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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 March, 2005, 11:44 GMT
The 60,000 question
The 60K question
You're in the market for a first home but what can you buy for 60,000 or less? Not a lot these days, but why 60k? That's the controversial price where stamp duty kicks in. Critics want the chancellor to raise it in this week's Budget.

Despite its origins in the 17th Century, stamp duty is a very real fact for almost anyone buying a property today.

Currently, all home buyers paying more than 60,000 are liable for the 1% tax, unless the property they are buying is in a "disadvantaged" exemption zone, where the charge kicks in at 150,000.

Despite this concession, three quarters of first-time buyers still pay the levy - which, in total, brings in more than 4bn a year to the Treasury. Gordon Brown is under pressure to raise the threshold in Wednesday's Budget.

Critics argue the tax was never designed for starter homes, and has failed to keep pace with the property boom. In 1993, when it was last adjusted, most first-time buyers side-stepped stamp duty, paying an average of 45,000 for their new home. That compares with a 131,000 average for a new home today, according to Halifax.

Miles Shipside, of internet property site RightMove.co.uk, says less than 1% of the 446,000 properties it lists are under 60k. So what, if anything, can bargain hunters pick up for less than 60,000 today?

LONDON

Houseboat, RightMove.co.uk
Follow in Richard Branson's footsteps - houseboat for 42k
Londoners would probably scoff at the idea of bagging a property in the capital for 60,000, where prices have gone stratospheric in the past decade. Last week saw the capital's most expensive studio flat go on the market, at 950,000 - for one room! Bargain hunters shouldn't be deterred however, so long as they can be, ahem, flexible about their four walls.

For example, 40,000 will get you a "rare opportunity" to purchase a "secure" property in a "highly desirable" location, just a stone's throw from the West End. OK, so the pad in question is a garage, but who needs daylight anyway? Another option for the more adventurously minded is a houseboat - prices start at 42,000 for a "partly modernised" vessel, with mooring, within a short walk of King's Cross. Compact and bijou, as they say.

SOUTH EAST

Luton studio flat, RightMove.co.uk
Luton studio flat: 59,950
Things are only slightly better in the South East - where 60k will at least net you somewhere with windows, on solid ground. But that's about it. Luton, which recently topped a poll of "crap towns" offers the briefest glimpse of hope for the cash-strapped buyer. Connells estate agent has just one property in the locale that makes it under the stamp duty wire - a small studio apartment in a 1960s purpose-built block, with kitchenette. It's a similar story in Kent, where a buyer could nab a studio flat with communal gardens and off-road parking.

NORTH WEST

Flat, Alan Kirkham
One-bed flat in Chadderton - 55,000
A survey last week found some of the cheapest houses in the country to be in Salford - the very rooftops where the opening credits to Coronation Street are filmed. A three-bedroom terrace costs 17,000 and flats average just 7,000. Around Oldham, prices are higher. Estate agent Alan Kirkham could "count on the fingers of one hand" the properties on his books for under 60,000. One example is an above-shop "spacious" one-bed flat which requires "some general improvement work".

"Sixty grand was a very expensive property when I started in this industry 20 years ago. Stamp duty used to be a tax on the wealthy," says Mr Chadderton. "A couple of years ago there was a lot around here for thirty to forty thousand. Then, suddenly, they just doubled in price."

Mr Kirkham notes that some of this is down to southerners looking to capitalise on the north's property boom, buying to let rather than as somewhere to live.

WALES

Cottage, RightMove.co.uk
Cottage, with fitted-wood kitchen (inset) for 59,950
Cardiff estate agent Kelvin Francis chuckles at the mention of a 60,000 budget. "The market is quite active now - there's certainly nothing under 60,000," he says. Mostly, though, first-time buyers don't think about stamp duty. "It's one of those horrible things that hits you when you've started down the road," he muses.

Mr Francis admits his agency deals with mid- to upper-end of the market. Further into town, in the neighbourhood of Roath, agents Allen and Harris has just one property which fits the budget - a first floor studio flat, in a converted Victorian house. The price has recently been dropped from 64,000.

Buyers in rural north Wales will have more luck, with a pretty one-bedroom cottage just a mile from the coast going for 59,950.

SOUTH WEST

Pre-fab, RightMove.co.uk
Pre-fab, Iford Bridge near Bournemouth - 55,000
Poole, on the south coast of England, periodically pops up in the newspapers when beach huts shift for the sort of money that would by you a luxury house in other parts of the world. Chris Hedges, an estate agent in the town, has nothing for our budget - "haven't had for years". He's by no means top of the market, but still the average property he shifts is for 220,000.

In Taunton, Mark Gibbins of Gibbins Richards, says the 60k stamp duty threshold is an "irrelevance" to his customers, who could expect to pay about 90,000 for a small flat. "It's three years, I'd guess, since we've sold anything under 60,000," he says.

NORTHERN IRELAND

House, Ulster Property Sales
Modernised to high standard - Shankill Road house, 25K
Traditionally one of the cheapest parts of the UK, Northern Ireland has presided over its own boom as part of the so-called "peace dividend". Gault Ervine, who runs a network of agencies across the north, says perhaps 10% of the 2,500 properties fall into our sub-stamp duty catchment. Most first-time buyers pitch themselves around the mid-80,000 mark, although many districts qualify for stamp duty exemption, he notes.

However, the area still represents some of the best-value. Examples include a four-bedroom, two-reception room end-of-terrace, in need of improvement works for 25,000 and a two-bedroom mid-terrace in the "ever-improving" Fortwilliam area near central Belfast for 27,000.

Among the more unusual offerings is a 25,000 two-bedroom terrace "modernised to a high standard" with luxury fitted kitchen and champagne bathroom. The property is off the Shankhill Road, a renowned loyalist neighbourhood, and was bought under a government scheme for "evacuated dwellings" where the previous residents were forced out through intimidation.

SCOTLAND

Apartment, Aberdeen
59k in Aberdeen buys you two bedrooms in a modern block (inset)
Despite its remoteness, Aberdeen is quite a wealthy part of Scotland, says one local agent. Hence why there's very little on her book for under 60,000. "You might get a one-bed flat for that, but 80,000 wouldn't be unusual," she says.

Having said that, Raeburns estate agents has a couple of tempting offers: a two-bedroom modern, well maintained top-floor flat with views over the city and the River Don, and over woodland at the back. Offers will be accepted "over 59,000". For 20,000 less, Raeburns has a one-bedroom flat in a "traditional granite property".


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