Opinion: Helping loved ones with housing costs

Young couple viewing a house with female real estate agent

Equity release could allow you to help family members get onto the property ladder, says finance expert Peter Sharkey. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Though some clearly are, most Britons are not exactly obsessed with property values. Yet because we invest so much physical and emotional capital into our homes, we appreciate their worth and, accordingly, their status as the most valuable asset many of us own.

It could be argued that when it comes to property ownership, the ‘lucky generation’ of post-war baby boomers hit the jackpot, as even a cursory examination of values proves.

The Nationwide Building Society has tracked quarterly property values since 1952, when the average cost of a home was £1,891. Thirty years later, the same place would set you back £25,580, still very affordable for people wanting to get onto the property ladder’s first rung. Average values almost doubled over the next decade, but for those who hadn’t quite clambered aboard the property ladder, they slowed markedly between 1989-96, giving these folks the opportunity to hop on board.

You know the rest of the story. Homes valued at £50,168 in 1992 were, on the eve of lockdown, worth almost £215,000. Since then, the annualised increase in average residential property values has, on occasion, been more than 8.5%. According to the Office for National Statistics, the cost of an average home in England is now £268,000.

It means that since Nationwide started publishing property statistics, the average home has risen in value by a factor of more than 140. No wonder it takes a first-time buyer (FTB) around six years to save the deposit with which to buy! Little wonder too that an estimated one third of FTBs receive some form of financial assistance from the Bank of Mum and Dad, now the nation’s sixth-largest property-related lender.

While property values can be gut-wrenchingly volatile over the short term, their longer-term trend continues its upward march. Parents searching for a way of helping their children or grandchildren get a toehold in the property market will not only be conscious of this; they will also recognise that the market has cooled recently following the removal of the Stamp Duty holiday.

It’s a situation in which they could take advantage by releasing a proportion of the wealth built-up in their home and gift the funds to their offspring to help them acquire their first property at a point where prices have stopped behaving crazily.

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As the Nationwide statistics prove, many UK homeowners aged 55 and over have witnessed phenomenal increases in their property’s worth. Using this growth to their advantage is an attractive financial option for those wishing to give their offspring a leg-up onto that all-important first rung of the property ladder.

They’re far from being alone. According to the Equity Release Council, homeowners now regularly release around £4 billion worth of tax-free equity from their property every year. Much of this is used to provide a valuable contribution to a loved one’s property deposit, while a significant amount has also been set aside for home extensions, new kitchens, luxury holidays and a host of other items besides.

By taking advantage of a specialist ‘lifetime mortgage’, only available to those aged 55 and above, millions of homeowners could release a tax-free sum to spend exactly how they wish.

There are three additional advantages:

First, homeowners retain full ownership of their property for life, or until they move into permanent residential care.

Second, there is no requirement to make monthly repayments because the loan is repaid via the property’s sale once the homeowner(s) die or move to permanent residential care.

Third, lifetime mortgages approved by the Equity Release Council are designed to ensure homeowners can never owe more than the value of their home.

Of course, using a proportion of home equity today could mean there is less available in the future. Accordingly, it is essential to discuss this and other matters with a qualified equity release adviser before taking any action, not least because releasing equity could reduce an estate’s value and affect any entitlement to means-tested benefits.

As demand for equity release has soared, so too has the range of lifetime mortgages available for homeowners. Those wishing to help the family’s FTBs in their quest to scramble onto the property ladder should, in the first instance, discuss these options with an adviser as the property market takes a breather.

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