tirsdag 7. oktober 2014

Live in Love and Hate : Boplikt in South Land Norway

There can be few political causes which have stirred both passion and resentment and divided both parties and neighbours in South-land Norway than " Boplikt". Literally translated, abide-duty, a deed of covenant on acquiring a home that you shall live in that home for five years as your main residence. It covers also inheritance, which is where it can get really bitter. An often forgotten fact is that you can of course rent your property out at least 6 months of the year and also cover your legal duty.

Grimstad  have now swept away the duty-of-habitation in a week where also there are more empty town centre shops than ever before. The irony is not lost - if people do not need to live in the town centre, where boplikt is most debated and has most influence, then you are at the mercy of the Grimstad suburbs and their car driven choice of shopping in the bigger centres (no pun intended).

Boplikt had begun to fizzle out and be willfully eaten away around the edges, but in fact it still had a very secure core in many areas. Why then is it being allowed to disappear by neglect and will? Firstly people say that it just doesnt work, and it is true to say that it is nibbled around the edges.

People cheated it. If you could afford a lawyer then you could claim various get outs, all the way up to using the EU court of human rights rulings on freedom of movement. Some were pretty cynical with it, buying a house just before they got a new job outside commuting distance, like Torbjorn Jagland when he went off the the EU commission and then the Nobel committee having bought a house in Risor oddly enough a few months before he got the new job. Also it only lasts for up to five years in  the precendent legal ground work which was done, then it does just fizzle out and especailly after the kids have flown the nest, people start to move to the bigger towns and use the traditional house as a summer house.

There in lies of course one of the big counter arguements. There is the core, that the whole market outside those designated holiday homes or 'cabins' (often luxuiry summer houses!!) was influenced by there being a need to live in the house and there with local society, most of the year. When charming southern belle white houses come on the market without boplikt, they get sold to folk from Oslo.

Now here comes the rub when people say that outside those small, charming and often 'impractical' southland houses circa 100 years old or more, boplikt has no effect, and who wants to live all year round in such small houses from days when people were 5 ft 2" ? On the one side, we in a community with boplikt, had a spectre bidder who lived in Oslo and we live in a pretty ordinary terraced house, 120m squared, with only a partial view. Our bid was pushed up about 150 000 NOK over the actual local value just becauise of a third bidder put up the stakes early in the process by 75 / 100 000. Now we have negative equity! So removal of boplikt would do us no harm personally.

In these small towns there are then not only the dreamy little red roofed white wood panel houses with a single apple tree outside. There are large gentlemans mini mansions of around 200 - 300 m squared, and there are ordinary houses which happen to have a bit of a view which are all influenced by outside non resident buyers, who will maybe use the house five or six weeks per year, maybe not even that.

What is important in any housing market for sellers in Norway is that you have buds-runder, a bidding round, otherwise you will not make any profit and worse you may get a buyer who kicks the tyres and wants some repairs done, or wants a better gaurantee on anything needing repaired after initial survey and purchase. You also risk not getting your house sold.  However buds runder means than there is space for speculation and collusion from estate agents, pushing prices up and moving property into capital ownership which is then rented out on the market to locals rather than being at a price they could have bought for.

Currently in fact it is not the presence or abscence of boplikt in Norway which holds house prices down in the rural areas. The loans party for the Oslo public sector managers with their 2 million euro family incomes is over, they cant have over a million krone in debts. Captial speculators have been really burnt on both mountain resort flats and seaside holiday flats, with now many developments on ice or practically bankrupt. First time buyers are now not allowed 100% mortgages and most councils have either given up on 'deposit loans' or are dreadfully slow with processing them. Now the Scandinavian model of mass home ownership rather than council housing is broken, and even quite high earning young folk will not afford a house until they save up a huge deposit, which of course grows per year with price increase in houses. Also they compete more with the richer families who can leverage them selves into investment and student flats in the educational towns. Thus it gets pretty horrid for first time buyers for the moment.

There is also an argument that removal of boplikt could lead to lower prices by better availability of housing. This is a bit of a tautology because it would be the local people who would benefit from more houses being on the market, who would have first lost out by having to compete with external holiday home buyers and investors with the withdrawal of boplikt. It is actually quite likely a scenario if many speculators come in to compete and then find resale is awkward, which it will be, or for example if interest rates went up again or second loans lost their MIRAS.

My own view point is that if boplikt should finally be removed from all coast towns in south norway, then the councils should look to introducing property rates on properties where people do not live during the week, 40 weeks or more a year. This tax could be related to sales price after boplikt was gone, rather than actual survey price which can often be mysterioulsy low depending on the individual who is doing the surveys. This is then a way in which holiday homes can contribute better to the council economy, and it is an incentive for people to use what they are paying for. Housing is seen as investment, and you get MIRAS in Norway on all loans (stupidly!!!) but taxation is seen as dead money. The benefit is better services and in areas like Risor, Kragero and so on, council sponsorship for cultural events and concerts can be increased, rather than an area for squeezing.