Property Market Comment

Back at the beginning of 2023 we predicted that it could be a good year to buy in this part of the world. So how has the year panned out so far, and what’s happening right here – right now?

This year the market took a while to get going, not quite Springing into action as early as usual, which we put down to prolonged wet weather, the Liz Truss misadventure, Ukraine, and a hangover from the frenetic market during Covid. In the first 3 months of the year there were only 270,000 transactions across Devon and Cornwall, which was significantly less than the previous two years. When the weather finally improved around the middle of May we saw the market come to life, with a healthy combination of new housing stock and new buyers.

Prices were widely predicted to fall across the country by around 20% from the peak reached in Summer 2022. These changes take longer to reach Devon than the rest of the country, but we’ve probably seen a fall off of around 15% by now. This may not be that obvious if you look at some of the guide prices that houses are still being marketed at.

Many vendors are still hoping to achieve a price that they may have got 18 months ago.

We’re seeing price reductions across the board. The average period before reducing guide price if there is no interest was 8 weeks, but we’re seeing some reduced after 3 weeks now.

Good houses that are realistically priced are selling well. There are still vendors that for various reasons must sell, and there are still many cash buyers around, who always planned to move this way. Those who resisted the pressure to buy in the last two years now have a window of opportunity.

Ever popular are pretty 4-5 bedroom period farmhouses, in a private position, far-reaching views, a converted barn, sitting in the middle of 8-12 acres of land and 20 not more than 20 minutes to the nearest supermarket, ready to move into, but not overdone in someone else’s taste, and not requiring any immediate major repairs as building costs today are so high. These unmolested gems are luckily still available in East Devon and West Somerset, and in very practical locations. Finding one that is priced at the right guide can be harder.

We recently looked at a wonderful farmhouse in the Blackdown Hills AONB down a long track with 15 acres, views to die for and a fully renovated large barn with 2 further bedrooms. The owners were down-sizing and had just completed on their new home. The guide was £1.15M. It sold quickly at just below guide. At the peak of the market this would have gone to best and finals at around £1.45M.

Will prices fall any further? The adjustment may have happened already but won’t be fully visible until the majority of properties on the market are priced at a level at which they’ll actually sell. We may not see much new stock now until the Spring, and the market could be steady until after the General Election when whoever gets in will seek to boost the economy and feel-good factor in any way they can.

So if you always plan to move to Devon or West Somerset, and are able to invest now, it could be the time to find that realistically priced property with a vendor that needs to sell.

The property market here was noticeably quiet in January, compared to the frantic activity that we have seen in 2021 and 2022. We hope that this signals a return to more normal conditions for buyers and that we will see less sales concluding with Best & Final Offers, where the successful bidder has to pay way over the guide price.

Having said that the recent relentless West Country rain has thankfully given way to crisp frosty mornings and the sun is shining. It seems that the market is waking up just as the first snowdrops and daffodils begin to appear. Agents are out and about busily valuing for potential clients, and this bodes well for a much-needed new supply of quality properties.
 
There will always be a steady stream of people looking to move to this part of the West Country. Those of us luck enough to reside here already cherish the relaxed pace, the beautiful scenery, its proximity to the coast, and for now it is still good value when compared with other popular rural locations. So, what exactly is the new normal in this market and what is our current advice to clients?
 
Over the Winter there has been a severe lack of good quality £1.25M+ larger houses, (but this does look like it is about to change). The decent-looking houses that are available are still available for a reason; road noise or lack of privacy, or they are priced unrealistically, and the vendor is not willing to reduce the asking price. Couple this with the number of cash buyers still registered with Agents and needing to find a house quickly.
 
Buyers are increasingly concerned about the cost of taking on an older property. Many ‘more senior’ vendors are down-sizing and haven’t made any improvements since the 1980’s. The upfront costs for making a period property energy-efficient and user-friendly for the next 20 years can be frightening, and must be factored-in to any purchase. It is easy to fall in love with a listed building, but harder to convince the planners to allow you to replace those chilly old windows with even the thinnest of double-glazed units. As the market calms there should be more scope to negotiate with vendors over any unexpected costs arising from your survey.
 
Working from home looks as if it is here to stay, allowing young families to move out of London earlier, and still maintain their income. Our briefs often include a good home office, or two. The Paddington to Exeter line offers the fastest trains for those unavoidable days back in the office, so being close to either Tiverton Parkway or Taunton station is popular. The Waterloo line to Exeter travels the lower coastal route, it is 45 minutes slower, but that compromise allows many more fabulous locations that are nearer to the coast to be on your list of locations to consider.
 
Off-market and discreet sales seem to be on the rise and Stacks long-standing relationships with local agents means that we are well-placed to help you to take advantage of these opportunities.
 
