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Families escape to the countryside as first-time buyers return to the cities 

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Families are escaping to the country and coast, while first-time buyers are returning to cities, according to new data on what buyers want as the property market booms.

It is the latest evidence of shifts in the buyer behaviour amid the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns, with families chasing suburban, seaside and village life and first-time buyers trying to take advantage of weaker city centre housing markets.

While families tend to be seeking more space at home and outdoors, first-time buyers are looking to set up home in urban areas, a pair of studies from property portals Zoopla and Rightmove show.

This three-bedroom house in Scarborough is for sale for £380,000 via estate agents Reeds Rains

This three-bedroom house in Scarborough is for sale for £380,000 via estate agents Reeds Rains

GROWTH IN DEMAND FOR TWO AND THREE-BEDROOM HOUSES
Rank Local Authority Region Demand growth for 2 & 3 bed houses* Average value of 2 and 3-bed house
1 Scarborough Yorkshire and the Humber 142% £197,000
2 Weymouth and Portland South West 115% £235,000
3 Forest Heath Eastern 111% £227,000
4 Falkirk Scotland 108% £142,000
5 Basingstoke and Deane South East 103% £320,000
6 Gosport South East 102% £238,000
7 Reading South East 97% £311,000
8 Harrow London 94% £578,000
9 Worcester West Midlands 86% £201,000
10 Redditch West Midlands 85% £219,000
Source: Zoopla       
* Demand growth for two and three-bed houses – eight weeks from 08/03 vs previous eight weeks 

First-time buyers are being bolstered by the launch of the Government-backed 5 per cent deposit mortgage guarantee scheme, while more families are heading out house hunting as coronavirus restrictions ease, the reports said.

Zoopla said there has been a 25 per cent increase in buyer demand in the past two months, after schools reopened.

It defined buyer demand as people who are actively viewing and engaged in finding out more about a property, such as through calls and emails to agents.

The property website said the rise was amplified by the announcement that the stamp duty holiday would be extended, along with the rapid vaccine rollout.

It said that two and three-bedroom homes – which are perfect for families – remain in strong demand across Britain, with the seaside resort of Scarborough seeing a 142 per cent increase in demand for such homes, the biggest of any area.

For four and five-bedroom properties, commuter favourite Cambridge tops the list with a huge increase in demand of 182 per cent. 

While property prices for two and three-bedroom properties in Scarborough are above the regional average, home hunters do get more bang for their buck with the Zoopla data showing that houses in this area are typically more spacious than those in other parts of Yorkshire.

There is no such luck in Cambridge, where the average home costs £685,000, but with its easy access to London and wide range of Ofsted-rated Outstanding schools, Zoopla said it is easy to see why the demand for family homes has been boosted by the return to school. 

At the same time, separate research from Rightmove suggested that city-centre living is staging a comeback, with buyer demand for flats increasing by 39 per cent since January.

York, Norwich, Sheffield, Birmingham, Glasgow, Cardiff and Manchester are among the cities that have experienced buyer demand in their centres increasing since the start of 2021, it said.

It added that while larger family homes have tended to be the strongest performers in the housing market over the past year, the focus is now shifting to flats.

This two-bedroom house in Weymouth is for sale for £237,000 via estate agents Austin Estate

This two-bedroom house in Weymouth is for sale for £237,000 via estate agents Austin Estate

Zoopla said that overall demand is highest in areas with house prices that are below the regional average.

Picturesque Weymouth and Portland, located at the southern tip of the Jurassic Coast, has seen demand for two and three-bedroom homes soar by 115 per cent since the reopening of schools.

Average prices in this area for this property type stand at £235,000, 15 per cent below the regional average in the South West.  

It is a similar case in Forest Heath, Suffolk where demand has increased by 111 per cent, and Falkirk in Scotland at 108 per cent, the latter of which is consistently one of the fastest moving property markets in Great Britain.

All these areas offer great value for money, with prices well below the regional average.

GROWTH IN DEMAND FOR FOUR AND FIVE-BEDROOM HOUSES
Rank Local Authority Region Demand growth for 4 & 5 bed houses* Average value of 4 and 5-bed house
1 Cambridge Eastern 182% £685,000
2 Angus Scotland 104% £276,000
3 Hastings South East 92% £416,000
4 Watford Eastern 87% £771,000
5 Wyre Forest West Midlands 81% £332,000
6 Stroud South West 80% £397,000
7 Horsham South East 79% £644,000
= Surrey Heath South East 79% £699,000
9 Teignbridge South West 76% £411,000
10 Stratford-on-Avon West Midlands 73% £517,000
Source: Zoopla       
* Demand growth for four and five-bed houses – eight weeks from 08/03 vs previous eight week 
This five-bedroom house in Cambridge is for sale for £675,000 via estate agents Sharman Quinney

This five-bedroom house in Cambridge is for sale for £675,000 via estate agents Sharman Quinney

Most locations that have seen the largest increase in demand for four and five-bedroom homes are located in rural or coastal areas.

