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New portal reveals charges to agents plus extra for multi-listing service

New portal reveals charges to agents plus extra for multi-listing serviceThe new portal OpenBrix, which is powered by Blockchain, has revealed its fee structure ahead of its formal launch on September 1.

It’s going to charge £75 per branch per month, plus £1 per property upload fee. If agents then want to join a multi-listing system it will operate, they will be expected to pay another £55 per month on top.

“We think this is fair and transparent. Our pricing is sensible and affordable and provides justifiable value and, importantly, agent pricing won’t be hiked as we grow because the agent community controls that – not shareholders” claims chief executive Adam Pigott.

He continues: ”We are pioneering the UK’s first multi-listing service … This feature will be a significant hook to gain client instructions and will open up agents’ inventories to other agents as they so choose, and theirs to others, resulting in revenue opportunities that otherwise do not exist for smaller independent agents.”

Pigott – who boasts over 30 years in property and was the founder of CHK Mountford Letting Agents back in 1989 – goes on to say this makes OpenBrix “a great value platform that agents and consumers alike will love.”

It utilises blockchain to create a linked network of agents to upload listings, and to create a voting and decision-making structure so that all agents have a say in pricing and the direction of the portal.

Pigott believes this taps in to the current apparent dissatisfaction with ‘big’ portals.

Some months ago it was announced that former Countrywide lettings veteran John Hards was joining the new portal’s board.

Here we go again – Help To Buy looks likely to be extended

Here we go again - Help To Buy looks likely to be extended

Government leaks to mainstream and building trade media suggest the controversial Help To Buy scheme will be extended beyond its end-of-2020 deadline.

An announcement is expected shortly.

Some suggestions say the extension could be just three months, to allow the clearance of as many as 18,000 H2B purchases delayed by Coronavirus, while other suggestions put the extension as considerably longer because of wider concerns about the economy and unemployment in the construction sector.

Either size extension would probably be controversial.

On the one hand, some agents and almost all housebuilders see the scheme as a means of improving their sales figures, especially to younger or first time buyers. Between its introduction in early 2013 and March this year – before the housing market was frozen – some 272,000 purchases had taken place via Help To Buy.

On the other hand, a slew of reports and analyses suggest that H2B does little to improve the quantity of housing stock and possibly increases prices – ironically making homes less affordable rather than more.

Last year a National Audit Office analysis revealed that 63 per cent of people buying a home under the scheme could have afforded to do so anyway; more households with incomes for £80,000 and above purchased via H2B than households with less than £30,000.

Bruce Burkitt, founder of the Property Experts consultancy, wrote last year in Estate Agent Today: “Developers are aware that Help to Buy is a closed market, and many properties are sold for premiums of 15 to 20 per cent, a surprising statistic that may come to harm first time buyers perhaps more than it is helping them.”

Recent figures suggest that the average price paid for a H2B property across the UK is some £307,000.

Faster conveyancing? Land Registry accepts electronic signatures

Faster conveyancing? Land Registry accepts electronic signatures

HM Land Registry is now accepting witnessed electronic signatures on documents for the  transfer of ownership of property, the creation of leases, and on securing mortgages.

It says this should allow a substantial simplification and faster execution of conveyancing – although it warns that some electronic signature providers may need to make some minor changes to meet its security requirements.

It will work like this: a conveyancer must  upload the deed to an online platform which sends a link to the signatories.

Once they have completed the necessary authentication checks, they would then ‘sign’ the document electronically in the physical presence of the witness who then also signs.

The conveyancer is then notified that the signing process has been concluded and, once they have effected completion of the deed, can submit the completed deed to HM Land Registry with their application for registration.

In every case the online platform would need to include two-factor authentication to authenticate the signatories and witness accessing the deed and provide assurance that unique individuals have signed.

A link to the document is emailed and then an authentication code sent to the individual’s mobile phone.