Rising interest rates certainly do affect the market here. Some of our clients can now borrow less and have adjusted their budgets accordingly and we have noticed issues at the bottom of the chain with some buyers experiencing difficulty borrowing as much as expected, and gifting from relatives saving the day. It is good news for the longer-term outlook that interest rates on 5-year fixed deals now seem to have turned a corner and are on the way down.
 
2023 may turn out to be the right time to buy in this part of the world. The market has slowed, but the underlying reasons that guarantee that more and more people will want to live here means that longer-term growth is certain.

A fabulous farmhouse with land in East Devon, recently acquired for clients through a Discreet Sale.

 Discussing the market last week with my Stacks colleague Rachel Johnson she summed up the situation so eloquently that I give it here:-

“A blanket assumption that you can now haggle on price is erroneous.  The properties being discounted are those that had their vendor’s price expectations set around May, and were probably over-egged at the time.  For those that kept that pricing strategy but didn’t come on until Autumn, that’s where you’re having to take the big price-chips.

Realistically priced homes will not need to price-chip, as there are plenty of buyers that have not managed to find.  It is still your job as the buyer to present yourself as the best, most reliable buyer that the agent can wholeheartedly recommend as the one that will stick with it. Being chain-free or able to break a chain will still be the most prized characteristic in a buyer.

Not all vendors are equally motivated – you’re aiming to understand what is their driver for the move.  You can easily offend with a price-chip, and some vendors will cut their noses off to spite an insulting offer.  Getting things thrown in to the deal is always a more long-term strategy – arriving in a new community when you’ve been bad-mouthed by the popular family leaving won’t be as nice as being introduced at the vendor’s leaving party to your new neighbours – some things are worth more than a few ££.

We are already seeing more properties that are technically off-market – open to being bought but not visible on the portals. You won’t get a bargain with these, but you might get the right house…………..”

 

A new Prime Minister and promised stability bodes well for a market which was white hot here for most of last year and the first half of this year. Now common sense is setting in and supply is increasing. However demand for quality rural properties still exceeds supply although the frenzied feeding has abated. Despite a little more supply, correctly priced better properties are moving and more and more prime properties are being offered away from the portals. Underneath the surface of this interesting market we have been conducting more off market acquisitions than ever before. 

The pace of activity over the previous eighteen months 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 as is understanding the substantial stamp duty savings from the mixed use and mixed title concessions on which we advise on regularly.

It is impossible to tell whether the rock and roll ride we have experienced will level out or crash out but what is certain is that the gap between London and the West Country is smaller now than for many years. 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 quality stock for them in what has been 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 as so many local vendors of better properties are discretionary. 

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 who are actually going to live here rather than weekend which is a huge bonus for us locals.

Despite political and financial turmoil, 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

December 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.”

What will a Stacks buying agent in Devon and Somerset Covering East, Mid and North Devon (also covering West and Northwest Devon) and West Somerset do for you?

Professional Expertise

We’ll talk with you about how you want to live, the demands of your work, and your plans. We’ll establish what you need from your next home… and why.

Finding a Property

We’ll scour the market, bend the ears of our contacts, and hound the estate agents. We’ll leave no stone unturned to find the right home for you.

Saving you Money

We’ll haggle hard and bring all that we’ve discovered to bear to agree the best terms on your behalf. Our clients enjoy preferred bidder status with estate agents. 

Trouble Free Completion

We’ll problem-bust, tackle obstacles, arrange surveys, and liaise with planners. A myriad of issues can raise their head at this point… we’ll deal with them all for you.

Call Nick to discuss what you are looking for.
Tel: 07977 490574 

 

 

 

How We Do It

“You showed fantastic attention to detail, anticipated all eventualities, and provided timely and practical help and guidance every step of the way.  Above all, you supported me in making my own considered decisions, and I am so grateful to you for all your help in getting me to where I am now!”

“We firmly believe that without Rachel and her skilled negotiation we would not have secured the property.”

“We felt they genuinely wanted to help.”

“Stacks’ performance on this assignment has been absolutely outstanding and more than met my expectations. Her understanding of the brief and the ‘after-find’ service set a standard of professionalism that I have not met before.”

“It is not often that one is pleased to part with money but I can truthfully say that I am on this occasion. You have earned every penny of this cheque and what is more, you have done it with great courtesy and good humour. It has been very pleasant working with you. You really did take most of the stress out of our house hunting.”

“Encouraging me to think creatively about what could work for me.”

“Finding a plot not yet on the market and persuading the developer to enter into an exclusive contract with me to build to my specification.

“I was impressed by the efficient, kind and courteous service provided by Stacks”

“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

“You gave a much-valued ‘younger’ perspective on our situation, which was a real asset”

“We found the service extremely helpful and professional at all times”

“I have been delighted with the service I have received from Stacks and will not hesitate to recommend Stacks in the future.”

 
Subscribe to our newsletter

Receive updates about the world of property, straight to your inbox.

* indicates required