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Vaccine 'could prevent UK property slump' as sales hit decade-high

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2-min read
A black kitten waits to be let back into its home in Wimbledon, south west London July 30, 2013. Property prices are rising at their fastest pace in three years, according to Nationwide, a building society. In London, the best-performing region, prices are already 5 percent above their 2007 peak. Photograph taken on  July 30, 2013.  REUTERS/Andrew Winning  (BRITAIN - Tags: BUSINESS REAL ESTATE)
UK property sales surged in October. Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Winning

UK property sales hit their highest level in at least a decade in October despite the resurgence of the coronavirus and restrictions.

Official data shows an estimated 121,740 property transactions were completed in October, the biggest tally since HMRC began collecting data in its current form in 2011. It also marked a 13.7% rise year-on-year and 23.7% leap on September, with lower but still significant gains on a seasonally adjusted basis.

The figures provide one of the most comprehensive gauges of sales, based on official figures for stamp duty, land and building transaction tax, and land transaction tax data from each part of the UK.

Property industry analysts appear divided over what comes next for the market however. While many have predicted for months that a looming cliff-edge as England’s stamp duty ends in March, rising unemployment and tightening credit will eventually hobble activity, some are now more bullish because of vaccine advances.

“For now, news of a vaccine that few expected so early could prevent the sharp fall in transactions in 2021 that many have been expecting,” said Andrew Montlake, managing director of mortgage broker Coreco.

WATCH: What do stamp duty cuts mean for buyers and prices?

He said life had been and could potentially remain “relatively normal” and mortgages “readily available” for many landlords, homeowners who have paid off much of their mortgages and second home buyers in Tier 1 areas.

Anna Clare Harper, CEO of asset managers SPI Capital, said it was hard to predict wider economic trends in “uncertain, fast-changing times,” but added: “What is clear from the residential transactions data is that the fundamental drivers of value in residential property remain strong: our homes have never been so important as in lockdown.”

Jeremy Leaf, a north London estate agent, said he had noticed greater confidence after a string of promising vaccine developments in recent weeks. “The prospect of an end to the pandemic has been a shot in the arm for the market, resulting in buyers trying to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday and make sure their move completes before the end of next March.”

READ MORE: House prices hit new record as London homes cost twice national average

But Montlake noted mounting joblessness and mortgage caution over buyers with low deposits particularly in higher-tier areas could hit other parts of the market.

“Looking forward, the fate of the property market depends on how the economy copes with the immense strains put on it by the pandemic,” he added.

HMRC said on its website on Tuesday: “Following significant decreases in April and May 2020, UK residential transactions have since increased incrementally each month, reflecting the gradual easing of coronavirus public health restrictions for the property market and the introduction of residential transaction tax holidays within the various UK administrations.”