Scenic areas in the South East – including Hastings at 92 per cent, Horsham at 79 per cent and Surrey Heath at 79 per cent – feature strongly.

In the South West, Stroud and Teignbridge feature in the top 10, with an increase in demand of 80 per cent and 76 per cent respectively.

Stroud is located near The Cotswolds and has good quality schools and green spaces. Meanwhile,

Teignbridge encompasses a wide range of pretty towns and villages, part of the Dartmoor National Park and coastline.

Other rural areas that feature in the list include Wyre Forest and Stratford on Avon in the West Midlands, well known for being the birthplace of Shakespeare.

Both areas have seen an increase in demand for four and five-bedroom homes at 81 per cent and 73 per cent respectively. 

This four-bedroom property for sale in Tiwckenham is for sale for £1,100,000 via estate agents Sne

This four-bedroom property in Twickenham is for sale for £1,100,000 via estate agents Snellers

GROWTH IN DEMAND FOR TWO AND THREE-BEDROOM HOUSES IN LONDON
London Borough Demand growth for 2 & 3 bed houses* Average value of 2 and 3-bed house
Harrow 94% £578,000
Bexley 82% £429,000
Merton 63% £539,000
Source: Zoopla     
* Demand growth for two and three-bed houses in London – eight weeks from 08/03 vs previous eight week

Zoopla suggested that there has also been an increase in demand for family homes in London.

Demand has increased most for two and three-bedroom houses in Harrow, which is up 94 per cent, Bexley at 82 per cent and Merton at 63 per cent.

These boroughs have become particularly popular among families seeking houses in the capital at more affordable prices, Zoopla said.

The largest growth in demand for four and five bedroom homes is in leafy Sutton at 57 per cent and Richmond upon Thames at 50 per cent, followed by Kensington and Chelsea at 50 per cent.

Gráinne Gilmore, of Zoopla, said: ‘The reopening of schools in early March was a key moment for the residential property market, alongside the extension of the stamp duty holiday, with buyer demand rising by some 25 per cent in March and April compared to the first two months of the year.

‘The data signals that in more affordable areas buyer interest is rising for two and three-bedroom houses. On the other hand, buyer demand is rising at the highest rates for four and five-bedroom houses in the areas where these homes are typically larger than the average signalling that a need for additional space is a factor driving interest in this segment of the market.’

GROWTH IN FOUR AND FIVE-BEDROOM HOUSES IN LONDON
Rank Local Authority Region Demand growth for 4 & 5 bedroom houses Average value of 4 and 5-bed house
1 Cambridge Eastern 182% £685,000
2 Angus Scotland 104% £276,000
3 Hastings South East 92% £416,000
4 Watford Eastern 87% £771,000
5 Wyre Forest West Midlands 81% £332,000
6 Stroud South West 80% £397,000
7 Horsham South East 79% £644,000
= Surrey Heath South East 79% £699,000
9 Teignbridge South West 76% £411,000
10 Stratford-on-Avon West Midlands 73% £517,000
Source: Zoopla       
* Demand growth for four and five-bed houses – eight weeks from 08/03 vs previous eight week
INCREASE IN BUYER DEMAND BY PROPERTY TYPE – APRIL 2021 V JANUARY 2021
Property type Change in buyer demand April 2021 vs Jan 2021
Flat 39%
Bungalow 30%
Detached house 26%
Terraced house 24%
Semi-detached house 23%
Source: Rightmove   

Rightmove also measured buyer demand by the number of people contacting estate agents to request more details about a property for sale on its website.

The easing of coronavirus restrictions and the recent introduction of the Government-backed 5 per cent deposit mortgage guarantee scheme are said to be helping to boost demand.

A Rightmove survey of more than 1,000 first-time buyers found that nearly one in five – at 17 per cent per cent – are planning to use the mortgage guarantee scheme or are already using it.

The study also indicated that while the desire to move to a quieter location has been driving parts of the housing market during the past year, this is not as appealing to first-time buyers.

While more than a quarter – at 28 per cent – of existing homeowners planning to move in the next 12 months cited a move to the countryside or coast as their motivation, only 10 per cent of first-time buyers were considering doing this.

