by Radhika Madhani
In Wednesday’s budget George Osborne revealed his Help to Buy scheme. On the face of it,this looks great: financial assistance for homebuyers, and a supposed boost to the economy through the stimulation of the property market. But a closer look will reveal that the chancellor has developed a scheme to help the wealthy and create unaffordable housing in the property market.
Help to Buy has two key parts. The first relates to government proposals to loan up to 20 per cent deposits for borrowers, providing they put in at least 5 per cent of the deposit through their own means (thus allowing for a 25 per cent deposit in the mortgage application process).
This deposit assistance will apply to new-build properties in England worth up to £600,000, and will come into effect in April this year. The second part of the scheme relates to a mortgage guarantee designed to support £130 billion worth of loans. Coming into effect next year, this guarantee will place a £12 billion guarantee on the taxpayer for mortgages between 80 and 90 per cent loan-to-value (LTV), and will apply to first-time-buyers (FTBs) and existing borrowers.
Looking at the scheme as a whole, Help to Buy is a real missed opportunity in reforming the property market. Presently, those wishing to buy their own homes face the problem of high property prices, high interest rates (at least when compared with the Bank of England’s current base rate of 0.5%), high LTV requirements, and stringent and complex affordability calculations used by lenders in assessing borrowers’ ability to repay the mortgage. Help to Buy fails to address all of these problems.
The first part of Help to Buy will obviously encourage more people to buy their own properties. With the government providing up to 20 per cent deposits to borrowers, there will of course be an increase in mortgage applications.
But unless this demand is matched in supply, Help to Buy will actually have a severely damaging impact on the economy. It is a basic economic principle that increased demand without increased supply will lead to a rise in prices. Yesterday the chancellor failed to announce a government commitment to build enough houses to stimulate the economy, and without these new homes we can expect a huge increase in property prices that will distort the market even further, especially in the London property bubble.
Property values will be unnecessarily pushed up, and far from helping FTBs and families, Osborne’s budget will actually create an unaffordable housing market. The economic rationale behind the government’s decision is almost impossible to understand, and we have here a clear example of an ill thought out, incompetent, and potentially disastrous policy.