Devon and Somerset Housing Market

The market, which has been white hot here for most of last year, is starting get more sensible as the New Year opens up. Demand for quality rural properties still exceeds supply, but the frenzied feeding has abated somewhat. Nonetheless despite a little more supply, better properties are moving very fast, best bids have become the norm on prime properties and online auctions increasingly popular with estate agents. Underneath the surface of this interesting market we have been conducting more off market acquisitions than ever before. 

This pace of this activity has been a problem for the conveyancing system, which despite technical advances in every other sphere, remains chained to archaic practices and means that there can easily be three or four months between acceptance of an offer and exchange of contracts. Preparation of the purchase finance, a really good conveyancing solicitor and research of the target property by your buying agent are key to success. 

The end of the stamp duty taper is less important to our clients than winning the much bigger stamp duty savings from the mixed use and mixed title concessions which we advise on regularly.

It is impossible to tell whether the rock and roll ride we experienced last year will level out in the Spring of 2022 but what is certain is that the gap between London and the West Country is closing. We used to reckon that a two bedroom flat in Chelsea was the equivalent of an Old Rectory here. That equation has fluctuated over the years but at the moment you will only get 3/4s of an Old Rectory for your two bedroomed flat.

One of the reasons for this dramatic change is that Londoners who sought refuge here during Covid have realised that it really is possible to do an awful lot of work at a distance and consequently want to stay; some of them will be here for good. Whether there will be stock for them in what was already a tight market will be interesting to see. What is certainly true is that vendors experiencing a flat market in London are surprised to be confronted by the high expectations of agents and vendors here. This gap in expectations is making the market particularly tricky. 

One of my favourite country houses, near the Devon and Somerset border, was launched after Lockdown 1 and sold within days to a family with young children. This charismatic small estate has been a bellwether for the post virus market. 

Despite the vagaries of the market and the pandemic, the essence of what I said in last Summer’s interview (below) remains true but if you would like a more detailed analysis, or a chat about a particular property or area, just give Nick or me a call.

Nick 07977 490574         Gideon 07966 425977

January 2022

 

A Q & A session with a regional journalist last year…….

Q) What factors affect the property market in the South West?

Owners of better properties here are mostly discretionary vendors. Discretionary vendors are motivated by sentiment as much as anything else and that sentiment turned positive in the Spring. Due to the much more certain outlook they are calling selling agents and requesting valuations after several years of sitting on their hands. They are however still very cautious and consequently many are offering their property on the grey market rather than via the portals.

These discretionary vendors do not have to move to get their child into the right school by the autumn, their children are grown up and they will sell only when they feel they have been offered fair value. Fair value to them is often coloured by agents giving fanciful valuations at a time when they are critically short of stock. A probable increase in stock together with a likely increase in demand is likely to unblock the current constipated state and make for a much more fluid market. However I don’t believe this will result in price increases as buyers will rightly remain cautious, that is unless the government really does press the spend button and the market goes into boom mode. 

Q) Are there particular regions/segments that stand out as particularly good performers?

The price contours of the West Country are quite complex and remind me of the Venn diagrams we did at school. Where a property falls within the three spheres of good communications, good schools and an agreeable landscape, values will be strongest. Fashion also plays an important part too; if you want value, avoid the spots that central Londoners holiday in. These ghettos also suffer worst during times of financial instability.

Q)  How will the delivering of Brexit affect South West property?

The London market is alive again boosted by increased confidence from native buyers and the safe haven it offers overseas buyers. This is allowing those who have been trapped by a lack of purchasers to reconsider their lifestyle moves and look further afield. In my opinion Stamp Duty is still much more of an issue than Brexit uncertainty has been and it is worth bearing in mind that many rural properties in this part of the world are eligible for mixed use stamp duty which can give dramatic savings. Many overseas buyers do not “get” the West Country in the same way that we do so their influence will always be vicarious by driving indigenous Londoners to the provinces. 

Q) The government has promised to boost infrastructure spending in the South West.

All my life the West Country has suffered from a lack of investment in infrastructure. When I first started driving I looked forward to the day when the A303 would be dualled all the way. It never happened and the M5 never got beyond Exeter despite various promises. We have a dual track train service to London on one of Brunel’s finest lines. The outdated rolling stock is only now being replaced with new carriages that not only are just as cramped as the old ones but the seats are even more uncomfortable; you cant even get a cup of tea because there is no buffet car! West Country people have overcome these irritations to establish an enviable quality of life and I think it is their ability to laugh at adversity that makes them special. 

Q) Were I someone looking to invest in the SW what are the pitfalls?

