Are house buyers too late for the stamp duty holiday?

Concerns are being raised that house buyers putting in offer now may not benefit from the stamp duty holiday

stamp duty holiday
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With the stamp duty holiday ending on the 31st March, are house buyers putting in offers right now already too late to benefit from Rishi Sunak's Covid measure? With house sales significantly delayed by a perfect storm of pandemic-related circumstances, it's highly doubtful that all of the house sales yet to be completed will be able to do so before March. 

The trouble with the stamp duty holiday is that it only applies if you complete by the deadline; if you're in the middle of the process, or even in the later stages, but have not yet legally completed the house purchase, stamp duty will apply to you. Hence, the Home Buying and Selling Group, which consists of property experts from conveyancers to senior estate agents, has written to the Chancellor with a request for urgent action on the dealine.

The concern is that if people who are hoping to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday aren't able to do so, whole property buying chains will collapse. The letter says:

'Operational constraints in all areas of the home buying industry caused by the disruption brought about by Covid-19 and the current advice to work at home where possible, have seen average property transaction times lengthen from 12 weeks to 20 weeks.

'We are concerned that consumers continue to offer on properties expecting to benefit from the SDLT rate reduction but in reality they may be too late.'

The solution proposed by the Group is to extend the stamp duty holiday until September 2021, as well as other measures to 'smooth out' the transition back to normal property tax rules, and avoid a 'cliff edge' in March that would likely leave some buyers and sellers stranded following transactions falling through.

Our advice to anyone at the beginning of the house buying process is to proceed as if normal, pre-coronavirus stamp duty rules applied. You really don't want to be in a situation where you've bought a house on the assumption that no stamp duty would be payable only to find that you will have to pay it after all.