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5000 Empty Homes to be Refurbished and Sold in the UK

Potential first-time buyers looking for affordable housing to purchase in the near future have received welcome news recently as the UK government announces a £300 million plan to refurbish empty homes.

Up to 5000 empty and possibly derelict homes are to be refurbished to a liveable standard and then sold on the open market over the next three years. This £300 million investment is actually additional to £160 million already committed to similar ventures for refurbishing empty properties.

This huge investment seems to be the most eye-catching aspect of this new government policy, however, the government is also in the process of allowing councils greater authority to take on empty homes in their local area. With so many people looking for affordable housing, from April 2013 some councils will be allowed to charge owners of neglected and empty properties up to 150% of the regular Council Tax rate. In very problematic areas, councils may even have the power to repossess empty properties, making use of Empty Dwelling Management Orders.

There are also plans to make it easier for local councils and businesses to convert commercial premises into residential properties. Empty buildings are generally a problem as they tend to encourage both crime such as vandalism and squatting, and also pests such as rats.

For the hundreds of thousands of people in the UK looking to buy a property, this news will no doubt be very welcome as it may soon introduce new potential homes to many struggling areas. It is not yet known exactly where these houses will be located as the application process for funding is still on-going. However, it is hoped these properties will be spread around the UK so that many areas can benefit.

Three-Year High for First-Time Buyers in London

According to figures recently released by the Council for Mortgage Lenders (CML), between July and September this year 10,000 first-time buyers took out mortgages for London properties. This is the highest number of first-time buyers in the capital for any three-month period over the last three years.

These positive figures are believed to be largely due to the government’s Funding for Lending scheme which is designed to encourage banks and building societies to provide mortgages. The figures from the capital are also indicative of a general rise in first-time buyers across the country.

However, these figures are still far below the numbers being generated back in 2006 and 2007, before the housing slump and general credit crisis began. Just looking at the capital, according to the CML the 50% level of ownership in London is the lowest throughout the country. London buyers were also required to put down a higher average deposit for their mortgage (25%) than the rest of the UK (20%). This difference is apparently due to the fact that first-time buyers in London tend to be older, and more receive financial assistance from their parents. London dwellers also have higher incomes, with an average household income of £50,000 compared to £34,000 in the rest of the country.

As stated above, figures in other parts of the UK also reflect a good number of first-time buyers securing mortgages for their first home in the last three months. In Wales, 2300 first-time buyers bought a home, a figure up 10% on the previous quarter. Meanwhile, in Scotland, first-time buyers were up 6% to 5100 in the third quarter of this year.

These figures are likely to be a boost to both first-time buyers and property sellers hoping that it will now be easier to get on the property ladder in the first place, as well is more properties changing hands.

One in four ‘concerned about repossession’

One in four people are worried about having their home repossessed, according to the latest Which? Quarterly Consumer Report. A large proportion of homeowners aged between 30 and 49 are “mortgage prisoners”, the report found, as they are trapped in their current mortgage deal and cannot switch when rates increase, and this group also has the highest housing-related costs, paying an average of £186 a week to live in their homes.

Additionally, many first-time property buyers are struggling under rising rents and unable to save for the large deposits they need to make a purchase.

“The housing market is failing not just one but two generations of consumers, with many mortgage prisoners trapped on their current deal and young people excluded from the housing market altogether,” said Richard Lloyd, executive director at Which?.

The consumer champion is now calling for the government and banks to clarify the Funding for Lending Scheme to ensure cheap mortgage finance goes to those who need it most. It is also urging banks to stop increasing arrangement fees, which have risen by around 60 per cent in the last 18 months.

Rising rents put households in danger of debt

Rising rental prices are putting thousands of households in danger of spiralling into debt, the Money Advice Trust has warned. According to the charity’s figures, more than 12,000 people called its helpline between January and August this year to discuss rental arrears, compared with just 6,000 for the same period in 2007.

Nearly ten per cent of all people calling the National Debtline are experiencing rent arrears, and more than half of those who called the helpline this year are living in rented accommodation, partly because the current environment is so challenging for potential property buyers.

“Rising rent prices are not only making it harder for people to save for a deposit, they’re also pushing more people in debt. This is a dangerous spiral; with increasing numbers of people entering the renting market, and fewer people leaving it, it is hard to see how the situation will improve,” said Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust.

 

She went on to say that anybody who is struggling with their finances should seek free advice as soon as possible.

Mortgage lending falls back in September

Gross mortgage lending was lower in September than in August, latest figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) have revealed. Some £11.6 million in home loans was advanced last month, compared with August’s figure of £12.9 million - a ten per cent month-on-month fall, and a 15 per cent drop on September 2011′s figures.

Gross lending for the third quarter of 2012 also showed a year-on-year fall of five per cent from the same period last year, while remortgaging activity also showed few signs of growth. Lower levels of lending make it more difficult for some groups, especially first-time property buyers, to gain a foothold on the property ladder.