“What we have done today is remove the last strict requirement to print and sign a paper document in a home buying or other property transaction. This should help right now while lots of us are working at home, but it is also a keystone of a truly digital, secure and more efficient conveyancing process that we believe is well within reach” explains Simon Hayes, the Registry’s chief executive and chief land registrar.

“The more sophisticated qualified electronic signatures are a part of that vision and encouraging those is where our attention will be directed next” he adds.

Is the housing market really storming ahead as some say?

Is the housing market really storming ahead as some say?

Agents have almost unanimously been reporting a big surge in business since the reopening of the housing market, but new figures from HM Revenue & Customs suggest there is still some way to go before normal volumes are seen.

A total of 68,670 residential properties were sold in June according to HMRC data.

While this was predictably a huge 50 per cent up on May, it was still 31.5 per cent down on the same month a year ago.

The figures obviously pre-date the stamp duty holiday and other purchase tax changes in different parts of the UK, introduced only this month.

“Transactions, not more volatile house prices, are always a better indicator of market strength. These figures show activity is moving in the right direction but will clearly take time to be reflected in the figures as we emerge from lockdown and associated restrictions” notes former RICS residential chairman Jeremy Leaf, who also runs his own London estate agency.

“Nevertheless, we have noticed at street level that many buyers and sellers are bringing forward moving decisions to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday and continuing lower interest rates. There is still concern that improved conditions will be relatively short-lived as economic news deteriorates and furlough support falls away” he adds.

The chief analyst at online agency Yopa, Mike Scott, says it’s possible that these HMRC figures may be worse than reality.

“Note that these are provisional figures. Transaction data may be being processed more slowly than usual due to the effects of the pandemic, which means that there may still be more June sales to be reported and the true year-on-year fall may not be as bad as it is in this report” he suggests.

And Tomer Aboody, director of property lender MT Finance, says: “We are still below last year’s numbers, which in turn were down on the previous year, but confidence is creeping back up.

“If the government increases capital gains tax on principal home sales, it will push us back again so any progress made  by the stamp duty reduction will be swiftly lost. We need more stimulus via reduced stamp duty to the upper end of the market and hope for this in the autumn Budget.”

Portal says mortgage applications much faster with new software

Portal says mortgage applications much faster with new software

The mortgage arm of a regional property portal has launched pre-approval software which it claims will significantly speed up the initial stages of the mortgage application process.

PropertyPal Mortgages says the software works “in a way never done before” and within minutes can complete an ID Check, credit check, affordability and eligibility checks across multiple lenders.

“With the added benefit of only leaving a soft footprint on the credit check, the outcome is essentially a multi-lender indication of acceptance” says the company, which works with the eKeeper PropTech firm to develop the product.

PropertyPal is a Northern Ireland-focussed property portal.

“We wanted to build software that would allow users to accurately establish how much they could borrow and at what Loan to Value band they will likely be accepted for a mortgage. Now we can essentially obtain a very accurate indication of pre-approval across multiple lenders within minutes” says the portal’s mortgage managing director, Owen Peden.

Government set to finally kill off the High Street

Today could be the final nail in the coffin for the High Street, which has been slowly withering away for the last 2/3 decades, firstly due to increasing losses to out of town shopping malls, then increasing loss of business to online stores and finally the lockdown. Matters have been made much worse of course as unscrupulous local authorities have used town centres as their personal cash machines, charging motorists more and more to park. Instead of incrementally reducing the number of long-stay parking spaces to force workers to gradually adapt, making more short-stay spaces available to shoppers for free, they have exploited it so much that shoppers have abandoned town centres in their masses.

On top pf that, the gradual increase in business rates has not helped, along with the number of Charity shops, Banks and large chain stores which have nothing more to offer than other stores in easier to reach, locations. Taking Northampton as an example, the closure of British Home Stores and Marks & Spencer had a massive impact in the town centre, but these enormous buildings still sit there empty.

