That was, of course, the date Boris Johnson announced the first national lockdown on a cold Monday evening, essentially closing down everyday life, including the housing market.
The figures from UK Finance today show buy-to-let lending fell to £37bn last year from £42.5bn in 2019, a remarkable figure considering the sector was shut for over two months and the length of time it took to get the wheels turning again.
The market was buoyed by two factors post-lockdown – record levels of tenant demand giving landlords confidence to invest and, of course, Rishi Sunak’s stamp duty holiday, shaving the buying costs for landlords.
We all know the brake this put on the market after March 2016, when the three per cent surcharge was introduced, and its release highlights the latent demand from landlords to add to their portfolios.
UK Finance’s figures show buy-to-let house purchases became fashionable again in the second half of 2020. The number and value of loans written for house purchase in the final quarter of last year was the strongest since the first quarter of 2016, while December was the busiest month since March of that year.
Paragon certainly experienced this surge in business, with our pipeline hitting a record high during the first quarter of 2021.
The good news is the stamp duty holiday extension means more pipeline applications will complete ahead of the deadline, so I’m expecting strong industry Q1 numbers when they are eventually published.
Expensive regions most popular
What is interesting is the impact of the stamp duty holiday on where landlords purchased property, with a resurgence in those more expensive regions where investors would achieve the greatest tax savings.
Industry stats show that the number of buy-to-let loans for purchase in London, for example, was 25 per cent higher in the final quarter of last year than the same period in 2019, while the South East recorded an 18 per cent increase.
The South West – another area with above average house prices – was 21 per cent higher, although this could have also been boosted by landlords buying holiday lets for the expected surge in domestic holidays.
Conversely, the North West, which has been the buy-to-let hotspot in recent years, was just 1.5 per cent higher and other northern regions with below average house prices did not experience the same Rishi bounce.
However, the overall strength of the final quarter of last year helped claw back those lost few months and we sit here, nearly a year to the day of that first lockdown, looking ahead with confidence.
We know we may not have yet felt the full economic pain of coronavirus, but the sector is in a much stronger shape than many would have predicted a year ago.