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Love thy neighbour: Forget Location, buyers are looking for community

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The mantra for house movers before the pandemic was Location, Location, Location. But now, as people seek more comfort and security in their everyday lives, there’s a new call: Community, Community, Community.

Government figures show that after coronavirus hit the UK last spring, 64 per cent of adults said they supported their community by doing additional voluntary work; 63 per cent had checked on those living nearby and 37 per cent had done shopping or other tasks for older neighbours; all big increases on levels before the crisis. 

‘A real sense of community has climbed the list of priorities for housebuyers and for many is now a must-have rather than a would-like,’ says Rachel Johnston, of Stacks Property Search, a buying agency. ‘Buyers are doing surgical research into what a community offers.’

One for all: Cafes and the market in Shropshire’s Ludlow - a town with a long-standing foodie tradition and a community group

One for all: Cafes and the market in Shropshire’s Ludlow – a town with a long-standing foodie tradition and a community group

As well as more space both indoors, for an office, and outdoors in the fresh air, today’s buyers want something extra – the security of an active neighbourhood.

Here are some of the best examples of communities in action…

Tip-top Topsham

The historic estuary town of Topsham, near Exeter in Devon, where house prices average £545,000, is a flurry of sailing and activity groups and has a strong community vibe, too. 

The Love Topsham volunteer group, funded by residents’ and shops’ donations, has installed waterside benches to help cafes and restaurants unable to allow customers inside.

The group also operates a website publicising ad-hoc menus and deals from local businesses, set up the Christmas lights and ran a programme of street musicians to entertain socially distanced shoppers waiting in line.

Hampshire hub

Estate agents say the county of Hampshire is a new hotspot for Londoners quitting the capital and seeking a thriving community spirit.

‘The village of Abbotts Ann near Andover has a village shop run by the community providing a hub where villagers interact safely,’ says Ben Home of Middleton Advisors, a buying agency.

Emma Seaton, of Prime Purchase, adds: ‘There’s been a surge in WhatsApp groups in our village. People we didn’t even know lived there were suddenly in need of a prescription or milk, which neighbours were more than happy to assist with.’

Yorkshire cheer

Todmorden may look familiar to viewers of the Happy Valley TV series, but the village is a hive of community groups in its own right.

One of the best known is Incredible Edible, which was set up a decade ago to promote veg-growing on open spaces and has Prince Charles as an early supporter. Now dozens of other Incredible Edible groups operate across the country.

‘The community buzz created by this and other groups has attracted people to this part of Yorkshire,’ says Gavin Keen, a property consultant based in Manchester, 25 miles south of the town.

Byfield spirit

A Good Neighbour Scheme was set up in Byfield before the pandemic, but now it’s become a Covid-safe help network. Requests from those needing assistance come in via WhatsApp and are then distributed to a community of more than 40 ‘hunter-gatherers’.

One of those already going out for, say, family shopping then agrees to get additional items for those making the request. Then each afternoon there’s a delivery run to drop off the medicines or foodstuffs.

The combination of community spirit and keen house prices, Zoopla says the Byfield average is £360,000, makes this village in strong demand say local estate agents.

Full of flavour

Ludlow in Shropshire is a town with a long-standing foodie tradition and a community group, Local To Ludlow, which featured on the BBC’s The Farmers’ Country Showdown. 

The group runs a cafe and shop, a produce market that’s been open through lockdown, plus a farmers’ market majoring on food and drink from within a 30-mile radius.

Local To Ludlow also operates Easy Peasy cookery, a project that delivers educational sessions at schools and local events.

House prices are relatively low, an average of £310,000, but expect that to change as community becomes more key.

Northern light

The housing market in Huddersfield saw a 3 per cent price rise in 2020 – perhaps due to the town’s amazing camaraderie.

The Community Mutual Aid Support Group started off last spring with more than 700 volunteers willing to help with shopping, befriending and posting mail for those shielding in this part of Yorkshire.

Recently, it’s been collecting used laptops for children who are being home-schooled.

On the market… in a friendly spot 

Devon: A stroll away from the Exe estuary in Topsham, this Grade II-listed house has three bedrooms. There is a garden and a double garage. East of Exe, 01392 877 240. £850,000

Devon: A stroll away from the Exe estuary in Topsham, this Grade II-listed house has three bedrooms. There is a garden and a double garage. East of Exe, 01392 877 240. £850,000

Northamptonshire: The thatched roof is just one of many character features in this four-bedroom cottage in Byfield, with a large garden and an outhouse. Fine and Country, 01295 987 064. £550,000

Northamptonshire: The thatched roof is just one of many character features in this four-bedroom cottage in Byfield, with a large garden and an outhouse. Fine and Country, 01295 987 064. £550,000

Shropshire: In the centre of Ludlow, near a daily market, this house has three bedrooms, several ornate fireplaces and beamed ceilings. Strutt and Parker, 01584 544 004. £525,000

Shropshire: In the centre of Ludlow, near a daily market, this house has three bedrooms, several ornate fireplaces and beamed ceilings. Strutt and Parker, 01584 544 004. £525,000

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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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