Always buy the best you can afford. That ruined Old Rectory the other side of Holsworthy may look extraordinarily cheap but there is usually a very good reason. I can think of two that have had indifferent but expensive refurbishments and cannot be sold at a sufficient figure to cover their costs.

Q) Were I looking to sell within the SW, what would be your advice?

The agent coming to pitch for your sale will often not be the one who starts the transaction. More likely this will be the young man or woman at the office who picks up the telephone. How this first enquiry is dealt with is crucial, do some mystery shopping yourself, pick a property similar to your own, call the selling agent and see how your enquiry is dealt with.

So chose an agent you can engage with who has efficient staff, not the one suggesting the highest selling price. They practically all have good websites now so there is little differentiation in their offer other than the quality of their staff and the size of their fees.

Q) Overall are you optimistic, or cautious about the short-medium term?

If you live long enough property is always a good bet but the public prefer their jam today rather than tomorrow. I do not believe property is ever a suitable short term investment as quite apart from the risk of catching a change in market sentiment, the costs of trading eat away at a large proportion of any possible gain. My advice is buy a property that you love and that will enhance the well-being of you and your family; your family is after all your most important investment. If you get some growth in value then think of that as a bonus.

Gideon Sumption

 

Current rural planning policy precludes residential development in open country except for Agricultural Occupancy Restricted Dwellings (in theory necessary to accommodate agricultural workers) and class Q of the General Permitted Development Order. Development is directed to sites within defined “settlement limits” of rural villages. Not only does this go against many people’s desire for ‘no near neighbours’ but these opportunities will mostly be for plots of ½ and acre or less and will be fiercely competed for by local builders and developers looking to cram as many dwellings per acre as they can squeeze in.

The very few opportunities that do exist in open country will either be the demolition of AOC bungalows or Class Q.  If you feel you could comply with AOC conditions or be willing to battle to get them lifted, then this could be a way forward. However the new class Q of the GPDO rules can provide larger plots in rural locations for the conversion of modern, usually steel framed agricultural buildings. These are often isolated and can come with several acres of land which gives the opportunity for privacy and seclusion in a contemporary energy efficient dwelling.

In essence, if a farmer or landowner has redundant modern agricultural buildings they may be eligible for conversion to homes through Permitted Development Rights contained within the General Permitted Development Order. PDRs generally allow building works and/or changes of use to be carried out without full planning permission. The class of PDR permitting the conversion of modern agricultural buildings to dwellings is known as Class Q.

Introduced in 2014, Class Q initially provided that any buildings used solely for agriculture on or before 20 March 2013 and now redundant, may he converted into up to three dwellings with a maximum cumulative total floor space of 450 sq.m. subject to certain prescribed limitations and conditions. However, with effect from 6 April 2018, Class Q development may now comprise of:

  • Up to three larger homes within a combined maximum of 465 sq m or
  • Up to five smaller homes each no larger than 100 sq m; or
  • A mix of both, totalling no more than five homes, of which no more than three may be larger homes

These new thresholds are a welcome amendment to the rules relating to the redevelopment of farm buildings and should provide a much-needed boost to rural housing. However, any Class Q development requires prior approval from the Local Planning Authority; in 2015/16 half of all such applications were rejected. Therefore anyone considering this interesting route to a new rural home should obtain professional advice at an early stage.

General

The predictions of the Bank of England’s agent for the South West, for the region’s prospects have been proved spot on. The West Country economy, which stalled briefly after the Brexit vote, seems to be stronger than ever now.

The latest national data bears this out with a weak pound stimulating economic activity, particularly in the manufacturing sector. I am also intrigued to see European firms acquiring some UK ones now that they are looking rather cheap. Our local Taunton based Ministry of Cake being a prime example. In that case acquired by a French conglomerate.

The BOE are clearly determined not to let the economy fall in to the same stagnant ditch as Japan’s, so penalties for banks that do not lend, bond purchasing, more quantitative easing, in fact anything in the tool box will be used to keep the economy buoyant including Hinkley Point.

What does this mean for residential property? In the provinces, the effect will be most pronounced. Buyers have had more reasons than ever before to procrastinate. But you cannot hold back demand indefinitely; it will eventually overspill the dam of indecision.

This, in conjunction with historically low interest rates and a weaker £ must mean that over the next 12 months we will see a tightening of supply.  

In the meantime our clients, who are mostly pragmatic discretionary purchasers, are carrying on buying in a market with a wide choice and we are getting discounts for them of between 6 and 18%.

I have been predicting for a while that London property fence sitters are missing an opportunity as the gap between London and the West Country prices had never been wider. With the softening of London prices accelerated by the stamp duty changes and West Country prices fairly solid, the gap is closing. In years to come frustrated escapees from the capital will look back at 2018 as the year they should have moved.