Rightmove’s housing expert Tim Bannister said: ‘These are early signs but they certainly point to some good news for city centres across Britain, with a number of agents now telling me they’ve seen a marked uptick in demand from first-time buyers, and they’re managing to sell city-centre flats more quickly than in earlier months of the year.

‘People starting to venture in to their local high streets and once again experiencing the buzz of their city centres, along with greater mortgage availability for first-time buyers, means city centres are staging a much-needed comeback in the market.

‘Right now some buyers are able to grab a relative city bargain compared to the heady price growth outside cities, but these early signs of demand could be the start of city prices rising again.’

INCREASE IN BUYER DEMAND – APRIL 2021 V January 2021
City centre Change in buyer demand April 2021 vs Jan 2021
York City Centre 76%
Norwich City Centre 62%
Sheffield City Centre 57%
Southampton City Centre 55%
Leicester City Centre 53%
Newcastle City Centre 51%
Nottingham City Centre 39%
Leeds City Centre 39%
Birmingham City Centre 39%
Inner London 30%
Oxford City Centre 28%
Glasgow City Centre 28%
Liverpool City Centre 28%
Chester City Centre 24%
Edinburgh City Centre 23%
Hull City Centre 22%
Durham City Centre 17%
Cardiff City Centre 11%
Manchester City Centre 11%
Bristol City Centre 5%
Source: Rightmove   

Andy McHugo, of James Laurence estate agents in Birmingham, said: ‘Not only are inquiry levels fantastic, committed residential buyers are now returning.

‘The dynamic may have changed slightly, so apartments with balconies or terraces are proving popular, as are those with room for a home office, a second and third bedroom for example.’

He said large company relocations to Birmingham and entrepreneurial start-ups help make the city ‘an exciting place in which to invest, and indeed live’.

Steve Pymm, of Pymm & Co in Norwich, said: ‘The market has been crying out for 95 per cent mortgages for years, so since the release of these lower deposit-based products the first-time buyer is back and they’re snapping up apartments and starter homes.’

City centre Average asking price Apr-21 Average asking price Jan-21 % change
Leeds City Centre £159,972 £166,760 -4%
Sheffield City Centre £124,097 £128,606 -4%
Nottingham City Centre £178,390 £183,542 -3%
Cardiff City Centre £209,130 £212,521 -2%
Southampton City Centre £206,637 £209,586 -1%
Liverpool City Centre £161,860 £163,900 -1%
Birmingham City Centre £215,604 £217,524 -1%
Norwich City Centre £226,354 £228,258 -1%
Manchester City Centre £230,796 £231,766 0%
Newcastle City Centre £170,512 £170,148 0%
Hull City Centre £127,208 £126,776 0%
London (first-time buyer prices) £477,001 £474,950 0%
Glasgow City Centre £172,425 £170,291 1%
Source: Rightmove      

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Buy-to-let landlords didn’t take advantage of the stamp duty holiday to buy more

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Britain’s landlords did not embrace the stamp duty holiday with the same fervour as owner occupiers, new research suggests. 

Buy-to-let investors completed tens of thousands fewer transactions than they did during a similar 15-month period in 2016, despite rents heading higher in much of Britain during the pandemic. 

The share of properties bought by landlords in the run-up to the tax holiday, which started in July 2020, was 11 per cent – and only rose to 12 per cent during it, according to estate agent Hamptons International.

The stamp duty holiday failed to leabeing in to take advantage of rising rents

The stamp duty holiday failed to lead to a buy-to-let boom, despite landlords being eligible for the tax saving of up to £15,000 and having the chance to take advantage of rising rents

This was despite rents rising at their fastest pace for more than a decade in the year to July. 

There were a total of 215,000 investor purchases across Britain between July 2020 and September 2021. 

This was below the 242,400 purchases which were made during the 15-month run up to the introduction of the 3 per cent stamp duty surcharge for landlords on 1 April 2016.

During the stamp duty holiday, the average landlord who did buy a property saved £3,000, the equivalent of around three months’ rent and a 35 per cent reduction on their £8,500 average tax bill before July 2020.

What was the stamp duty holiday?  

The stamp duty holiday was introduced by chancellor Rishi Sunak in July 2020, in a bid to jump-start the housing market after the first national lockdown. 

It lasted for 15 months in total. From July 2020 to July 2021, both owner-occupiers and investors could save up to £15,000, as they did not need to pay stamp duty on the portion of any property purchase under £500,000.

From July to September 2021, the limit was reduced to £250,000, offering them a maximum saving of £2,500. The rates returned to pre-pandemic levels on 1 October.  

