LONDON (Reuters) – Claire Tomlinson dreams of buying a three-bedroom house in the leafy northern English town of Sandbach but now finds herself priced out of the market, a story that is becoming all too familiar in Britain in the pandemic era.
The 28-year-old e-commerce worker and her partner were saving diligently while renting in Sandbach so they could buy their own home this year, an ambition that has been thwarted by forces beyond their control.
A post-lockdown stampede for bigger houses outside of urban areas in the new work-from-home age has sparked a fresh boom in Britain’s housing market – especially in areas like Sandbach, a small country town surrounded by the rolling Cheshire Plains.
While this dash for the countryside is not a phenomenon unique to Britain, its decision to suspend taxes on residential property purchases till April 2021 has turbocharged the market.
Now house prices have risen to record highs, some 3-4% above their pre-pandemic level – a stark contrast to the battered economy which may be on course for its biggest annual contraction in around 100 years.
The housing market has been one of the starkest manifestations of social and wealth inequality in Britain for many years, and first-time buyers like Tomlinson already faced a daunting task to haul themselves onto the property ladder.
Now, the intensifying competition and rising prices during the pandemic, which coincide with an imminent reduction in a longstanding state support scheme for first-time buyers, make it all but impossible for many people to afford to own their home.
“It’s so disappointing,” said Tomlinson.
“You try to follow the advice, be financially responsible and save enough money for a deposit. But when you