Reforming stamp duty to make it payable by sellers instead of buyers would save first-time buyers an average £3,790 when stepping on to the housing ladder, research has found.
Yorkshire Building Society, which is calling on the government to transform the stamp duty regime, said the move to switch the burden of duty from purchasers to sellers would take 225,000 first-time buyers out of the duty. In the year to June 2016, this was the number who purchased a property above the £125,000 minimum threshold for the duty — equivalent to 75 per cent of all first-time buyers.
The lender found the potential savings were even greater in London, where average prices are running at more than twice the national average. A first-time buyer in the capital would save an average of £13,170 if stamp duty were payable by sellers, it said.
Andrew McPhillips, chief economist at Yorkshire Building Society, said: “This will not solve every cause of the housing crisis but reforming stamp duty could ease its effects by making homes more affordable.”
The lender’s call to switch the onus of stamp duty was prompted by its survey of 2,000 people this year, in which 43 per cent of respondents said high deposits and upfront costs, including stamp duty, were among the most significant barriers to house purchase.
Yorkshire said the government could give an exemption to developers who sell new-build homes to forestall any risks of a loss of housing supply. It could also consider waiving the duty for certain classes of sellers, such as older people downsizing or moving into care homes, who might otherwise be discouraged from selling.
Mr McPhillips said those moving up the housing ladder would benefit, saving £4,093 on average, or £9,762 in London, since duty would be calculated on the less expensive sale property.
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The idea of turning stamp duty on its head has been proposed on a number of occasions, as rising prices and the costs of moving have made it harder for first-time buyers to purchase. John Stevenson, a Conservative MP, made the case in 2012, arguing the change would help young families aspiring to own property without affecting the Treasury tax take.
Johnny Morris, head of research at estate agent Hamptons, said it was likely to give first-time buyers in London a leg-up in the short term, but added “the fatal flaw in an otherwise brilliant plan” was vendors’ power to set prices.
“On the one hand you’d have sellers who face increased costs, who would be interested in getting as much as possible to cover the cash costs of stamp duty. On the other you’d have buyers who might have more cash, which they could put towards borrowing more money. Changes that you think would improve stamp duty often just feed into house prices because they affect purchasing power.”
Mr McPhillips said flipping stamp duty to sellers should only take place alongside measures to boost housebuilding, since otherwise higher demand among first-time buyers could lead to higher prices. “It would have to go hand in hand with higher housing supply,” he said.
David Hannah, principal consultant at Cornerstone, a consultancy specialising in property tax law, said solicitors would have little difficulty in absorbing a switch from buyer to seller, but he was sceptical it would improve the ability of first-time buyers to access the market because of the tendency of prices to adjust over time.
An alternative proposal, he said, would be to bar buy-to-let investors and second home buyers from making offers on a property for a specified initial period of, say, eight to 12 weeks after it goes on the market. “This would give first-time buyers and owner-occupiers a chance to get their foot in the door,” he said.
Mr Hannah drew a comparison with the housing system in Jersey and Guernsey, which operate “closed” and “open” markets for local and overseas purchasers. “They deliberately close off part of the market to non-Channel Island investors to preserve some housing stock for the local populace.”