An unwise man once said, ‘We’ve had enough of experts’. I tend to disagree with him… but, frankly, how much wider of the mark could ‘the experts’ have been on this? Even my own normally unshakeable optimism was put to the test when I first read reports predicting a 20% drop in property prices, and I verily choked on my granola when I saw one confused BBC Breakfast reporter suggesting prices would drop by 60%. Utter madness!
Then came reality, fortunately. We Estate Agents got released from lockdown with 15 hours’ notice on May 13th and the market became very busy very quickly. Yes, some sales in that early post-lockdown period did favour buyers who played the ‘we know prices have dropped’ card, but it became so apparent so quickly that this wasn’t the case that very soon we reached the stage where house prices were higher than they had ever been before, and more properties were ‘sold subject to contract’ that at any point in history. That’s industry-wide and nationally – not just at Wallers.
Oxfordshire as a local property market has always shown a robustness when it comes to these sorts of things. In fairness, it has been a very different recession – one that has sadly affected a small percentage of people catastrophically (economically speaking, not to mention in terms of physical and mental health), but one where well over 90% of people remained employed, albeit potentially furloughed, and thus many were locked down at home for an extended period, giving them time to consider their surroundings and decide that if they were going to be stuck at home – especially ‘WFH’ – then they may as well get more space. The market opened and so did the floodgates. “Potential for Home Office” became the peak of aspiration. Lump in a London exodus escaping to the country, a post-Brexit crowd that didn’t get to spring in spring, but who sprung in the summer, a stamp duty freeze currently coming into its own in the last quarter as buyers race to get the benefit before the March cliff-edge, and we have had a recipe for success in the sector.
Residential Lettings has had its issues – particularly in Oxford which is normally bolstered by a short-stay market and international renters who have not turned up. But even Lettings has remained strong, and void periods have been short. Perhaps not the normal rent increases this year, but personally – against the grain, I realise – I would argue that this is no bad thing.
So what does the next period have in store? I predict a frantic January prompted by a rush to make use of the stamp duty holiday before it is too late (and PS, by January it will be too late, as conveyancing is taking longer than normal and their workload is greater than normal due to increased sales). I predict that Sunak will keep an extension to the stamp duty holiday up his sleeve, to reveal with a typical Rishi flourish as the economy gets rocked by the first days of true EU withdrawal. I predict a growing consumer confidence that then defies Brexit as we get deeper into a vaccination cycle – I suspect by around March, leading to a healthy second quarter and setting up another positive year, and I suspect too that this will be bolstered by greater than normal housebuilding to feed the beast.
But hey, I don’t claim to be an expert… thankfully.