Buried in last autumn’s budget announcement was the news the the government’s Help to Buy (HtB) scheme would finally wind up in 2023. Which is long overdue considering it could finish tomorrow and that still wouldn’t be soon enough.
Introduced in 2013, the scheme was one of the flagship policies of the coalition government. It was meant to get a new generation of people onto the “housing ladder” – that semi-mythical place of milk and honey where your money works for you and everyone votes Tory. But what it’s actually done is passed huge profits to developers and screwed over the very people who bought into it.
Key to the scheme was the “Equity Loan”. As long as the buyer could stump up 5 per cent of the total cost of the property as a deposit, the government would provide a loan of 20 per cent. The final 75 per cent would be reached through a conventional mortgage. But there are requirements.
One of the requirements of the HtB Equity Loans is that the home being brought is newly built. Now this of course comes with advantages – often they have ten-year warranties, built with modern materials and to modern specs.
But there is a cost for those fresh-out-the-packet homes – what’s known as the “new-build premium”. Across England and Wales new-builds command a 16 per cent higher price than comparable properties in the area.
And just as a new car loses its value when it’s driven out the lot, once a new-build is lived in it starts to lose that premium. The average new-build loses around half its premium when it is sold for the first time. Suddenly the bottom rung of the ladder doesn’t seem so sturdy.
Another requirement of the scheme is that the property being bought is from “a registered Help to Buy builder”. This has the even more perverse effect of adding another premium onto the price that the first-time buyers are paying. A 2017 Morgan Stanley report found that builders could charge an extra 5 per cent for the properties sold through the scheme.
So between the new-build premium and the Help to Buy premium, the latter of which evaporates on purchase, people buying through HtB are paying 21 per cent over the odds.
Now if property were guaranteed to appreciate in value at those pre-2008 levels then it would still make sense. But that’s unlikely. Some assessments are predicting a 25-35 per cent fall in house prices in the case of a no-deal Brexit. Even if this on the cynical side, you know it’s not going to be pretty.
For developers, the scheme is brilliant. They no longer need to contribute any capital to support the sale of new-builds, so there is so much less risk involved. And this means they can rake it in. In a fairly excruciating video, the CEO of Persimmon Homes (a HtB builder) refused to answer questions from a BBC journalist about a £75m bonus.
Which makes the real winners of Help to Buy those whose bonuses are being propped up at the expense of those it is meant to help – and suddenly it’s easy to see why the scheme must be scrapped. But for the 400,000 first-time buyers who have already used it, it might just turn out to be a terrible deal.