“There have been hints of demand softening over recent months, but monthly patterns may have been distorted by the Olympics. House purchase demand failed to lift significantly in the third quarter, despite much better mortgage availability,” said Bob Pannell, chief economist at the CML.

Poll shows one in ten move back in with parents

Nearly one in ten people aged between 20 and 40, equating to around 1.6 million in the UK, have been forced to move back in with their parents because they can’t afford to buy a home, according to a poll by homeless charity Shelter. Although 22 is considered the ideal age for young people to leave the nest, the survey found that nearly a third of first-time property buyers are over 35.

Additionally, the poll revealed that 59 per cent of those living at home find it harder to develop new relationships because of their domestic situation, 34 per cent are embarrassed by it and nearly a quarter say it has put a strain on their relationship with their parents.

“These figures paint a vivid picture of twenty- and thirty-somethings in arrested development, with our housing crisis putting the brakes on their aspirations for the future,” said Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter. “Our chronic lack of homes that young people can genuinely afford to rent or buy is at the root of the problem.”

London commuters benefit from living outside capital

Rail commuters to London are financially better off catching the train every day rather than living closer to their workplace due to high house prices in the capital, the Lloyds TSB Commuter Towns Survey has revealed. Although a 60-minute train journey into London sets commuters back £3,800 a year in ticket costs, this is offset by a house price that is a massive £308,000 or 55 per cent lower than central London living.

Those who live half an hour closer see somewhat higher house prices, but in general commuters from towns in the “half hour zone” will pay an average house price of £272,000, considerably lower than the £555,000 average in the city centre.

“A major consideration for commuting to London is that the typically higher income that can be earned, tends to go much further in towns outside the capital. In addition, bigger homes can be bought for lower prices,” said Suren Thiru, housing economist at Lloyds TSB.

However, the study found that property buyers living near Manchester and Birmingham, Britain’s next largest cities, find the opposite is true: city centre houses are often cheaper than those in the surrounding towns.

Housing market to end 2012 ‘on a positive note’

The UK housing market is poised to end the year on a positive note, with price falls expected to slow and transactions by property buyers picking up, the latest survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has revealed. Greater mortgage availability, encouraged by recent government initiatives, has helped to drive up activity and surveyors’ expectations for future sales are now at their highest level since May 2010.

Demand from potential buyers remained stable in most parts of the country, and 26 per cent more respondents expected transactions to grow during the last three months of the year. The amount of homes coming on to the market in September remained fairly flat.

“The housing market was relatively flat during September but surveyors are optimistic that the run in to Christmas could see an increase in activity in many areas of the country. Prices are still dipping but at a much lower rate than seen in previous months,” said Peter Bolton King, global residential director at RICS.

Severe weather ‘should renew focus on flood insurance’

The recent heavy downpours seen across the UK should prompt the government to take action on a problem facing homeowners and insurers, the AA has said - namely, an agreement on flood insurance that is due to expire in less than a year. At the end of June 2013, 200,000 homes that are at risk of flooding could become uninsurable as the agreement, which states that insurers will continue to cover these properties as long as the government invests in flood defences, comes to an end.

Simon Douglas, director of AA insurance, said the deadline is approaching and there is still “little sign of a replacement” that will guarantee insurance for those at risk of flooding - potentially meaning thousands of families may need to secure a quick home sale and relocate. “These families must be wondering whether they will be able to find affordable insurance from that date and I’m concerned at the apparent lack of progress,” he said.

This month, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that a number of options are under consideration, including an industry-led levy that would help to cover the expense of offering insurance to flood-risk homes. Mr Douglas added: “The Treasury is not likely to be enthusiastic about underwriting such a risk. Who picks the liability up is, I believe, where discussions may have stuck.”

Overseas property? Money goes furthest in the US

Anybody considering a quick home sale and moving abroad will see their money go furthest in the US, according to the results of a report by HSBC. The building society found that a four-bedroom house with a private swimming pool and a large garden can be had for just £125,000 in Orlando, Florida - or those with a bit more cash to splash can get a six-bedroom home for £400,000.

The report, which examined purchasing power in various countries, also found that Costa Blanca in Spain has some particularly tempting bargains, including a three-bedroom house for £125,000 - compare that to the Swiss Alps, where the same amount will only buy a one-bedroom studio apartment.

Many of the countries listed in the top ten were in the eurozone, where sterling has strengthened by six per cent since March this year. Turkey was number three on the list, partly due to the country’s low post-purchase costs.

“There is a huge discrepancy in the size of property that UK buyers can purchase on the same budget in some of the most popular overseas locations for second homes,” said James Yerkess, HSBC head of FX. “This is a combined result of foreign exchange rates, tax levels and the strength of the property market.”

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