamin in north London – Milli Shah, 020 8872 3017 – email  Milli.Shah@haroldbenjamin.com

Pemberton Greenish in Chelsea – Laura Southgate, 020 7591 3340 – email  l.southgate@pglaw.co.uk