The Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) holiday deadline is now only 58 days away, but that shouldn’t prevent transactions from still meeting the deadline according to one firm.
Understandably, the property market has seen a mini-boom after it was temporarily closed in March 2020 as part of the first national lockdown, and the SDLT holiday added an extra incentive to those who wished to move.
But now, as March 31st draws nearer, a lot of information in the media portrays the bleak prospect that many transactions won’t make the deadline. However, one law firm is bucking the trend and telling clients that it is indeed possible.
Paul Sams, Partner and Head of Property at Dutton Gregory, recently took some time out to speak to me at Today’s Conveyancer, about the current campaign the firm is running, which promises if they don’t complete a client’s property purchase before the deadline, client’s won’t have to pay their conveyancing fees.
So, Paul why have Dutton Gregory chosen to run this campaign?
There is far too much negativity in this world. The SDLT holiday is and was an opportunity. It stimulated the market when the pandemic was now, looking back, sadly not really very well understood. The property market was hit hard in April and May 2020. Furlough was in place in most firms, including ours, but we brought everyone back in July. There are still firms with people currently on furlough who deal with property which I find bizarre. We wanted to take a chance to not moan and instead shout about our ability. What better way than by a bold statement like this!
Have you seen an increase in instructions coming through since the start of the year?
January 2020 was a strong month for us. The General Election had caused some nervousness and I saw a lot of activity as soon as it was over. Everyone knew Brexit would then happen. To think that we all thought 2020 would be a great year!
2021 has started strongly. We gave a record number of residential conveyancing quotes out for one day this week so I am quietly confident that things will go OK. A lot of our work comes from dealing with new build property, so developers are not fazed by the SDLT holiday or the pandemic. Their business is to build then sell their product. They will do that no matter the market conditions and, here at Dutton Gregory, we will continue to assist their buyers. No matter the property, whether commercial, or residential, buyer or seller, we are here when they need us.
Do you think it is possible for some homebuyers and sellers to complete their transactions before the 31 March deadline?
Of course. There is loads of time. What people need to recognise is that there is a deadline and that deadline should be met. The best way to do that is to break it down into the stages needed to get to completion and make sure they are met. It is honestly not that hard. Clients often ask me about the fastest transaction I have ever done. It was six hours from start to finish. The matter had very specific circumstances as well as for an existing client which helps. For the past two years we have offered a same day conveyancing service on our website to clients. At Dutton Gregory, we embrace a challenge. Look at the world now dealing with COVID-19. We have all had to adapt in how we do things, change is a good thing in my view. For instance, isn’t streaming online better than a VHS cassette?
Have you seen any delay in exchanges and completions coming through since the start of the year?
The usual few. Chains which are unique to our green and pleasant land always cause issues. People and money cause delays. The lawyers should not be the cause of a delay, they should be the solution to a situation. The problem is that the more people you have involved in anything, the more difficult it becomes. Those issues have been around for years and are not going away any time soon.
How has your conveyancing department dealt with the SDLT holiday? You seem to have taken it in your stride.
I gave a team talk last year via Zoom that paraphrased the speech Al Pacino gives near the end of ‘Any Given Sunday’ (if you have not watched it, everyone should as it is very uplifting!) The team has worked extremely hard in trying circumstances. From IT issues, mainly caused by our own home broadband connections or issues with firms who are not as technologically advanced as we are, through to reluctance from some firms to exchange because they are worried about COVID-19. You name it we have seen it.
As my Mum likes to say, “what does not kill you makes you stronger” and anyone who has tried one of my homemade cocktails can attest to that! I am blessed with an amazing team, from the support staff who do so much more than administration (my assistant Amy Briscoe is more akin to a miracle worker at times for me, she is beyond amazing), to the brilliant lawyers we have who keep getting the results for their clients and introducers. That’s not to mention our superb Accounts team who keep churning through those completions without the praise they deserve.
Which side of the fence do you sit on? Are you happy for the SDLT holiday to come to an end in March? Or would you rather have the holiday extended by six months?
Personally, I think Mr Sunak should keep to his word and end the holiday at the end of March. If there was a lockdown with further restrictions, that stopped people moving house, that would be the only thing that would change my mind.
People have known about this for some time. They have prepared for it, or should have done. If a transaction does not happen by 31st March, then the party who will really suffer is the seller as they will have to most likely reduce their asking price. When the SDLT holiday was announced, I had four transactions go abortive as the sellers wanted more money. I don’t think that has benefited buyers really as they have paid more for the property than they would have done.
It is changes to SDLT like this which make the job fun. I am old enough to remember when SDLT was just stamp duty (no land tax at the end) and started at £60,000.00. It changed a few months after we bought our first home! The UK property market has been built on the tried and tested method of ’boom’ then, not ‘bust’, but a bit of a lull. It will be no different now as it had been before. I am confident that the market will not collapse if the SDLT holiday is not extended. For all those who want to complete by 31st March 2021, they know which firm to speak to though!