We all know that the current low supply, high demand housing market position, which even with the recent small downturn in house prices has resulted in double digit growth in the last year, is unsustainable in the longer-term and we desperately need more homes if this is to be stemmed.
To tackle the problem of housing supply and achieve the lofty ambition of building 300,000 new homes a year, investment in diversity of supply is essential. I was therefore pleased to see the Government announce the launch of the Help to Build scheme, with £150 million funding to support those wanting to build their own home. Government believes the scheme could make a key contribution towards the overall self and custom build sector developing 30-40,000 new homes a year. The majority of lenders who are active in the self-build market are small and regional building societies, with their more bespoke approach to underwriting and releasing funds fitting well with these mortgages. It’s not therefore surprising that Darlington Building Society is the first lender to sign up the Help to Build scheme, and I hope it won’t be too long before other lenders are joining them.
Self and custom build homes, of all tenures, have a key role to play in increasing housing supply, which is why we have long been calling for changes to make these more mainstream in the housing market. We actively contributed to the Bacon Review, which provided a number of recommendations on how these properties can be scaled up in a major way. It highlighted an opportunity for mortgage lenders, custom build housing providers, Government and regulators to work together and seize the opportunity to bring a step-change to our housing supply and provide some long overdue choice. The investment announced on 24 June is a good step towards this, however more collaboration and action is needed with all stakeholders if the full potential of self-build is to be realised.
Also last month, we saw the Prime Minister make a number of announcements on the housing market, the majority of which were aimed at enabling people to get, and stay, on the property ladder, rather than increasing housing supply. These included the launch of a comprehensive mortgage market review, extension of Right to Buy to social housing properties and changes to the Support for Mortgage Interest loan (SMI). However, as is often the case with high profile speeches, the detail is lacking, leaving us with many questions.
For example, we all know the biggest challenge for first-time homebuyers (FTBs) is raising the deposit, but as the indications are that the new review of the mortgage market is unlikely to include FCA regulation on affordability within its’ scope, it’s difficult to see how this will deliver better access for FTBs when the biggest barrier will remain unchanged. Whilst we saw the Financial Policy Committee (FPC) remove the +3% stress test from August, this won’t have a big impact on the market, as borrowers will still need to raise a deposit and demonstrate affordability. For a small number of people, however, it will make a big difference.
Clarification is also needed on the extension of Right to Buy, such as who will fund the discount, as these are not Government-owned properties and how will Government keep its ‘promise’ to replace each property sold, one for one, and not further deplete the already low social housing stock.
To end on a positive, I’m delighted that the Prime Minister confirmed that the waiting time for SMI will be reduced from 9 to 3 months. Regular readers of my articles will know that we have been lobbying for this change for a very long time, let’s hope implementation is quick and support is provided to those who need it, without any further delay.