Market pricing versus common understanding


There is little so enraging as when officials use different ways of interpreting concepts to the ways that most people understand them.

I refer especially to the apparently simple idea of market prices.

For most of us, of course, market pricing means simply selling things for ‘what you can get’ for them. That is the common sense interpretation of the idea.

But officials use a different interpretation entirely – an abstruse and obscure idea unrelated to market economics. A bit like the medieval idea of the ‘just price’.

I have always believed this, but I never expected I would face any kind of investigation myself until I got involved in selling the home which my mother and stepfather shared for the past three decades or more.

We did everything by the book, getting three valuations from all the local estate agencies. In fact, their valuations didn’t look that different, so we chose to be represented by the very local man who knew the whole neighbourhood (Nether Wallop in Hampshire) like the back of his hand.

It is true that I was a little disappointed by the valuation he put on the house, just over £1 million. I thought before all this that we could have sold for more. But, after all, what did I know? So we accepted the expertise of our estate agent – all five of us did.

Back then, I was not even aware of the collapse of the market for bigger family homes – and this one has five bedrooms.

The first offer we accepted – just below the asking price – fell through. So we accepted the next one – the only other offer we have ever received for it all year – for £1.075m.

The house has now been sold and we have to pay quite a lot of tax on it before we can get to probate.

So you can imagine my disgust that a further delay has occurred because the ‘district valuer’ has got involved to investigate the sale.

Now, I have no idea how he will carry out his investigation, what technocratic calculations he will believe it proper to do, and how he will hold me responsible if he concludes that the house was sold ‘below market prices’. My main worry is that people like this seem not to be aware of market downturns.

Nor does he appear to be interested in the decisions we all took and how we arrived at them.

I was briefly relieved to discover that the definition of ‘market value’ under Section 160 of the Inheritance Tax Act 1984 is “the price which the property might reasonably be expected to fetch if sold in the open market at that time”.

But then the real issue is how they approach that question – especially if they never visit the property under investigation.

All I know is that it is infuriating. I will report further when I know more.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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