One-on-one-interview: Toby Greenhow of Savills estate agents

Posted 25 April 2014 by Keith Osborne

As part of his regular column interviewing prominent estate agents around the UK, Stephen Maunder speaks to Toby Greenhow, director of Savills in Cambridge about the local property market. Could you please tell us a bit about Savills and the area you cover?Savills is a global real estate operation with 80 offices throughout the UK. We have 20 new homes sales operations, of which I run the Cambridge branch. We focus on a radius of around 20 miles, which includes the Cambridge city centre market. We act for residential developers of all sizes and sell everything from studio flats to large one-off properties.

What types of properties do you sell? Our prices range from small studios for around £150,000-160,000 to large properties valued in excess of £1.5 million. In recent years, major players such as Berkeley Homes, Barratt and Countryside have built developments here and they're all reporting brisk trades. In the centre of Cambridge there is very little space to build, largely owing to the legacy of the University colleges owning much of the stock. Who purchases properties in Cambridge? We see a high percentage of overseas investors, who consider Cambridge as an attractive alternative to London. These tend to be parents buying properties for their children who are studying at the university and nostalgia investors, who perhaps attended the university many years ago. There is great demand here and a strong local economy with the biotech community rapidly expanding and AstraZeneca building a new global headquarters, which will bring in around 2000 jobs.

What effect has the Help to Buy scheme had, and do you welcome its extension until 2020? Like any prime market, affordability is an issue which sends people out to the fringes. Help to Buy has thrown people a lifeline and we've seen a huge uptake. The announcement of its extension will shape our feelings going forward. With the prospect of Help to Buy ending in 2016, we were looking closely at our mix of units, but this announcement changes the outlook.The extension of Help to Buy is a very positive thing, but it does pose the question of how easy it will be to wean people off after 7-8 years of an artificial crutch in the market. We talk about the bank of Mum and Dad, but perhaps people will become reliant on the bank of Dave and George.

If you were George Osborne, what would you have changed in the budget? I would have considered ironing out the 1-3% stamp duty blip, thereby adding value to properties worth around £250,000. Bringing in a more gradual stamp duty system across the board would perhaps be fairer than the current situation. I'd also have considered allowing Part Exchange with the Help to Buy scheme, which would stimulate people to move up the ladder. What changes do you expect to see in the housing market as 2014 progresses? We saw an 8% increase here in 2013 and I expect to see a similar increase again. The outlook is good, but the lack of stock coming through is a real challenge - we have a huge shortage of affordable housing and we need to fix that.You can find out more at savills.co.uk (T: 01223 347000)

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