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Paul Smith

October 2009

Look out — a Stamp Duty stampede is on the way

TAXES — we all hate them, but we all have to pay them.

What a shame then that just as the housing market is showing good signs of recovery, we’re now the sector that is going to be used to help plug the Chancellor’s fiscal black hole.

Not only is the Stamp Duty ‘holiday’ coming to an end and VAT rising back to 17.5 per cent in the New Year, but the great British public are going to be hit hard in their pockets with the increase in fuel duty and a rise in costs at the petrol pumps.

Many will claim the economy can now cope, with inflation running at such a low rate and mortgage rates coming down.

But if people are already struggling to find the larger deposit that lenders are demanding of them, they are hardly going to be able to find an extra £1,250 or more to pay the additional one per cent Stamp Duty on properties over £125,000.

Surely there’s an argument to help homeowners more by extending the Stamp Duty holiday further, because this resonates in so many other areas of our economy.

When people buy new property, they get in carpenters and plumbers and spend money on furniture, electrical goods and DIY.

The more they spend in the shops, the more people can be employed and taken off the dole queue; the more money people have in their pay packets, the more gets taken off in income tax.

I’m no accountant and I don’t have a handle on the nation’s purse strings, but everything is so interconnected that surely robbing Peter to pay Paul doesn’t always make sense.

If you bring back the Stamp Duty for properties over £125,000, isn’t this going to put a brake on housing market growth — so fewer people buy, bringing in less Stamp Duty income as a result?

What we need more than anything is stability right now and an opportunity to help people buy and sell homes without being overburdened by state intervention. There needs to be a fair and equitable way of taxing people on the purchase of their property in the future, something with which those paying for higher end properties would also agree.

Super branches open up new avenue

SMALL branches, big branches, online branches. Our long-held belief at Spicerhaart is that one size doesn’t fit all and, as such, we have now opened our first haart ‘super branch’ in Milton Keynes, which is five times bigger than a normal high street branch.

We’ve taken on 23 negotiators, including nine specialising in lettings, serving a much wider area than our former, much smaller, Milton Keynes office.

The beauty is that people can park outside and don’t have to worry about town centre parking and there is a much wider choice of property on offer.

So, you might ask, at a time when people have been cutting back on their branch networks and increasing their services online, why have we gone down our super branch route?

And why are we planning to open similar branches in new areas where we have not previously operated, including Leeds, Coventry and Birmingham?

Quite simply, we have developed a sophisticated service model backed up by call centre operations which means we can talk to our customers until 10 o’clock at night, combined with extensive investment in marketing both online and through traditional and direct methods, in order to capture market share.

So while detractors point to other agents who have tried this and, in their eyes, not succeeded, we would say keep an open mind and wait for the results.

In the words of Oscar Wilde, there is only one thing worse than being talked about — and that’s not being talked about!

Why surveys should not be undertaken lightly

NOT a day goes by without one survey or another about estate agency appearing in print, whether focusing on property prices, what home improvements add value or Home Information Packs.

But the problem with such surveys is they can be misleading and paint a very false impression if undertaken lightly.

Collating a survey is a fine art form; it demands fair and properly set criteria in order to make useful comparisons and conclusions.

If it is to be credible, it needs to look at unusual or extenuating circumstances which may skew the data. It must be honest in order to portray a full and accurate picture for the public.

It is therefore totally unacceptable to undertake a survey which does not look at a comprehensive set of information, or compare like with like when, for example, looking at costs. If the media then run the information without question, it is simply sloppy journalism.

When we undertake our own haart London Index and Darlows Wales Index monthly surveys, we look at a vast range of criteria, analysing monthly trends in order to draw conclusions.

For another of our surveys, we looked at HIPs provided by other suppliers within chains involving our properties and in one week found that 42 per cent from other providers were not compliant in some way!

If we are going to be looking at useful data which is meaningful for our industry, I would like to see a survey from the powers that be, analysing the way forward once the Tories get into power and scrap HIPs.

It’s all very well focusing on Energy Performance Certificates in the future and grading people’s properties to meet international agreements.

But unless we find a way to encourage people to improve their energy efficiency by giving them grants, like the Canadian system, we’ll still be doing surveys in the future talking about how poor we are at meeting our targets and failing to tackle the real problem of climate change.

Now that really should make interesting reading.