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Generation rent: why aren’t more first-time buyers joining the property ladder?

Simon Read

SimonHouse 225x300 Generation rent: why arent more first time buyers joining the property ladder?On Saturday The Independent reported that home ownership in the UK is at its lowest level since the mid-80s. Looking back, home ownership levels peaked in 2003. What’s happened since then to turn almost a whole generation into renters rather than home buyers?

Partly it’s because as prices soared ahead of the credit crunch in 2007, first-time buyers were largely priced out of the market. But then the subsequent cut back in lending and tighter lending restrictions has meant very few first-time buyers have been able to afford to clamber onto the property ladder.

I asked Robert Gardner, the chief economist at the Nationwide Building Society what are the factors for the drop in home ownership in the last decade.

“The recent decline in the home ownership rate is due to a combination of factors,” he told me. “In the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis weak labour market conditions, tighter credit conditions and the uncertain economic outlook depressed the demand for homes, especially from first time buyers.”

The fact is there seems little incentive for first-time buyers to attempt to climb onto the property ladder and boost home ownership figures at the moment.

According to Nationwide’s latest house price figures the average property in the UK sold for £162,638 in 2012. I reckon that means prices haven’t yet fallen to a low enough level to allow many potential new borrowers to actually be able to afford to buy.

Also, at the moment most first-time buyers need to find a deposit of around 20 per cent, which is beyond most purses. In the mid-2000s a 10 per cent deposit was generally all that was needed.

But, perhaps more crucially, the fact that prices have remained flat over the last year is a powerful disincentive for first-time buyers to buy property. Let’s face it, the old days when homes were considered a safe and rising asset are long gone. These days the opposite is often true.

Robert Gardner said: “Residential property remains expensive relative to incomes by historic standards, in part because housing is in relatively short supply. The pace of house building, especially in England, has been running well below the rate of household formation – a trend which is set to accelerate if official population projections come to pass.”

Alarmingly research from Castle Trust last week showed that 41 per cent of homes – equivalent to 130,000 properties in England and Wales – have sold at a loss since the property market peaked in 2007. The average loss was £24,430, or 11 per cent of the average house price. That’s a really powerful reason not to buy a home.

I suspect most potential homeowners are now aware of the dangers of buying an over-priced property and then seeing their new home quickly falling into negative equity. When that happens, many homeowners simply can’t afford to move and so remain trapped in too-small homes and rueing the day they gave up renting.

But Robert Gardner said there are signs that some of these constraints are starting to ease. “Employment is rising at a respectable pace and the Funding for Lending Scheme has achieved some success in bringing down mortgage rates, with encouraging signs of an improvement in credit availability,” he said.

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  • snozzle123

    Prices are too high it’s simple.

  • snozzle123

    Robert Gardner would say that, he’s a paid shill.

  • Pacificweather

    Au contraire mon ami, wages are too low and there are too many attractive toys to buy.

  • ollieclark

    As the article suggests, people are sensibly waiting for the house prices to fall before they buy. Nothing wrong with renting in the meantime. We’re a bit odd in this country that we expect everyone to own property. In most other countries, the majority rent and leave the owning (and therefore repairs etc.) to landlords.

    As for the level of rents – landlords will charge what the market will bear. They’d be stupid not to.

    A solution to both would be for the government to embark on a huge social housing building program. Not only would it reduce property prices and rents but also reduce the housing benefit bill. I fear we’ll be waiting a long time for this as it only directly benefits the poor.

  • Sally

    yes, snozzle, prices are too high.

    Added to that, housing in the uk is utter crap: shoddily built, rooms awkwardly arranged and far too small (based on the Perkin’s Standard which became obsolete in the 1980’s), too few windows, poor sound proofing, buildings crammed together and blocking sunlight and fresh air. The worse housing in all of Europe by some surveys. Too, buying a house does not necessarily mean that the owner now owns the ground underneath it.

    Many countries in Europe and North America have residential buildings that are far superior, made of people-friendly material, with adequate living space (room to maneuver).

    In short, people aren’t buying houses because they pay through the nose for utter rubbish.


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