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Wealthy buyers want bigger homes, better wifi and a local pub

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The race for space among buyers of luxury homes shows no signs of slowing down despite the looming stamp duty holiday deadline, new research suggests.

Estate agent Savills said the desire for more room and land has driven the luxury homes market during the past year of the pandemic and that this looks set to continue.

This is despite a majority of buyers expecting to miss the looming stamp duty holiday deadline on June 30, it said.

This seven-bedroom detached house in Cornwall's Bude is for sale for £2.25million via Colwills estate agents

This seven-bedroom detached house in Cornwall’s Bude is for sale for £2.25million via Colwills estate agents

This five-bedroom detached house on St George's Hill in Surrey is for sale for £14.5million via estate agents Savills

This five-bedroom detached house on St George’s Hill in Surrey is for sale for £14.5million via estate agents Savills

Among buyers with the necessary financial security, the strong desire for larger homes with bigger gardens or in greener locations that are closer to family will continue to underpin demand in the coming months, Savills said.

More than two-thirds – at 71 per cent – of those currently in the middle of purchasing a property have no expectation of completing ahead of the deadline.

It means that a potential stamp duty saving was not factored into their decision-making process, according to the latest survey of around 750 Savills buyers and sellers conducted between June 4 and June 8.

The break on the first £500,000 of a home’s purchase price delivers a maximum £15,000 tax saving on properties costing at least that much.

A vast majority – at 85 per cent – of those still hoping to complete in time said that failure to do so would not affect their transaction in any way, rising to 90 per cent among those buying homes costing more than £1million.

One in 10 said they will look to renegotiate on price if they miss the deadline, perhaps splitting the difference with the seller, while only 5 per cent said they might choose not to progress with their transaction.

At the £2million-plus end of the market, all respondents said they expected to proceed as planned.

This six-bedroom detached house in Bournemouth, Dorset, is for sale for £1.65million via Mays estate agents

This six-bedroom detached house in Bournemouth, Dorset, is for sale for £1.65million via Mays estate agents

Frances Clacy, of Savills, said: ‘Lifestyle choices made during lockdown, or brought forward as a result of the experience of lockdown have almost totally dominated decision-making in the prime market over the past year and look set to do so over coming months.

‘Buyer and seller commitment to moving over the coming year remains strong although slightly lower than in June 2020 when the market reopened after the first lockdown.

‘The stamp duty holiday was announced in July, and while it may have brought forward some transactions, this survey tells us that it has not been the major motivator among equity rich home movers in the prime market.’

What buyers want: bigger homes, better wifi and a local pub

Lifestyle needs continue to dominate buyers’ wish lists, according to the estate agent.

It asked buyers to rank their top two ‘must haves’ in their new home, with more than half – at 54 per cent – of respondents naming extra living space, 40 per cent a larger garden, and 33 per cent an extra bedroom.

This desire for space remains at its most intense in London, with 59 per cent naming extra living space, 46 per cent a larger garden and 40 per cent an extra bedroom in their top two.

Home working looks set to continue to form part of people’s working week, with 41 per cent naming a separate working-from-home space in their top two.

And a net balance of 55 per cent said that quality wifi had become more important during the past year, with 35 per cent saying it was now significantly more important.

This seven-bedroom detached house in Kew, Surrey, is on the market for £8.5million via estate agents Antony Roberts-Kew

This seven-bedroom detached house in Kew, Surrey, is on the market for £8.5million via estate agents Antony Roberts-Kew

Ms Clacy added: ‘The pandemic has made people re-evaluate what they want from their homes and their leisure time, with many prioritising a better work-life balance.

‘In a light-hearted illustration of this, 15 per cent of respondents want their new home to be located close to a pub or restaurant, trumping proximity to work at just 12 per cent.’

Stamp duty holiday 

The stamp duty holiday applies to properties worth up to £500,000 until June 30.

After June, the stamp duty-free threshold drops to £250,000 until the end of September. 

She added: ‘In London, however, it’s a slightly different picture, and there’s evidence of buyers starting to prioritise a return to the office in their choice of home.

‘Being close to public transport is a key consideration for home buyers again, second now only to proximity to a park. 

‘Over four in ten – at 43 per cent – in the capital now wish to live close to a station, compared to just 19 per cent across the prime regional markets, and up from 39 per cent in March.

‘But even though it’s rare for Londoners not to have a pub or restaurant within close walking distance, proximity to a pub – a top two essential for 11 per cent of respondents – still trumps proximity to work at just 9 per cent.’

‘More widely, while demand remains strong, realistic pricing from the offset is important to secure a sale and will become even more so once the stamp duty holiday ends particularly if, as we expect, stock constraints begin to ease over coming months as those reluctant to sell while social distancing rules have been in place bring their homes to market.’

