In many areas of the country, house prices are now more than ten times the average salary. This can make life even harder for first-time buyers struggling to get on the property ladder.
According to research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), last year the average property price paid by buyers across the whole of England and Wales increased to six times the average salary, compared to four times the earnings recorded in 2002. House prices have reached over 10 times locals’ average earnings in 122 local authorities.
Although steeper house prices make it tougher to buy, there are plenty of things first-time buyers can do to improve their chances of becoming homeowners.
Here are our top tips…
1. Save save save
Last year saw the launch of Help to Buy individual savings accounts (ISAs), a new savings account designed to help first-time buyers build a deposit. You can save up to £1,200 in the first month, and then £200 a month after that, and the government will top up any contributions you make by 25%.
That means for every £100 you pay in, it will pay in another £25, but the maximum the government will contribute in total is £3,000. The Help to Buy ISA can be used for any property costing under £250,000, or under £450,000 if you are buying in London. However, the downside of this scheme is that the government bonus only becomes available upon completion when you take formal possession of the property, and not when contracts are exchanged.
April 2017 will see the introduction of another kind of ISA designed to help first-time buyers, called the Lifetime ISA (LISA).
As long as you’re aged between 18 and 39, you’ll be able to open a LISA and save up to £4,000 a year either to buy a property, or for retirement, or both. Your contributions will be supplemented by a government bonus of 25%, up to a maximum of £1,000 a year. Funds held in a LISA can be used after 12 months to buy a first home valued up to £450,000.
You’ll be able to have both a LISA and a Help to Buy ISA if you want, but you can only use the bonus from one of them towards buying a house.
NOTE: The information here is only provisional, as full details haven’t been released yet. We’ll update this article as we learn more.
2. Improve your credit score
When you apply for a mortgage, lenders will look at your credit history to see how you have managed any borrowing in the past. They will use this information to decide whether or not to offer you a mortgage, so it’s really important that you look at ways you can improve it first, including making sure you always make debt repayments on time, and shutting down credit card accounts you no longer use.
You can get hold of a copy of your credit report from one of the credit reference agencies Experian, Equifax or CallCredit. Check to see the information they hold on you is correct. If you’ve never borrowed before, it’s a good idea to take out a credit card and pay off the balance in full each month, so you can prove to lenders that you’ve got a track record of successfully repaying debts.
Even not being on the electoral register can affect your credit score, so make sure you are on it. If you aren’t, you can sign up online at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.
Even not being on the electoral register can affect your credit score, so make sure you are on it
3. Look into government schemes
You may qualify for the government’s Help to Buy scheme which aims to assist first-time buyers. There are two different parts to this scheme. The first, known as the ‘equity loan’ part, involves you putting in a 5% deposit, and the government loaning you 20% free of interest for the first five years.
If you live in London, you can get a loan for up to 40% of the property value. This part of the Help to Buy scheme is available until 2021 and is only available if you are buying a new build property costing up to £600,000.
The second part of Help to Buy is known as the ‘mortgage guarantee’ scheme. Again you can buy with a 5% deposit, but 20% of your mortgage is backed by the government, giving you access to better mortgage rates. You can buy a new build or an older property using this scheme, but again the property cannot cost more than £600,000.
This part of Help to Buy will finish at the end of December 2016.
Alternatively, you might qualify for a shared ownership scheme, whereby you buy a share of your home and pay rent on the remaining part to a housing association. Your household must earn £60,000 or less to qualify, or £71,000 a year or less if you’re living in the capital and buying a one or two-bedroom property.
4. Consider buying with friends or family
If you simply can’t afford to purchase on your own, could you buy a home with a friend or relative? If you are considering this, make sure you establish at the outset how things will work if one of you wants to sell at a later date.
You’ll also need to consider how you’ll divide the property between you, especially if one of you is paying a larger share of the deposit. If you are buying jointly, then you can either own the property as joint tenants, or as tenants in common.
If you are tenants in common, the ownership of the property can be divided in any way you like and your share can be passed on to a family member when you die. If, however, you are joint tenants, your share of the property will pass to the other person in the event of your death.
5. Get help from mum and dad
Your parents can help you get on the property ladder without having to actually hand over cash. Some lenders will take their savings into consideration when you make your mortgage application, but the money still stays in their name. As this gives the lender greater security, you’ll be able to get a better mortgage rate.
Speak to a fee-free independent mortgage broker for advice on this type of deal. They will be able to recommend the best mortgage for you and will also be able to help you with your application.