Britain’s housebuilders are calling for the return of the Help to Buy scheme to light a fire under a slowing housing market and avert a dramatic plunge in the supply of new homes.
Trade body the Home Builders Federation (HBF) is writing to the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, to reintroduce help for first-time buyers at the Budget in March, the same month that Help to Buy ends after 10 years.
The scheme offers buyers a taxpayer-backed loan to get on the property ladder with deposits as low as 5 per cent. It has been altered and extended over the years but final purchases under Help to Buy must be completed by the end of March. The HBF said this marked the end of 25 years of “continuous government intervention” in the market in various guises.
In a submission to the Treasury ahead of the Budget the HBF is expected to argue that “the average deposit of a first-time buyer in 2021-22 was £43,693, an amount that for many, is simply unachievable”. The industry wants a “new, targeted home ownership scheme for first-time buyers”.
Housebuilders are also seeking a relaxation on environmental rules around nutrient levels in rivers that they claim are preventing the development of 100,000 homes. And the sector wants ministers to reconsider mandatory housebuilding targets for local authorities after they were scrapped by levelling-up secretary Michael Gove at the end of last year, meaning the government goal of 300,000 new homes a year is all but dead.
The housing market is now entering a downturn, with house prices falling 1.5 per cent in December according to Halifax. In the face of this slowdown the HBF and others have warned that the supply of new houses could plummet, with a knock-on effect on the economy. An executive at one large housebuilder said: “Without urgent Government support for first-time buyers, housebuilding could halve to 110,000 units annually over the coming years – levels not seen since the aftermath of the global financial crisis.”
However critics of Help to Buy have long argued it has simply inflated house prices. London-based buying agent Henry Pryor said: “Help to Buy is the crack cocaine of the housing market and we need to be weaned off it. Bringing it back would be a massive mistake for everyone except the shareholders of building companies and their executives. We should chisel out a headstone for it and make sure the policy is buried.”
The lobbying over Help to Buy comes as the number of developers offering to contribute to buyers’ mortgage payments has increased ninefold in a year after higher interest rates left housebuilders struggling to shift properties.
In January, 26 developers, including Britain’s four biggest, had some form of mortgage incentive on offer, according to analysis of listings by the estate agency Hamptons, up from just three this time last year.
Persimmon, Britain’s second-largest housebuilder, is offering a cash contribution advertised as “10 months’ mortgage free” across all of its new builds for those who reserve one by the end of February, worth up to 5 per cent of the property’s value.
Based on the company’s sales last year, if all homebuyers took up the offer on its average sale price of £248,600, it could cost Persimmon up to £31 million.
Barratt, Bellway and Taylor Wimpey are also offering cash incentives of up to £25,000 for homebuyers.