Housing round-up: stamp duty, help to buy, discounts

With most people spending more time than ever inside their own homes during the coronavirus lockdown, many have started to think twice about what they want from the place they live in.

For those able to work remotely, living somewhere close to the office might not be as much of a priority as it once was, locations at the centre of busy cities may have lost some of their appeal.

Property website Rightmove reported that August 2020 has been its busiest month in more than 10 years, with property sales totalling more than £37 billion altogether.

Areas like Devon and Cornwall were in higher demand than usual, while asking prices in London and the South East both decreased.

Miles Shipside, Rightmove director and housing market analyst, warned that "patience will be required" during this unusually busy period, as the lending and legal sectors face capacity restraints with continued furlough and working from home arrangements.

Although many people are taking this opportunity to seek out a new home and a change of lifestyle, it's uncertain how long that demand might continue, as the wider effects of the recession start to show and the furlough scheme wraps up towards the end of the year.

The Government has announced several measures this year to help homebuyers and boost the market – here's our summary of the three main changes that could affect you.

Stamp duty holiday

Anyone purchasing a residential property in England or Northern Ireland between 8 July 2020 and 31 March 2021 will benefit from a temporary increase to the lower threshold for stamp duty land tax.

The threshold has been raised from £125,000 to £500,000 for this period, so no tax needs to be paid on the first £500,000 of a house's value.

The Treasury said this means almost nine out of ten people buying a main home will pay no stamp duty land tax at all while the measure is in place.

The temporary rates are as follows:

8 July 2020 to 31 March 2021 Rate
Up to £500,000 Zero
Over £500,000 to £925,000 5%
Over £925,000 to £1.5m 10%
Above £1.5m 12%
Source: HM Treasury

Help to buy equity loan deadline extended

The help-to-buy equity loan scheme, which is designed to help people who are struggling to save for a mortgage deposit, has been extended by two months.

It was due to close on 31 December 2020, but this deadline has been pushed back to 28 February 2021.

The scheme allows buyers to borrow up to 20% of the cost of a new-build home from the Government - increasing to 40% for properties in London.

The deadline for the legal completion of the house purchase will remain the same, however – 31 March 2021.

First homes scheme

Last week, the Government published new details on the upcoming ‘first homes' scheme.

This will offer first-time buyers and key workers a 30% discount on the market price of a new-build home in their local area, and those eligible for the scheme might be able to save up to £100,000.

Where this discount isn't enough to make properties affordable, local planning authorities may be able to require a higher minimum discount of either 40% or 50%.

The scheme will be subject to a price cap of £250,000 as well as an income cap of £80,000.

In London, this will rise to a price cap of £420,000 and an income cap of £90,000.

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