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EDITOR’S BLOG: Ladder or leg-up – give us a home Pt 2

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16/04/2007

In my last blog I spoke about the homeowning heartache of Gary and Stacey Castle, a young, married couple of Chelmsford in Essex, who desperately want to buy a home in the town where they both grew up and currently work.

As a fireman, Gary is a useful member of the local community – a ‘key worker’ no less – but even with the addition of Stacey’s shop manager’s salary, the couple cannot get a foot on to the local housing ladder. Chelmsford, you see, is a ‘happening’ town, with lots of young professionals who work in London settling there as it is only a half-hour commute into the City by train. And, like all places where young professionals settle, property prices have soared beyond the reach of many locals, leaving them stuck in rented accommodation or facing the decision to move out somewhere cheaper.

My own feeling is that the Government should pay half the asking price of appropriate property for key workers, no questions asked, and if the person or people involved left a key worker’s job, say within 10 years, then they would be billed the difference at that point. There would be a lot of fine detail to sort out in such a scheme, but as a taxpayer I wouldn’t mind a portion of my contribution to the State going to help people like Gary and Stacey, who are an integral part of my home community.

But there’s probably not a lot of danger of this Government doing anything so constructive as to help people like Gary and Stacey, who are hard-working and do not fit into any ‘special’ category at which ministers usually love to chuck our money. What we get instead are half-baked ‘initiatives’ like the dreadful Home Information Pack, which must surely rank in the top 10 of all-time worst ideas along with the Poll Tax and ‘banning’ pigeons from Trafalgar Square, for example.

So, is there any respite in the offing for Gary and Stacey and all the millions of young English people like them who’d like to own a home in the town and country of their birth? The blunt answer is: not a lot by the look of it. A survey by property website Rightmove shows that the average asking price of a property jumped £8,307 last month alone, meaning that houses ‘earned’ almost £280 a day, more than the average salaried person gets for working most of their waking day. And if you’re lucky enough to have a place in Kensington and Chelsea (home to the nobs of England), the average (and I use the term loosely) property there went up by £121,000 in March. Yes, you did read that correctly – £121,000 in March alone. That’s five numbers and the bonus ball on the Lottery to me, not a quantity that should be associated with monthly house price inflation.

Miles Shipside, commercial director at Rightmove, says that people should treat the figures with caution. “People should not regard this research as the start of another national boom. As prices go higher, fewer buyers can afford to get on the ladder or trade up and that will restrain ongoing increases in many parts of the country.”

All of this has led some to predict an imminent house price crash, although many of these pundits are American doomsayers, like the International Monetary Fund, which seem to have an obsession with predicting UK property price crashes. Maybe that’s because the Yanks are making such a mess of their own property market, especially the mushrooming crisis in its sub-prime (lending to the financially-challenged) mortgage sector.

Still, the way things are, only a property price crash would give people like Gary and Stacey Castle the chance to buy a home of their own. And would that be such a bad thing?

 

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