A few years ago, they even had ‘Mary Queen of Shops’ out to rescue the High Street for a not insignificant fee, but in reality, it is not rocket science. Town centres need to go back to their roots, lots and lots of small shops that local shopkeepers can afford, units of between 200 & 1,000 sq ft that are so affordable, that they could even be run by one person single-handed. That is when we would see a ‘Tea-Pot shop’ a ‘Bonzai Shop’ and all the interesting shops that would attract people, but no, instead they have decided to bring in the commercial Guillotine.

The government is tearing up planning red tape from today to allow boarded up shops and abandoned offices to be turned into homes without the need for full planning permission, under new laws being introduced today. Changes to the planning system will make it easier for business owners and developers to ‘repurpose’ premises that are no longer needed and bring them back into use.

In a further move to support town centres, families will be offered a new fast-track system allowing them to add up to two storeys to their homes. The rule shake-up will mean full planning applications will not be required to demolish and rebuild unused buildings as homes, allowing commercial and retail properties to be quickly repurposed, according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The latest changes, which will come into force in September, are designed to help breathe new life into high streets hit hard by the lockdown, as well as opening up a new route for housing provision. At present, firms need full ‘change of use’ planning permission to convert a shop or office into a new type of business or into housing.

From September, they will be offered a fast-track process for approval. Developers will also be allowed to demolish vacant buildings for new purposes without full planning permission.

This will open the floodgates for inner-city ghettos, centred around hastily converted monstrosities with little more than profit as their motive, which does beg the question, who will benefit most from this urban suicide?

Big day for Leasehold reform as Law Commission issues reports

Big day for Leasehold reform as Law Commission issues reports

It’s a big day for leasehold reform today with the Law Commission due to publish three residential leasehold and commonhold reports.

They will be formally launched at an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Leasehold and Commonhold Reform taking place at 10am.

The Commission’s brief, given to it by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, was to conduct a full review of enfranchisement law and procedure.

The reports today are expected to build on one issued by the Law Commission in January, and still said to be “under consideration” by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.

The January report gave three options for the future of leasehold, each using a different method to determine the price of enfranchisement and – in the words of the commission to allow further reforms to make the process simpler and to reduce uncertainty.

That report made much of using simple formulae – such as a multiple of ground rent – in delivering reforms

Alongside the three schemes, the Law Commission put forward a range of other options for reform. These included:

– Prescribing the rates used in calculating the price, to remove a key source of disputes, and make the process simpler, more certain and predictable;

– Helping leaseholders with onerous ground rents, by capping the level of ground rent used to calculate the premium;

– The creation of an online calculator for determining the premium to make it easier to find out the cost of enfranchisement, and reduce uncertainty around the process; and

– Enabling leaseholders who are collectively enfranchising a block of flats to avoid paying “development value” to the landlord unless and until they actually undertake further development.

RICS figures confirm short-term bounce but supply is very low

RICS figures confirm short-term bounce but supply is very lowThere’s more confirmation this morning that the housing market is enjoying a short-term bounce – and that’s before the effect of yesterday’s stamp duty initiatives.

The latest market snapshot from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, out today, shows a net balance of 61 per cent of its monthly survey respondents seeing a rise in new buyer enquiries over the past four weeks.

The number of new properties being listed for sale also rose over the month, with a net balance of 42 per cent of survey participants noting an increase rather than decrease.

As agents continue to deal with a backlog of sales held up by lockdown, the number of newly agreed sales moved into positive territory for the first time since February, with a net balance of 43 per cent citing an increase in completed transactions.

However, the average number of properties on agents’ books remain close to all-time lows – just 39 on average per branch, says RICS. And on prices, for the third successive report respondents have reported a decline in house prices.

“Key activity indicators in the RICS survey suggest that the market is enjoying a short term bounce following ending of the lockdown, with sharp spikes in the metrics tracking both buyer enquiries and new instructions” explains Simon Rubinsohn, RICS chief economist.

“However, there are worrying signs that this rebound may quickly run out of steam against the backdrop of a tightening in lending criteria by mortgage providers, and the uncertain macro environment particularly with regard to the employment picture. Respondents to the survey highlight both of these issues in explaining the broadly flat picture regarding sales expectation beyond the immediate uplift.