Average bills are set to return to around £8,400 from 1 October 2021, just below what investors were paying on the eve of the stamp duty holiday. 

The figures suggest landlords were not willing to outbid home buyers as house prices continued to rocket. 

This may have been a result of increasing taxes and regulations on landlords over the past few years, which started with the introduction of the 3 per cent surcharge in 2016. 

At the time, many landlords bought up properties beforehand to get in under the wire.  

As well as the standard stamp duty bill, buy-to-let investors and anyone buying a second home must pay a 3 per cent surcharge on top of the standard rates for owner-occupiers.

In the run-up to that policy being introduced, the proportion of home sales made up by landlords in Britain was much higher at 17 per cent, according to Hamptons.

The deeply unpopular surcharge is often cited by landlords as a reason for not expanding their portfolio, or even quitting the market altogether.

Landlords bought up more homes ahead of the introduction of new taxes on buy-to-let in 2016, than they did during the stamp duty holiday over the past 15 months

Landlords bought up more homes ahead of the introduction of new taxes on buy-to-let in 2016, than they did during the stamp duty holiday over the past 15 months

Overall, the stamp duty holiday meant that the average investor paid less in stamp duty than at any time since April 2016, when the 3 per cent stamp duty surcharge was introduced.

Despite this, the average bill during the holiday remained twice the level it was before the surcharge was introduced. 

What about those landlords who did buy?

There is little indication that landlords who did buy properties during the stamp duty holiday took advantage of the saving to buy bigger properties in more expensive areas.

Instead, 83 per cent of investor purchases were under £250,000, meaning their savings from the holiday were significantly smaller than those enjoyed by home movers.

During the holiday the average price paid by a landlord rose by just 1 per cent to £181,000, despite wider house price growth of 10 per cent over the same period. 

Landlords who did buy homes during the stamp duty holiday paid just 1% more for them, despite house prices as a whole rising by as much as 10% according to some estimates

Landlords who did buy homes during the stamp duty holiday paid just 1% more for them, despite house prices as a whole rising by as much as 10% according to some estimates

According to the September House Price Index from Nationwide, £22,613 has been added to the cost of the average home in just a year, with the average price of a home increasing 10 per cent to £248,742.

Commenting Aneisha Beveridge, head of research at Hamptons, said: ‘The overall impact of the stamp duty holiday on investor activity has been relatively muted.

‘The holiday resulted in a small uplift in the number of new buy-to-let investors, but despite their reduced bills, they were not outbidding owner-occupiers on any significant scale.’

What is happening to rents? 

Average rental growth across Britain hit 8 per cent in September, the third fastest annual rate of growth recorded this year, according to Hamptons.  

Regions in the South of England, but outside of London, led the way.  

The South West saw the highest rent increases in the past year, reaching £1,011

The South West saw the highest rent increases in the past year, reaching £1,011

The average rent on a new home rose 14.8 per cent to £1,011 in the South West, 14.7 per cent to £1,252 in the South East and 10.8 per cent to £1,106 in the East of England.

September marked the sixth consecutive month where annual rental growth hit double figures in the South West. 

The region has benefited from people relocating away from cities during the pandemic, as well as an increased appetite for longer-term holiday lets. 

London rents have also continued to recover. 

Although Inner London was the only region in the UK to see a decline in rents year-on-year, the 4.4 per cent or £100 year-on-year fall was far smaller than the 22.1 per cent decrease recorded in April when the market bottomed out.

In Outer London, rents grew 3.2 per cent annually in September, rising for the thirteenth consecutive month. This kept Greater London rents overall in positive territory, up 1.8 per cent year-on-year.

Beveridge added: ‘While rental growth rates typically peak over the summer months, this year they have continued to rise into the autumn. 

‘This means average monthly rents have passed £1,100 for the first time nationally, led by big increases on larger homes. 

‘The average four-bed home now costs 120 per cent more than a one-bed, up from 95 per cent pre-pandemic. 

‘While we are expecting this growth to moderate in the final few months of the year, it is likely 2021 will mark some of the fastest rates of rental growth in a generation.’

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Johann van Graan non-committal on prospect of Conor Murray return

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Johann van Graan was somewhat less than adamant that Conor Murray will make his seasonal re-appearance in their United Rugby Championship (URC) fifth round match away to the Ospreys next Saturday night, which is just two weeks out from the first of Ireland’s November test series, with the All Blacks to follow a week later.

“He might possibly be involved next week,” said the Munster head coach after their latest act of escapology to beat Connacht 20-18 at Thomond Park on Saturday night.

