By some estimates, as many as 100,000 property sales could fall through at the last moment, unable to meet the deadline. Many in the industry are clamouring for an extension when the Chancellor presents his spring budget.
There has been much debate as to whether Rishi Sunak should extend the stamp duty holiday in his March budget. When it was announced last July, few could have predicted the boom that followed. Added to the race for space following lockdown v1, the big savings on offer drove sales almost 50% higher than in 2019.
The pressure this has placed on the industry has been considerable. All of the service providers, including mortgage lenders, surveyors and solicitors are trying to cope with a volume of transactions for which they simply do not have the capacity.
It usually take an average of 12 weeks to complete a sale, but this has now increased to closer to 16. As a result. many transactions could miss the deadline. Of the estimated 540,000 sales in the pipeline, it is feared that perhaps 100,000 will fail to complete in time.
The property market has been one of the few bright spots in the UK economy of late. Not only do home sales generate fees for the service providers, there are considerable sums involved in the moves themselves. Expenditure on household goods such as furniture and appliances rises. At the bottom of the chain there may be a newly built home. This is all badly needed economic activity, which is the reason the holiday was introduced in the first place.
There does seem to be a case for a short extension, even if it is limited to sales agreed by a given date such as the end of last year. Ultimately, fiscal policy is closely entwined with politics and the Chancellor will undoubtably have an eye on both.
Update - 2 February
The discussion has reached the House of Commons. A petition on the government's website calling for an extension achieved 140,000 signatures, allowing MPs to air their views in a House debate on Monday. There seemed to cross-party support for the motion, though this in no way ties the Chancellor's hands.