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The one holiday I'm grateful to have missed


By Alina Haritonova

The much-debated Stamp Duty holiday, introduced in the UK in July 2020 to support the property market following the outbreak of Covid-19, has finally come to an end, leaving a somewhat bitter aftertaste.

The measure, originally introduced to help more people get on and move up the housing ladder, has arguably achieved the exact opposite, sparking a bidding war and causing property prices in the areas like the North-East to shoot up by 16.9%. Overall, prices across the country increased by 8.9% over the year to April 2021, reaching £250,772, according to ONS data.

At first glance, the tax break offered clear benefits to buyers, allowing them to use the money siloed for the tax towards supplementing their deposit, or on renovation works. Instead, those with substantial savings were asked to fork out larger sums to get ahead of the queue and secure their dream home, while those on tighter budgets lost the bidding war, often after already having spent thousands of pounds in legal fees, not to mention time and energy. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see why it had limited success, leaving many people frustrated and often, broke.  

Planning the purchase of a property is tricky at the best of times, and even more so when you’re competing with thousands of people all of whom simultaneously realised the pressing need for an extra bedroom and a garden. Add that to the savings glut which quickly materialised as thousands of professionals were forced to stay at home and not spend, plus the current low interest rates, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a housing market frenzy. House hunting is known to be a stressful and emotionally taxing process anyway, but imagine what it’s like when there’s a strict deadline, you constantly show up to viewings at the same time as several other buyers (goodbye social distancing) or routinely get stood up by agents? The whole thing turns into mass hysteria, where the only winner is the seller.

Having bought my first home together with my partner just before Covid hit, I remember constantly questioning myself, worried that something better may be just around the corner. Are we buying in the right area? Shall we look for a property in an up-and-coming part of London, which is said to have a lot of potential but currently looks like a huge building site with a tiny off-licence a 10-minute walk away as its nearest amenity? Will we pay 10% less for the same property in six months’ time because of Brexit and the much-dreaded London exodus?

Ultimately, we bought an apartment in a borough that’s well past its boom phase, fully aware of the fact that some other areas offered a much bigger investment potential. But what mattered for us was buying somewhere that suits our lifestyle and needs. Figuring that out took some time, and having to make such an important decision under time pressure would have been nerve-wrecking – odds are, I would have bought the first property I viewed as long as it had a roof and a fancy-looking sofa.

As much I like the idea of optimising opportunities, it’s not always the best way forward, especially when it comes to decisions as big as buying a home – something we should really take time to think about and choose carefully. Panic buying toilet roll is one thing, rushing to buy a place to live (and now also work!) is another.