The message is clear, if you are contemplating selling or downsizing in London and grabbing some life quality in the West Country, do it now before everyone else realises the gap is only going to get smaller.

For a refreshing change some really interesting off market properties became available this year. My favourite is an early Great Hall house, hardly touched for 50 years and with a good parcel of land. It sold, thank goodness, to a great couple who are up for the challenge of it’s restoration and are in tune with the West Country.

Farms and mixed use properties make up a significant proportion of the acquisitions we advise on and it is important to bear in mind that these attract a much less aggressive rate of stamp duty. On a £2m “farm” the stamp duty bill will be £68,500 whereas on a £2m house it will be £153,750. Establishing the status of a property can bring huge savings.

However with so many properties in the West Country still being offered at unrealistic guide prices a lot of the property “on the market” is not really for sale. An overpriced property is actually just window dressing for agents and a fantasy trip for the vendor. For the rest of us it distorts the market by littering it with properties that cannot really be bought unless a purchaser is mad enough to want to pay more than it is worth. To my mind these properties are not for sale but rather stage props in a comedy/tragedy.

There are within the market always a number of forced sellers, usually probate, divorce or over-borrowed. Apart from these exceptions, it is worth remembering that the vast majority of vendors of quality property in rural areas are discretionary rather than compulsory. If these people do not like the look of the market or it’s prices they will not offer or sell their property. This has a distorting effect on the market by making it appear that values are higher than they really are.

The word “quality” really is the nub of this matter. The vast majority of the property that makes up the statistics we read so much about in the press is ordinary. It is easy, after constantly reading stories in the press, either boom or doom, to think that these generalised commentaries apply to all property. They do not and they are particularly inappropriate for more valuable rural property. My clients do not want ordinary, they want quality and the small but important sector of the market represented by “best of type” properties is not going perform in the quite same way as the rest.

There are three principal reasons for this. The supply is very finite; for my clients these are almost invariably discretionary purchases and, as I have said previously, for the vendors often discretionary sales. Thus average house prices, whilst a useful barometer of a trend, are less relevant than people think when assessing a rural property, particularly as these rural properties not only by definition represent a tiny proportion of the total housing stock, but also represent an even smaller proportion of the total number of transactions in a given period because they are traded less frequently than urban properties.

Analysing statistical evidence is important provided it is not applied too rigorously to non standard properties. This is just what is happening in some sectors of the mortgage market where more and more mortgage applications are being assessed by computers rather than experienced local valuers. The result can be that properties outside the statistical norm are being disadvantaged. It is therefore very important to establish, when applying for a mortgage, who is actually going to value the property and whether they have the appropriate experience and local knowledge in that market sector. Getting this properly organised before it is too late is key.

An equally important part of my job is assessing the vendor. My clients are not buying a generality, rather a specific property and the price at which that property can be purchased depends as much on the vendor and their circumstances as anything else. Bear in mind at all times when approaching a property that there are three variable figures:

  1. the sum that the agent is asking,  2. the amount that it is worth and 3. the price at which the property can be bought. These days these three figures are very rarely the same.

Thus whilst it is important to establish, before submitting an offer, the exact situation of the vendor and ascertain whether they have to sell or would merely like to sell if the price is appealing, I need to know whether my clients purchase decision is based on price or value. Looking purely at the price of a property can be misleading; the value of a property is much more than its’ financial cost, it is the well being and quality of life it brings to the purchaser and their family over many years.

The effect of these factors on my market depends on area and asking price. Different sections are performing in very different ways. Better properties, particularly those with land are selling well when correctly priced. By contrast properties that are dull, ordinary, blemished or overpriced are not selling at all, or at large discounts. In the middle and upper sectors of the market in this area, the majority of vendors are discretionary; their reason for selling a good house is often a lifestyle decision rather than financial compulsion. Many of these vendors remain uncertain whether current market conditions are right for their sale. Agents, faced with an acute shortage of turnover, are occasionally answering this question by resorting to fanciful valuations for prospective vendors in order to win instructions.

One consequence is that some new stock is still coming the market overpriced at a time when the market is particularly price sensitive, resulting in disappointed vendors and confused purchasers.  A second consequence is that an increasing amount of prime property is being offered privately off market. A third consequence is that much more stock is being offered “To Let” if it fails to sell rather than having the price reduced to a sensible level. The overall effect on the public is one of confusion.

