The property market will crash (I think)

We have been trying to buy a flat for months and many months ago (August 2019) agreed on the purchase with the seller. It’s taken a long time to sort out some legal paperwork on the seller’s (the estate agent loves the word “vendor”) side of things. A few weeks ago, we got word from our solicitor that he has now finally received all the paperwork he needs to continue with the purchase.

However, Covid-19 happened and he asked us if we were still planning on to continue with it. At first, we thought that this is fantastic news and we should buy the place. After some thought, we got more cautious as the UK economy is headed into a massive recession, no-deal Brexit is more real than ever before and my employment isn’t that secure.

Yes, we’re lucky that both of us can continue to work from home but I can see business drying up in the coming months (although summer is always a bit slow). My girlfriend doesn’t worry as her job (in mobile gaming) is going well and her employer is making record sales as more people are at home and have time on their hands.

We decided that we should renegotiate the price on the flat and offered to buy the flat at a 5% lower price. The estate agent replied a week later and declined our offer as property only goes up in value (paraphrased and read between the lines a little). This was disappointing news and we decided to pull out.

Luckily it’s only £250, which we lost out on, which were some legal fees we incurred early on in the process.

I’m a bit of a crashist when it comes to the property market. We have 7.5 million people on furlough as of 10th May 2020. Most of them are earning less now (80% of salary up to £2,500 gross p.m. where the employer could voluntarily top-up to 100% of salary), which means there’s less demand to buy properties. Similarly, I predict, quite many of today’s furloughed staff will have no job to go back to in a couple of months’ time.

Unemployment is at 4% as at Feb 2020 but this is expected to double once we have the numbers available. This is not good for property prices.

Millions of people have requested mortgage holidays. A lot of people here are already unable to pay their mortgage, what’s going to happen in a few months’ time when the furlough ends? There will be defaults and people will lose their homes.

The estate agents such as Knight Frank and Savills etc have come out with predictions of 3% or 5% falls for the year, which will rebound in 2021 – what a joke. They have a vested interest in saying that things are all good and we should all be buying property left, right and centre. The fall in property prices will be significantly more than just single digits. This crisis is going to be huge as big parts of the economy are shut down.

How do you imagine the airlines go back to normal? The tube with wings where everybody breathes the same air is impossible to make safe for travellers. How do you do social distancing on a plane without big increases to ticket prices? I like many would be unable to fly to, say Spain, for a holiday if a condition of entry to the country was for me to self-isolate for 2 weeks on arrival. The travel industry will be in a new world of pain.

London has many AirBnb’s as well. Guess what, they’re empty because nobody can travel. That’s not going to change for a while. I expect these chaps will flood the market with either long-term rental properties or try to sell and get out of this business. We shall see. This is good news for lower rents and lower property prices.

What about a vaccine? Well, mostly the fact that it doesn’t exist. Even if it did, it would take many months to produce it and distribute it all over the world for everyone to feel safe again. I’m not saying they won’t find a vaccine or develop a cure, I’m saying it will take time, during which the economy will suffer.

OK, back to property prices. Some of the highest earners are in the tech sector – programmers and what not. They can work from home and many (e.g. Twitter) companies have already said they are happy for all their staff to continue working from home even after the plague. This has increased demand for homes outside of cities. Why would somebody on a six-figure salary pay £3,000 on rent in a Central London flat, if they could own a nice home outside the city? I expect a lot of high-earners to relocate further outside big cities where their money buys more happiness. This will drive prices down in big cities but increase them in smaller towns.

My friend asked me how long do I want to defer buying and paying rent for nothing. If I buy now, I’d still be building equity and have an asset. The problem here is that I’m not looking to buy a forever home. I’m not sure I will be in London long term. Therefore, buying now and selling within a couple of years may be very expensive if property prices crash. I could, of course, rent the property to tenants when I move elsewhere but that’s not something I want to do – I don’t have an overwhelming desire to be a landlord and deal with fixing boilers, washing machines and water leaks. It would also be difficult to re-mortgage a few years down the road if I was in negative equity and there’s a risk I’d end up paying more in interest.

Why take all the above risks? The only way I’d take these risks is if the upside was proportional to them. I’d be happy to buy if I got a price 20%+ cheaper than the prices in the pre-Covid-19 world i.e. in Feb 2020. I think it’s a bad idea to go ahead with a property deal agreed in the pre-Covid-19 world now that we are in the post-Covid-19 world. You should only consider doing that if you are buying something for the long term.

My plan is now to sit tight and adopt a wait-and-see approach. We also decided to move to a cheaper rental flat as living so centrally doesn’t have the benefits it used to have (everything is closed – cafes, restaurants etc, walking distance to work isn’t that attractive as we work from home). We are paying too much for the luxury of living in Covent Garden in Lockdown London.

My employer has also said that they will take a much more cautious approach to get back to normal compared to any Government guidance as a big part of our clients are elderly and more likely to suffer health problems from Covid-19 infections. My girlfriend was told that they expect most of staff in her company to work from home until at least September 2020.

Taking all of the above into account, I think we have made the right decision by not buying the flat. I will keep you updated once this changes. In the meantime, we will continue to squirrel away money for an even bigger deposit.

Take care!