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Meet the brave property investors who saw the pandemic as the perfect opportunity

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Britain’s property market boomed in the pandemic thanks to the stamp duty holiday, pent-up demand and a race for space. 

Buyers outstripped homes for sale by 20-to-one and average asking prices climbed every month between January and July to reach an all-time high of £338,447, according to property website Rightmove. 

And the red-hot housing market has delivered for a legion of ‘property flippers’ who buy a home in need of improvement, refurbish it quickly and sell it on within 12 months. 

Quids in: Natalie Duke hopes to make £200,000 profit on her Essex home

Quids in: Natalie Duke hopes to make £200,000 profit on her Essex home

Exclusive analysis of official data for Money Mail by estate agent Hamptons International reveals that close to 19,000 homes were ‘flipped’ during the pandemic — and three-quarters sold for more than they were bought for, earning investors an average profit of £48,190. 

Many flippers were driven by the chance to save up to £15,000 after Chancellor Rishi Sunak scrapped stamp duty on the first £500,000 of property purchases until June 30. 

The tax-free threshold was pared back to £250,000 in July, but buyers in England and Northern Ireland can still save up to £2,500 before the holiday ends at the end of this month. 

Those who are buying a second home or an investment property, though, have to pay an extra 3pc on top of normal stamp duty rates. 

John Howard, a property developer and investor with 40 years’ experience, says: ‘Every property boom is slightly different. This boom is unique because it is self-made due to the stamp duty holiday and incredibly low interest rates. 

‘And families have been stuck at home, saving more, which means they can bring forward plans for five or ten years in the future to now.’ 

Bullish approach: Joe Robertson, pictured with partner Polly, made a £45,000 profit by buying and selling a house in the pandemic

Bullish approach: Joe Robertson, pictured with partner Polly, made a £45,000 profit by buying and selling a house in the pandemic

So investors bold enough to buy a bargain property in early 2020, when most other buyers were too nervous to make an offer, are now selling to a hot housing market full of househunters armed with cash savings. 

Natalie Duke may have become a property flipper by accident in the pandemic. 

The mother of two sold her home near Hampstead in North-West London to move out of the city. Natalie, who has worked on property interiors for the past 20 years, wanted more space, so she moved to a five-bedroom, Grade II-listed Georgian farmhouse in Saffron Walden, Essex, which she bought for £1.07million. 

I EARNED £45K DOING NOTHING 

Joe Robertson made a £45,000 profit by buying and selling a house in the pandemic — and he didn’t even have to carry out any renovations. The property surveyor caught the flipping bug after fully remodelling his own home and making £125,000 profit. 

So he decided to buy two more properties when the housing market reopened in May 2020. ‘I was very bullish,’ says the 31-year-old from Manchester. 

‘I like to go the opposite way to the market. But it’s not because I’m reckless, it’s down to research.’ 

Joe, who lives with his partner Polly Egan, 31, bought a three-bed semi-detached house in the suburb of Northenden for £205,000 in need of a full refurbishment; and another in Chorlton with 1960s decor for £320,000. 

He says: ‘I had an exit plan if property prices crashed, as some people feared. Having been a landlord in the past, I planned to rent them out. ‘I’d also heard whispers about a stamp duty holiday, which I thought would stabilise the market. So I was confident but also scared.’ 

But when Joe priced up the work needed on the Northenden house, he could see his hoped-for profit margin begin to shrink. He says: ‘The builders’ quotes were going up because everyone wanted home improvements.’ 

So Joe asked a local estate agent for advice. He says: ‘They told me to do nothing and put it back on the market, priced at £250,000. I accepted an offer for the asking price in two weeks.’ 

She spent the past seven months renovating it, spending about £100,000 and turning it into ‘a completely different house’. 

She has now decided to put it on the market and hopes to make at least £200,000 profit. Natalie, 59, bought the bigger house thinking her children, who were both furloughed during the pandemic, could live with her if they needed to. 

She says: ‘But now things have settled and they are back on their feet again. So while I didn’t set out to flip the property, I may do now.’ 

Saif and Gina Derzi, both 29, bought a three-bed detached house in Lincoln at the start of 2020, just before lockdown measures were introduced. It cost £172,000 with an 80pc bridging loan from Together Finance, and they spent around £90,000 doing it up. 

They sold the property in September to a cash buyer for £275,000 but Saif says if they had waited, they could have got perhaps £25,000 more. 

Saif, who lives in Lincoln, says that the cost of building materials has risen significantly over the past few months, as has the price of properties. 

He adds: ‘All of a sudden, everyone wants to be a developer. Over lockdown many people found they had more cash as they were spending less, and it created a market for people wanting to take on a project. Derelict properties are like gold dust.’ 