In conclusion, a dearth of correctly priced prime property is making it difficult for amateurs to read the market and for estate agents to accurately establish values. This presents an unusual opportunity for buyers, particularly now that the London/West Country price chasm is starting to close. Fence sitting at this interesting phase of the market will, in my opinion, prove to be expensive.

November 2018

Below is a quick guide to the Stamp Duty changes (it does not include the second home or BTL surcharge), but please remember that most farms and mixed used properties have separate rates peaking at 4% which start to get quite advantageous for qualifying properties worth more than £1m. Please see the “Farmland” page for specific details.     

Plan ahead and buy a futureproof house

Thinking about the future isn’t only about regeneration. It also means considering that children are now having to stay at the family home longer and yours could well still be with you in their thirties and beyond. Some 3.3 million 20 to 34-year-olds were living with their parents in 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics — the highest number since it started keeping records in 1996. At the other end of the spectrum, the ageing population means that more parents and grandparents are likely to need to live with their adult children.

Planning for these eventualities can mean that you avoid the significant costs of finding a larger home later. Linda Jeffcoat, of Stacks Property Search, a buying agency, advises avoiding spontaneous decisions and considering factors such as local schools even if you haven’t yet started a family. “There are enormous financial rewards to be gained for those who plan for the future at an early stage,” she says. “The cost of moving is phenomenal, anything from 3 per cent to 10 per cent of the value of the property. If the bank owns half your property, you’re effectively losing 6 per cent to 20 per cent of the equity every time you move. If you have any respect for your equity try and reduce the number of times you move by planning carefully.”

Call Nick or Gideon to discuss what you are looking for.
Tel: 07977 490574 / 07966 425977

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    Sunday Telegraph

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    2019-12-06T09:48:50+00:00
    “Thank you very much.  We are very excited on the purchase of the flat as well.  Sara has been instrumental in every aspect, we are blessed to have her on our side.”
    "I needed the continuous advice and support on the many issues that can and do arise, and, above all, someone acting in one’s own interest."
    2018-11-21T12:44:59+00:00
    "I needed the continuous advice and support on the many issues that can and do arise, and, above all, someone acting in one’s own interest."
    "utterly tenacious..."
    2018-11-21T13:06:52+00:00
    "utterly tenacious..."
    "Without somebody on the ground asking the right questions on our behalf, finding a home would have been truly impossible."
    2018-11-21T13:15:37+00:00
    "Without somebody on the ground asking the right questions on our behalf, finding a home would have been truly impossible."
    "always courteous and pleasant, and most importantly, in our opinion, trustworthy."
    2018-11-21T12:19:57+00:00
    "always courteous and pleasant, and most importantly, in our opinion, trustworthy."
    "We felt they genuinely wanted to help."
    2022-01-19T10:53:57+00:00
    "We felt they genuinely wanted to help."
    "Should I move again, I shall definitely use you again"
    2018-11-21T12:51:23+00:00
    "Should I move again, I shall definitely use you again"
    "They've been a close and very helpful part of our discussions with everybody. When you’re new to a town and an area, that’s priceless."
    2018-11-21T12:58:19+00:00
    "They've been a close and very helpful part of our discussions with everybody. When you’re new to a town and an area, that’s priceless."
    "We would have absolutely no hesitation in recommending them to anyone thinking of using such a service"
    2018-11-21T13:13:46+00:00
    "We would have absolutely no hesitation in recommending them to anyone thinking of using such a service"
    "...negotiate on anything"

    Financial Times

    2018-11-06T14:00:36+00:00

    Financial Times

    "...negotiate on anything"
    "got our offer accepted even when it was not the highest"
    2018-11-21T12:38:34+00:00
    "got our offer accepted even when it was not the highest"
    "We were moving country – had booked the packers – and had nowhere to move into!"
    2018-11-21T13:12:46+00:00
    "We were moving country – had booked the packers – and had nowhere to move into!"
    "It made a potentially very stressful process very straightforward"
    2018-11-21T12:48:37+00:00
    "It made a potentially very stressful process very straightforward"
    "Stacks were a tremendous help and we would never have found our home without them. She is a lovely person with a great sense of humour which was essential during some of our tricky negotiations"
    2020-01-13T11:52:24+00:00
    "Stacks were a tremendous help and we would never have found our home without them. She is a lovely person with a great sense of humour which was essential during some of our tricky negotiations"
    "great value to us during a difficult, competitive purchase"
    2018-11-21T12:39:48+00:00
    "great value to us during a difficult, competitive purchase"
    "was fantastic at explaining and helping us with everything that was happening"
    2018-11-21T13:07:43+00:00
    "was fantastic at explaining and helping us with everything that was happening"
     
    Stacks Property Search