“Meanwhile, the issues around the sales market appear to be shifting sentiment in the lettings market with, somewhat ominously given the prevailing economic climate, rent expectations beginning to edge upwards once again.”

Stamp Duty dithering could kill the market, warn angry agents

Stamp Duty dithering could kill the market, warn angry agents

Agents have spoken out angrily against any uncertainty in the market caused by government leaks about future stamp duty changes.

In recent days many national newspapers have reported that Chancellor Rishi Sunak will tomorrow reveal the principles of a stamp duty change – either a six month holiday, or selected short-term changes at the mid and lower end of the market.

But most of the government leaks say this change will merely be discussed in Sunak’s announcement tomorrow, but not actually introduced until the Budget in the autumn.

This has led to widespread concern that the uncertainty will damage the market’s recovery over the summer as buyers wait to see if they have to pay less duty – or none at all – later.

“Please either announce that you are changing it one way or another. Please don’t say you are thinking about it or it may be introduced in a few months. Otherwise, you will stop the market in its tracks as buyers and sellers wait to see what will happen before making decisions and you will kill off any or much of the growing increase in activity we have seen since lockdown restrictions were eased” explains Jeremy Leaf, former chair of the residential faculty off the RICS and the owner of his own London estate agency.

Stacks Property Search, a buying agency, tweeted yesterday: “More uncertainty and a brake on the market as buyers wait for the autumn?”

And a statement from Tom Bill – head of UK residential research at Knight Frank – said: “The government understands that moving house has far-reaching benefits for the UK economy and this may form part of a wider re-think of property taxation that recognises this strategically important role. However, it would need to be introduced immediately to prevent buyers from putting plans on hold and losing the momentum that has built since the market re-opened.”

Other industry figures are concerned that the suggested changes – which, if they come to pass, would apply almost wholly at the middle and lower end of the market – do not go far enough.

Tomer Aboody, director of property lender MT Finance, says: “The [stamp duty] threshold for higher-end properties – £1m plus – is still at extraordinarily high levels, which prevent many from selling or buying. While giving a stamp duty holiday at entry level, why not also reduce the higher-end stamp duty to previous levels where it was a set amount? This would allow, even for a short period, for the market to evolve, and for buyers to move up and down the ladder more easily.”

Aboody also calls for downsizers to have a stamp duty perk to encourage greater mobility in the market.

Last summer Johnson himself said during his Tory leadership campaign that he would consider raising the stamp duty threshold from £125,000 to £500,000 and cutting the top SDLT rate from 12 to seven per cent.

At around the same time the new Chancellor, Sajid Javid, made clear in media interviews that he too wanted a reform of the tax – although his initial suggestion that the burden could be shifted from buyer to seller was later denied.

By the time of December’s General Election the only firm commitment regarding stamp duty in the Conservative manifesto was to create a three per cent stamp duty surcharge on non-UK resident buyers.

Almost 90% of sales could have zero stamp duty says Zoopla

Almost 90% of sales could have zero stamp duty says Zoopla

One of the possible stamp duty options floated by Chancellor Rishi Sunak could mean 89 per cent of sales would be duty-free.

“Temporarily removing stamp duty for homes up to £500,000 for six months will cost the Treasury £1.3 billion” says the portal’s director of research and insight, Richard Donnell.

A six month stamp duty holiday and various changes to thresholds have been floated by the Treasury in recent days; several spoke of a half year period with no duty applied to homes prices £500,00 or below.

“The greatest benefit will be found in markets across southern England where there are more homes with average prices closer to £500,000” he explains.

The greatest beneficiaries of all would be what Zoopla regards as the affordable areas in and around London where up to 95 per cent of sales would be stamp duty free.

Donnell says Stamp duty holidays are a tried and trusted way to support housing market activity and provide an additional incentive to move home at times when the economy has been hit.

“The government would hope that the savings feeds into additional spending in the real economy with more cash spent on home improvements and white goods rather than enabling buyers to spend that bit more on their next home.”

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