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First-time buyer boom is sustainable post-Help To Buy – Phillips

by: John Phillips, national operations director, Just Mortgages
  • 22/10/2019
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First-time buyer boom is sustainable post-Help To Buy – Phillips
We’ve seen a lot of first-time buyer activity in the market over the last few years, and most people will tell you that one of the big reasons for that has been the Help to Buy scheme.

 

On the back of various criticisms of the scheme – not least that it wasn’t helping the right people – the wind seems to have gone out of the sails politically speaking. It doesn’t help that it was very much George Osborne’s pet scheme and he’s not flavour of the month with the gang in charge at the moment. 

Cue all sorts of doom and gloom that the market will somehow dry up without Help to Buy. But I don’t think so. 

For one thing, Help to Buy was partly a response to a pretty unique economic situation after the financial crisis. If we look around now, for all the Brexit uncertainty, the economy is on a pretty even keel, with high levels of employment and no sign that interest rates are going to budge too much any time soon.  

All that should make committing to a mortgage a lot easier for most people. 

And if it’s true that a lot of those benefiting from Help to Buy did not need it, then that must mean the market is already less dependent on it than we might think. 

I’m confident there’s still a lot of pent-up demand from potential first-time buyers; my worry would be whether the supply will be there to meet it.

 

National disgrace

Part of that is about building more of the right sort of homes, but it’s also about making better use of the existing housing stock.  

The number of empty homes is a longstanding national disgrace. The housing ministry Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government reckons there are around 635,000 vacant properties just in England, with more than 215,000 vacant for more than six months. 

And then there’s the elephant in the room – more of a dirty great woolly mammoth, in fact – stamp duty.  

Most first-time buyers are exempt, but the punitive levels further up the scale make the deadweight cost of moving too high for a lot of people. So they stay where they are, in a house that is now too small for their growing family but – guess what – would be perfect for a couple just starting out. 

The team around Boris Johnson has vowed to look again at stamp duty but the Treasury is bound to kick up a fuss so they’re going to need their feet held to the fire.

 

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