Higher taxes for buy-to-let landlords also mean property investors are turning to flipping. 

Jo Breeden, managing director of mortgage broker Crystal Specialist Finance, says: ‘Since tougher taxation rules came in that reduced landlords’ profits, flipping has become more popular. ‘The number of flipping transactions we’ve arranged has increased by 40pc in each of the past four years.’ 

But experts warn that when the furlough scheme and stamp duty holiday end, the market will reset. 

Early signs of a slowdown have already emerged, as annual growth fell from 8.7 pc to 7 pc between June and July, according to Halifax. 

Yet while sellers may be less enthusiastic about a market slowdown, it could pose more opportunities for property flippers to haggle with homeowners over house prices. 

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Japanese knotweed saves £11.8billion off property values  

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Japanese knotweed is responsible for shaving £11.8billion off the value of Britain’s property market, new research by a removal specialist claims.

As many as 4 per cent of British homes are affected by the invasive plant – either on the property itself or on a neighbouring property.

The invasive plant makes homes significantly more difficult to sell as buyers can struggle to secure a mortgage on a property where it is found.

However, Britain’s biggest mortgage lenders told us that is possible to get a mortgage for a home affected by knotweed, but conditions may be imposed.

Japanese knotweed is an invasive plant that makes a property significantly more difficult to sell as buyers

Japanese knotweed is an invasive plant that makes a property significantly more difficult to sell as buyers

Japanese knotweed on a property reduces its value by an average of 5 per cent, according to the figures from removal specialist Environet.

It used that to estimate that with 890,000 households across the county are being hit by a typical reduction of value of £13,200 due to knotweed, this equated to £11.8billion in total.

The plant can be stopped from spreading – although this process can be costly, at around £2,500 for a 10sq m area for a herbicide treatment or £5,000 for a 10 sq m for an excavation.

Environet claims that removing the root system from the ground is the only way to deal with Japanese knotweed decisively with minimal change of regrowth.

It said that despite the lower costs, herbicide treatment is increasingly recognised as a control method only. 

This is because above-ground growth can disappear, but the root system beneath the ground is often induced into dormancy meaning it’s capable of regrowing in the future – particularly if the ground is disturbed by landscaping or building work. 

Environet says removing the root system from the ground is the only way to deal with Japanese knotweed decisively with minimal change of regrowth

Environet says removing the root system from the ground is the only way to deal with Japanese knotweed decisively with minimal change of regrowth

Nic Seal, of Environet, said: ‘Those buying and selling property are legally required to declare if the property is or has been affected by Japanese knotweed, but if an infestation has been professionally excavated with an insurance-backed guarantee to satisfy mortgage lenders, it is possible to restore the property value to close to the original value.’

He added: ‘Herbicide treatment of knotweed has always been very popular due to the lower costs, but the message is getting through that it’s only a control method and won’t solve the problem definitively.

‘Buyers are much more wary of buying a property which still has knotweed rhizome beneath the ground as there’s no way of knowing whether it’s completely dead. There’s also an environmental cost to using chemicals, which is of growing concern.’

Environet explained that the excavation element can be carried out during the winter months, allowing for full use of gardens during the summer.

What mortgage lenders say about knotweed 

Mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, explained that those buying a property where Japanese knotweed is found may find it less of a deal breaker than in the past where the lender may have automatically declined a mortgage application.

SPF Private Clients’ Mark Harris, said: ‘Should Japanese knotweed be identified, there are four categorisations assessing its severity, with 1 being best-case scenario and 4 being worst-case. 

‘Depending on which silo the property falls into, and whether there is specialist eradication work either ongoing or planned, and insurance in place, lenders may be willing to consider the application.

‘Depending on the severity of the problem, lenders may tailor the amount they are prepared to lend, or not lend at all.’ 

While securing a mortgage on a property with knotweed can remain challenging, lenders confirmed that they are open to providing finance if a management plan is in place. 

A Nationwide Building Society spokesman said: ‘Our policy on Japanese Knotweed depends on how far the plant is from the property. If it is less than seven metres away from the property, we would request a specialist report about eradicating it before deciding whether we could lend. 

‘If the plant is more than seven metres away, we would need written confirmation from the borrower that they want to proceed with their mortgage application despite the presence of the plant. 

‘What may be required is assessed on a case by case basis. Where the valuer identifies the presence of Japanese Knotweed, they may advise that a specialist report is required with respect to eradicating the plant and, where applicable, to report on repairing the property. Any report for eradication of the plant should include an insurance-backed 5 year warranty against re-infestation.’ 

And spokesperson for Halifax explained: ‘The presence of Japanese Knotweed itself is not a barrier to lending. 

‘We will be guided by the surveyor’s, and any subsequent expert’s, report on the scale, location and effects of any presence on or around the property.’  