The survey was based on attitudes in the luxury homes market, defined as broadly the top 5 per cent by value.

This nine-bedroom detached house in Sculthorpe, Norfolk, is for sale for £1.8million via Fine & Country estate agents

This nine-bedroom detached house in Sculthorpe, Norfolk, is for sale for £1.8million via Fine & Country estate agents

Mortgage experts explained how stamp duty isn’t a priority for buyers at the moment – although it is an attractive saving. 

Tomer Aboody, of property lender MT Finance, said: ‘With house prices increasing at levels not seen in years, even if buyers miss the deadline and have to pay stamp duty, the increase in value of the property going forward could well outweigh this outlay.

‘Given the lack of property for sale, we are finding many buyers are simply grateful to find a suitable home to buy. Stamp duty isn’t the priority but the saving is a bonus. 

‘Buyers’ desires have changed, from wanting and needing to be near the city in order to get into work, towards a more flexible outlook which enables them to work from home. This shift has had a huge impact on buyers wanting space, both internally and externally, with gardens and home offices at the top of the list.

‘In a best-case scenario, buyers will push through their purchase before the end of the month. But if that doesn’t happen they may be able to agree to split the difference with the seller.’

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Courts Service contradicts Garda declaration journalists were barred from court

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The Courts Service has openly contradicted An Garda Síochána’s declaration that journalists were barred from a court sitting in Waterford earlier this month on the orders of a district justice.

Former Fianna Fáil election candidate Kieran Hartley appeared before Judge Brian O’Shea at Dungarvan District Court on October 13th on a Section 6 public order charge for allegedly committing an offence against a family member of a local garda.

Journalists Eoghan Dalton and Christy Parker were barred for more than three hours from entering the court chamber by two gardaí, who said they had been told the judge had directed that no press be allowed in.

The decision to bar the press – the second time that this has happened to a court hearing where Judge O’Shea was sitting following an incident at a Dublin hearing in 2017 – has now been raised with Garda management.

During exchanges with the reporters, who questioned the decision, one garda said “no one is allowed in this morning”, and while they “honestly” did not “know any details of it” they had been “directed by the court to not allow anyone into it”.

The Garda Press Office later that day insisted “the presiding judge had directed that the court be cleared of persons not involved in the case” as a “voir dire” was in operation.

A voir dire normally occurs when a judge seeks to determine an issue in the course of a trial rather than in advance of one, and very rarely applies at District Court level. Journalists may witness proceedings but not report the details.

Direction

Questioned later, however, the press office said: “The court garda cleared the court as requested by the judge”, and that “it is understood that members of the media who so arrived after that point were inadvertently prevented from accessing the courtroom”.

The Courts Service on Friday said: “At no stage did Judge O’Shea or Courts Service officials issue a direction that the case should be held otherwise than in public”.

“The court sitting at Dungarvan District Court on Wednesday, October 13th, was a public hearing. It involved the hearing of certain arguments in a case, before the ‘substantive’ matter might be heard at another time,” the spokesman said.

“In the absence of an order the law requires that the proceedings take place in public: we are committed to that principle. The alleged actions of gardaí in not allowing access to some media is a matter for Garda management.

“These issues have been raised with Garda management,” said the Courts Service, which is understood to have checked its own records carefully ahead of making its public statement.

When the case came to court on September 22nd, solicitor Paddy Gordon, acting for defence solicitor Frank Buttimer, questioned the legitimacy of statements presented by An Garda Síochána. Mr Gordon claimed they were “not our statements and we want them examined forensically”.

Deferring the matter to the October 13th sitting of Dungarvan District Court, Judge O’Shea instructed that investigating Garda Tom Daly be present, along with his notebook and all original statements.

The judge also asked that Tramore District Superintendent Paul O’Driscoll attend the hearing, which would commence at 10am prior to the main court business.

Candidate

Mr Hartley unsuccessfully contested the 2014 European elections as Fianna Fáil’s Ireland South candidate. He resigned from the party acrimoniously in 2018 following his criticism of its handling of matters related to convicted paedophile Bill Kenneally, whose cousin Brendan was a former Fianna Fáil junior minister.

Judge O’Shea did not issue a written verdict on the present case against Mr Hartley, but it is understood the Garda testaments will stand as presented when it is heard.

Mr Buttimer said he was “not in a position to comment at present”.

Sinn Féin’s justice spokesman Martin Kenny said it was “highly unusual” and that he would be writing to Garda headquarters seeking an explanation. “Justice has to be seen to be done as well as being done, and I find it quite alarming that we’d be in this situation.”

