Housing shortage must be addressed

What a fantastic first half of the year. The market remains buoyant and latest lending figures show an upward trend. And all this despite doom mongers saying it would never last.

But they may yet prove to be right, as first-time buyer loans have plummeted this year. So who or what is responsible for maintaining the mortgage market momentum? In our cover story starting on page 40 some suggest the gap left by the so-called lost generation of first-time buyers has been filled with buy-to-let investors. While first-timers are struggling to deal with issues such as clearing student debt and saving for a deposit, investors are dipping into their equity to extend their property portfolios.

But can the blame be laid at the door of buy-to-let investors? Some say this argument is too simplistic and that far from being priced out of the market by investors, the real reasons why first-time buyer numbers have fallen are more to do with behavioural and lifestyle issues. These include people wanting the flexibility that accompanies renting rather than buying.

It’s a trend that is being seen across the board, from young first-time buyers to people in their 70s who are looking to raise cash by selling their homes and renting to help fund their retirement.

The problem with arguing that investors are taking over from first-time buyers in keeping the market momentum going is that all the attention is focussed on affordability constraints of first-timers. This is looking at the problem in a one-dimensional way which can lead to ineffective housing policies. It is a difficult time for first-time buyers but that sector of the market looks set to hold up due to parents and other members of the family helping out with deposits.

Today’s housing market is influenced by a wide range of forces and one of the most important is the lack of housing supply. But until that is addressed, buy-to-let investors look set to carry the can for the difficulties that first-time buyers face.