How were the figures calculated? 

Official figures from the ONS show there at 27.8million households in Britain.

Environet disregarded 20 per cent of households that are flats as these are less likely to be affected by knotweed. 

That produces a figure of 22,420,000 homes in Britain. 

Environet’s survey conducted with YouGov in 2021 revealed that around 4 per cent of homes are affected by knotweed, either directly – meaning that it grows on the property – or indirectly where a neighbouring property is affected. 

It means 889,600 homes are affected in total, according to Environet.

The average value of a property in Britain is £264,244, according to Land Registry’s figures for August. 

Environet claimed that Japanese knotweed reduces the value of a property by 5 per cent on average. This is based on its own anecdotal evidence of what a property is worth once a knotweed management plan is in place (ie the 5 per cent reflects the amount that a buyer might try to reduce an asking price by due to the stigma and risk of the knotweed returning after treatment or removal). 

The 5 per cent reduction translates into £13,212 being knocked off the average home.

As such, the total amount knocked off property values in Britain as a result of Japanese knotweed is therefore 889,600 households multiplied by £13,212, which is £11,753,395,200.

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Ikea offers personalised design service in Ireland

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Ikea is piloting a home design service in Ireland. The Swedish furniture giant opened the new service in Naas on Monday.

Customers will be able to consult the retailer’s in-house home interiors specialists at the new store. The company said the service would be free, personalised and one-to-one.

It said people would be able to talk through ideas for upgrading their kitchen, living room or wardrobes with a designer. They will also be able to order any Ikea products from the store for delivery. Unlike Ikea’s other smaller store in Carrickmines, south Dublin, there will be no items available on site to bring home on the day.

The company said Ireland was one of eight markets worldwide in which it is piloting the new service.

“This new service allows us to bring our home furnishing expertise to the many, with bespoke design solutions that best reflect our customer’s unique style and design challenges,” said Martyn Allan, Ikea’s market manager in Ireland. “At the same time, we get the opportunity to listen to and learn from our customers to continue to develop our store formats.

“We are so proud that Ireland is part of this pilot, offering us the opportunity to move closer to our customers in towns and cities currently without IKEA stores,” he added.

People looking for a design consultation will need to book in advance online. When the company confirms the booking, it will let the customer know what to bring with them, such as measurements or photographs.

Over one or two consultations – which will not cost anything – the designer will draw up a 3D plan which will be accessible on the Ikea website to the customer up to five days after the consultation.

The store on Naas Main Street will feature some room sets and the company says the consultations will operate in strict compliance with current public health guidelines.

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Dubs get exercised over digital dollars

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Dubliners are to be “paid” for a walk in the park with “civic dollars” they can cash in for coffee and cake and other goods and services, in an effort to encourage outdoor exercise.

Visitors to five parks in the Dublin 8 area can earn the community currency if they sign up for a new smart phone app to allow Dublin City Council to track their park use.

The scheme is being piloted in the area from the Liberties to Inchicore, following research by the council’s Smart D8 team which found just 40 per cent of local residents took regular exercise, but 92 per cent said they would use a park for exercise if it was available to them.

Visitors to St Audoen’s Park, St Patrick’s Park, Weaver Park and Oscar Square in the Liberties, and Grattan Park in Inchicore who use the app will be rewarded with civic dollars for every 30 minutes they spend in the park up to a limit of 5 dollars a day.

Data anonymised

The system uses GPS data and allows users to opt in once they enter a park. Their data is anonymised, and a user’s session will end automatically once they walk out of the park. Data gathered will be used by the council to analyse park usage and allow for future planning and infrastructure improvements.

The dollars can be cashed in for discounts in a number of local businesses including Little Bird cafe, the Bike Hub, Mobility Genie, the Digital Hub and Epic Ireland. The dollars can also be donated to community organisations for more expensive services including marketing or IT advice and legal consultations, with participating companies including Core Tech IT, Paul Saxon Consulting, Éire Graphic Design and VAVA Influencers.

The Smart D8 project was established earlier this year to investigate innovative approaches to improve citizens’ health and wellbeing in Dublin 8, with the involvement of St James’s Hospital and the Digital Hub.

The civic dollars pilot will run for five months, with the aim of attracting 1,000 users in the first two months, and could be rolled out to other parks in the city if successful.

Organisations accepting dollar donations include Warrenmount Community Education Centre, Robert Emmet Community Development Project, Solas Project and Fatima Groups United.

The scheme had the potential to “improve the health and wellbeing of our citizens”, Lord Mayor of Dublin Alison Gilliland said.

“We need to encourage increased use of our parks, and the civic dollars project will do that while having the added benefit of contributing to local businesses and community organisations.”


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