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Darlington is cheapest for homes, London’s Kensington most expensive

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We all know about the North-South divide. We all know about the Prime Minister’s attempt at ‘levelling up’. We all know about the crumbling Red Wall.

But when it comes to property, the facts of the matter tell their own story. According to Churchill Home Insurance, Darlington in County Durham is the cheapest place to buy a property in the country, at just £58 per square foot.

Which is staggering when you compare it to the most expensive — Kensington in central London, where the average price per square foot stands at £1,721. 

Imposing: The Clock Tower in Darlington, County Durham - the cheapest place to buy a property in the country, at just £58 per square foot

Imposing: The Clock Tower in Darlington, County Durham – the cheapest place to buy a property in the country, at just £58 per square foot

Music giants Robbie Williams and Eric Clapton have homes in this exclusive royal borough home, as do entrepreneurs Sir Richard Branson and Sir James Dyson.

But here’s the twist: anyone looking to take advantage of Darlington’s prices might have to move fast because there are plans to turn this market town into the hottest property in the north.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is opening up a smart new division of the Treasury there over the next five years, moving about a quarter of the department. 

That’s about 400 people, many of whom will be local recruits. ‘We’re giving talented people in the North-East the opportunity to work in the heart of Government, making decisions on important issues for our country,’ explains Sunak.

So what are the draws of these polar-opposite locations?

Kensington is one of the crown jewels of London neighbourhoods featuring not just top museums but also a host of chic cafes, boutique shops, and even Kensington Palace, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live with their children.

There are three Zone 1 underground stations and several independent schools, and you’re a stroll away from the West End. 

Upmarket: A terrace in Kensington, London, where the average price per square foot stands at £1,721

Upmarket: A terrace in Kensington, London, where the average price per square foot stands at £1,721

Top restaurants include Daphne’s and Launceston Place — both favourites of the late Princess Diana — and the iconic Bibendum with two Michelin stars.

There’s no surprises when it comes to property values in this area; they’re stellar. The cheapest property in Kensington for sale on Rightmove in the middle of October was priced at £40,000 and that was just a space in a car park. 

The most expensive listing, by contrast, was a seven- bedroom semi, with an eye-watering asking price of £30 million.

Of just over 510 property sales in the past year, the average price was a slightly more modest £2,169,235, according to Zoopla, but that’s after prices took a 4 per cent knock as fewer people bought in London during the pandemic.

It’s a different story in Darlington, which has a modest average property price of £172,724, according to Zoopla. 

But things are changing; there have been more than 1,600 property sales in the past 12 months and prices have gently risen 4.5 per cent. The most expensive home on sale is a four-bedroom detached house with grounds, for £700,000.

However that’s still an exception, with many more at the other end of the scale, where there are several two-bedroom terrace houses for sale at £45,000.

If you’re moving in, bone up on railway history — the world’s first steam train service began here almost 200 years ago. 

Otherwise, look out for a twice-weekly street market, the revamped Hippodrome theatre and the odd tribute to comic Vic Reeves and businessman Duncan Bannatyne, both brought up in the town.

Darlington is brimming with well-preserved Victorian buildings while you can stroll in the beautiful South Park. If you’re after the best of local food, the two-Michelin starred Raby Hunt Restaurant is the place to go.

The town has the buzz of a place on the move — there are modernisations under way at both the railway station (2 ½ hours to London, 30 minutes to Newcastle) and the indoor market.

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak’s Treasury initiative is already putting Darlington on the map. ‘I know of several people from London who have moved here thanks to working remotely,’ says estate agent Henry Carver of Carver Residential. 

On the market: North-South divide 

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Facebook admits high-profile users are treated differently

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Facebook’s oversight board said the social media company hadn’t been “fully forthcoming” about internal rules that allowed some high-profile users to be exempt from content restrictions and said it will make recommendations on how to change the system.

In the first of its quarterly transparency reports published Thursday, the board said that on some occasions, Facebook “failed to provide relevant information to the board,” and in other instances the information it did provide was incomplete.

For example, when Facebook referred the case involving former US president Donald Trump to the board, it didn’t mention its internal “cross-check system” that allowed for a different set of rules for high-profile users.

Facebook only mentioned cross-check, or XCheck, to the board when asked whether Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content moderation processes.

The cross-check system was disclosed in recent reporting by the Wall Street Journal, based in part on documents from a whistle-blower.

The journal described how the cross-check system, originally intended to be a quality-control measure for a select few high-profile users and designed to avoid public relations backlash over famous people who mistakenly have their posts taken down, had ballooned to include millions of accounts.

The oversight board said it will undertake a review of the cross-check system and make suggestions on how to improve it.

As part of the process, Facebook has agreed to share with the board relevant documents about the cross-check system as reported in the Wall Street Journal. – Bloomberg

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