Stamp Duty Reforms Will Blow Another Housing Bubble

Chancellor George Osborne will have been delighted by the joyous response to his long overdue reform of the reviled stamp duty tax in Wednesday’s Autumn Statement.

He was rightly applauded for scrapping the distorting “slab structure” of the tax, which saw buyers pay £2,500 on a £250,000 property, but £7,500 if the home cost just £1 more.

Few cared that buyers of £1 million-plus properties will pay a lot more, because they can afford it, can’t they?


Iron Men

Chancellors tend to be most dangerous when they’re at their most popular, however. Gordon Brown was lauded as the Iron Chancellor even as his fiscal profligacy corroded the nation’s finances.

Osborne is lauded today, but his reputation could also end up on the scrapheap.

Just when the housing market bonanza seemed to have hit a plateau, his stamp duty reforms look set to drive it to new heights. Given today’s sky-high prices and massive consumer debt, that’s the last thing we need.


Third Time Unlucky

This is the Chancellor’s third go at pumping up the housing bubble. His Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS) drove prices higher by handing banks and building societies billions of cheap money to fund cut-price mortgages.

Osborne inflated the market further with the Help to Buy scheme, that helped borrowers take out more affordable mortgages at loan-to-values of up to 95%.

He has resisted all pressure to rein it in, evidently deciding that a debt-fuelled recovery is better than no recovery at all.


Dead Men Voting

The new system should be cheaper for 98% of buyers, Osborne calculates. But they are unlikely to save much in practice, as sellers look set to respond by pushing up asking prices, especially around each price band.

Under the old system, vendors lost more £230 million a year by reducing the value of their properties to below the various stamp duty thresholds, Zoopla says.

Sellers of properties in stamp duty ‘dead-zones’ were losing £7,455 per sale on average. Now they are likely to push up their asking prices by a similar amount.

Cheaper stamp duty charges will also tempt more buy-to-let landlords back into the market. So what has been seen as a boost for first-time buyers could only make their lives harder, by pushing prices higher and raising competition at the lower end of the market.


Boom And Bust (Again)

Osborne clearly wants a mini-housing boom in the run-up to the election in May, and will no doubt get what he wants. He can worry about the subsequent bust after the polls have closed.

But the rest of us should be worrying about it today.

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