Might possibly?

“We’ll see how the week goes. We’ve taken our time with his recovery, so if he comes through the week then we’ll make a call at the back end of the week whether we’re going to select him or not.”

Van Graan assured us that Murray is not injured.

“No, he’s good. He had non-23 training on Friday so really looking forward to getting him involved.”

Van Graan wore the smile of a relieved man after Connacht had pushed them to the wire with a clever, fired-up all-round display in a spicy derby, during which the lead changed hands five times.

“I think if you look at the table, it’s three Irish teams at the top. Connacht are always such a big team in the interpros and you’ve got to give credit to them. Last season they beat all three of the Irish teams away.

“That’s why the players and the coaches and the supporters, and everybody involved loves an interpro, because that’s what you get. It’s not a classic but for the purist it’s a battle.

“That’s what the game is about and that’s why Irish rugby is in such a good place because they have got four top teams and some very good players across the four teams. That was a grind from our side, and proud of the way we finished that with that try and the conversion,” he said in reference to Diarmuid Barron’s 78th minute try and Joey Carbery’s nerveless conversion.

His counterpart, Andy Friend, was left with immense pride in his team’s performance mixed with acute frustration at their infuriating inconsistency and key mistakes, not least at restart receptions, but also the key decisions that went against his team.

Most notable of these was the failure by TMO Brian MacNeice and referee Chris Busby to spot that Tadhg Beirne was clearly in front of the ball before hacking on Rory Scannell’s crosskick in the build-up to Chris Cloete’s 39th minute try.

“I’ve got to be careful here,” he said when asked if he felt Connacht don’t receive a fair rub of the green from officials. “I’ve been here three and a bit years, mate, and if it’s a 50-50 I rarely see it going our way.

“I know that, but listen we’ve got to keep pushing our limits and making sure that we’re trying to be as squeaky clean as we can with things. I’m just…. to me, that try and the missed offside there – that’s inexcusable. Whether it’s Connacht or somebody else, I don’t know, it’s just inexcusable.”

To compound his frustrations, nor does the URC have channels to go through.

“We don’t have a referees’ manager, so I’m assuming that URC will be looking at that and hopefully something happens to the TMO that missed it. But it doesn’t help us, mate.”

Putting his own team’s errors into perspective, Friend highlighted their lineout pressure, strike plays, kicking and defence.

“On the whole the majority was really good, there’ll always be elements we need to work on. Otherwise we’d be out of a job.”

With next Saturday’s home game against Ulster at the Aviva in mind, Friend said: “What we will use is that we know we’re a good football side.

“We’ve just pushed a good Munster team who haven’t looked like losing a game this year and have played some really good rugby.

“We’ve turned up at their home field, where we beat them last season, knowing full well there was going to be a kick-back and we pushed them all the way to their limits.

“So, we know we’re a good football side. Our blip last week (against the Dragons) was a blip. We just have to make sure we never drop to that again and we keep our standards high.”

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Irish man (24) who drowned in swimming pool in Marbella is named

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A 24-year-old man who drowned in a swimming pool near Marbella in Spain has been named locally in Co Clare as Irish Defence Forces member Gerard McMahon.

Authorities responded to a distress call at 10.25am on Friday. The alarm was raised by friends who found Mr McMahon lifeless in the pool.

Spanish authorities are treating the death of the holiday maker as a “tragic accident”.

Mr McMahon lived in the Killaloe area of Co Clare. Local priest Fr Jerry O’Brien confirmed he had met the family of the young man and expressed his sympathy on behalf of the community.

Ogonnelloe GAA posted a tribute to Mr McMahon who was well known and liked in the community.

“It is with profound shock and sadness that we learned today of the sudden passing of our young member and friend, Gerard McMahon. Our thoughts and prayers are with his parents, Pat and Carmel, his sister Bríd, and all the McMahon family at this extremely difficult time.”

The club Facebook page posted a picture of Mr McMahon from 2016 when he and his team mates won the Division 3 League.

Scarriff Hurling also paid tribute to Mr McMahon who played for them at juvenile level. “Always with pride, great skill and giving all to the team and club.”

Meanwhile, local Fine Gael councillor Joe Cooney said the family of the young man were in the thoughts and prayers of the community.

Mr McMahon was a Private in the First Infantry Battalion in Renmore Barracks in Galway. St Patrick’s Garrison Church posted a message on Facebook asking for prayers for Mr McMahon and for his “family and comrades”.

A postmortem was expected to take place over the weekend at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Malaga.

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