Getting lucky in the property market is not ‘providing for a long retirement’

In the Telegraph this week, art critic Brian Sewell writes about his “biggest financial fear”. It is the mansion tax. If it goes through as Labour suggests, he says, it “would more than wipe out my annual income, and were I to live another decade, leave the house burdened with an enormous debt, compelling its sale.”

It would he says, make him and thousands his age “wretched with anxiety”, given that they are asset-rich and cash-poor and it would “attack the provident who instead of spending as they go have looked to the future and made provision for a long retirement, rather than depend on the state to rescue them from poverty”. I can see a lot of these points.

Regular readers will know that, just like Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, we are very against the idea of a mansion tax. It’s badly thought out; it would be an administrative nightmare; it would be an additional tax rather than a replacement tax; and of course it would soon be extended down the house-price league tables until everyone was paying it on their garden sheds.

But there is one point in Sewell’s objection list that doesn’t ring quite true – the claim that those who are asset-rich and cash-poor have “made provision for a long retirement”. Many will have done their best to do so, but he doesn’t appear to have done anything of the sort.

If his main asset really is his large Wimbledon house, he hasn’t “made provision for a long retirement”, he’s merely been lucky enough to benefit from one of the greatest asset bubbles of all time.

And making provision for a long retirement today wouldn’t involve attempting to hang on to his house until his death and passing it on to his heirs without an “enormous debt”. It would involve selling the house and using the cash to create a long-term sustainable income.

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