Hanging onto the ladder for dear life

The latest news from housing charity Shelter says the boom in house prices since 1998 means many first-time buyers have been unable to get on the property ladder. I didn’t see that coming.

Still, it’s refreshing to see a story that isn’t about falling house prices, lenders pulling their products or the credit crunch.

According to Shelter, the average first home costs 200% more today than it did a decade ago. And despite weekly salaries rising by 53% to £900 over the same period, this is surpassed by a 172% increase in average monthly mortgage payments.

I suspect many first-time buyers are rubbing their hands with glee over headlines about falling house prices. The tabloids have been full of letters from readers jubilant that their dream of home ownership could soon become a reality. One gave thanks for reports that the bottom is about to fall out of the buy-to-let market, reasoning that this would make it easier for him to buy his own place.

They obviously missed the story on page seven of the same newspaper, which warned that unless borrowers have serious savings to put down as deposits, their chances of getting mortgages are close to zero.

I’m not gloating. Consumers who can’t buy their own homes because of affordability constraints or the credit crunch have my sympathy. But it’s not all wine and roses for those of us who have managed to get on the first rung of the ladder either. Some of us feel we are hanging on for dear life.

Without wishing to air too much of my financial laundry in public, I bought my first place last year with a 100% LTV mortgage.

My sale completed in July, just weeks before the credit crunch hit and just a couple of months before Northern Rock customers queued around the block.

Over Christmas dinner my dad congratulated me for buying at the peak of the market. And when Alliance & Leicester, BM Solutions and the rest pulled their 125% LTV offerings in March, my inbox was inundated with emails asking if I was worried.

Well yes, I am. In my last column I asked why the government wasn’t doing more to help first-time buyers. But my motives were not entirely altruistic – apart from the fact that when I come to sell my property a first-time buyer is the most likely purchaser, the market needs fresh blood or prices will collapse.

So while I appreciate that some think cheaper property is a good thing, for those of us facing the threat of negative equity their pleasure in the downfall of the market seems perverse. And if it wasn’t cutting my nose off to spite my face, I’d be glad they can’t get on the ladder.