The Help to Buy shared equity scheme designed to get people onto the housing ladder has its benefits but those who may be enticed by developers to make use of the ‘leg up’ must exercise some caution.
There are clearly signs that the property market is recovering, with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors reporting that demand rose to its highest level for more than three years after the April launch of Help to Buy. New buyer inquiries were at their highest level for more than three years, and the scheme was starting to make an impact, the institute said.
However some of the methods developers are using to market their properties to first-time buyers who might be eligible for the Help to Buy shared-equity programme are being called into question.
What is the Scheme?
Under the scheme, which is expected to trigger 74,000 sales, the taxpayer provides an interest-free loan of 20pc of the purchase price for five years, to enable a borrower to buy a newly built property. Home buyers still need a 5pc deposit, but this additional loan should enable them to buy a property they couldn't otherwise afford. Help to Buy mortgages can be used on properties valued up to £600,000.
Participating mortgage companies will then grant an advance of the remaining 75pc of the value. After five years, the homeowner has to pay interest on the outstanding 20pc at a rate of 1.75pc, although this will rise by inflation plus 1pc annually thereafter.
However, it has been reported that developers are marketing their properties at prices 20pc below the correct asking price, implying that the equity loan is a discount or free gift.
A property for sale by a certain large developer, for example, priced at £439,500, was also advertised separately at £351,600 – indicating that the property was cheaper than it actually was.
Slicing money off the price implies it is a gift from the Government. It is not. An equity loan is precisely what it says it is. It is a loan that has to be repaid. This may encourage people to take on debt, which is not understood, or to overstretch themselves and buy properties bigger than they can afford.
New homes tend to be more expensive. According to the latest report from Halifax, the average cost of a newbuild home is £233,822. This compares with the average property price of £166,000 in April.
Indeed, a large section of the mortgage market has turned its back on the new shared-equity scheme. Only Halifax and NatWest, both part-owned by the Government, have embraced the scheme enthusiastically, although Woolwich is also offering Help to Buy loans.
So what are the pitfalls of this scheme?
· You can participate only if you do not own any other property.
· If you want to buy the Government out, you can do so, but there will be costs. You can increase your equity, but only in 5pc slices. Each time the property must have an independent valuation, which you will have to pay for.
· You may also face problems if you want to extend or alter the building, as you have to seek approval, which may not be forthcoming. Increasing the value of the property through a large extension can make subsequent equity valuations problematic.
· Buying a new property means you will be invariably be paying more for the property than the equivalent second hand property so make sure you look to negotiate the price down.
· Look to work out how much you will paying under the scheme and the mortgage in 5 years time – will you be able to afford it.
· Don’t be drawn in by misleading sales talk.
· Remember it will be expensive to increase your equity in the property.