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Why is Help to Buy still being advertised days before it ends?

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27/10/2022
There are just days left until the Help to Buy Equity Loan scheme closes. Is it right that house builders continue to market the scheme to first-time buyers, or is it simply too late?

YourMoney.com searched through a raft of newspapers and found marketing and advertorials continuing to highlight the government’s Help to Buy Equity Loan scheme aimed at first-time buyers. We found examples this week in The Times, Metro and the Evening Standard.

But, as the scheme closes to new applicants at 6pm on Monday 31 October, this cliff-edge deadline is just around the corner.

The Help to Buy Equity Loan allows people to buy a new-build property with a minimum of a 5% deposit and to use an equity loan of up to 20% of the purchase price (40% in London). The loan is interest-free for the first five years. See YourMoney.com’s Help to Buy Equity Loan guide for more information.

 

                   

Back in the summer, brokers were already urging first-time buyers to submit their applications as soon as possible. They also warned people not to bother after August as the scheme is likely to be all but closed except for those “who have all their ducks in a row”.

So, are developers providing vital information for prospective buyers before the scheme closes for good, or is this misleading and simply out of reach for many given the recent market turmoil?

For Imogen Sporle, head of regulated and term finance at Finanze, she can understand why developers are still advertising to those few people left who may be “ready to go”.

“It’s a hard time for many borrowers out there but especially first-time buyers who have not had it easy now for a number of years so where they can be helped, they should be,” she says.

But Sporle adds: “In my opinion, I do not think this is enough time to get everything in place. Yes, there are still opportunities for first-time buyers to get on the scheme, but not as many lenders can offer the mortgages now as before.”

Lenders pull back deals

Given the recent market turmoil off the back of the disastrous mini Budget, Sporle says there are currently 21 lenders able to offer a Help to Buy Equity Loan, “still a very good amount”, but this is down from the 30-35 just three months ago.

Lewis Shaw, owner and mortgage broker at Riverside Mortgages, echoes Sporle’s sentiment.

He says: “With the turmoil in the mortgage market, and only days before the scheme closes, the chances of making the deadline will be difficult.”

However, Sabrina Hall, mortgage and protection adviser at Kind Financial Services, says: “Whilst the deadline to apply is the end of October, the mortgages don’t have to complete till 31 March 2023. So, on paper it seems acceptable to still promote this service.

“However, my concern is how many new build developers are missing their targets at the moment and the impact this could have. If the homebuyer’s only way to purchase a property is through the homebuyer scheme, you could find that you’ve committed a lot of money to deposits, fees and charges and if the builder misses the deadline then they will end up with no house and no means to purchase a property.”

Key dates and deadlines

The application deadline has been set for 6pm Monday 31 October. On a practical level, this means prospective buyers must have been in contact with a home developer/house builder registered under the government scheme and reserved a new build property.

Claire Flynn, mortgage expert from money.co.uk, explains: “You can then apply online through a Help to Buy agent in your region. You will be asked to fill in a Property Information Form so you can give your financial information, as well as your personal details. Once given Authority to Proceed you can then apply for a mortgage and progress your application to the exchange of contracts.”

The developer must finish building your home so it’s ready to live in, and it must receive a new-home warranty / building regulations certificate by 31 December 2022.

The legal completion deadline is the 31 March 2023, which is the last date you and your homebuilder can legally complete the purchase of your home.

You’re expected to have your keys by 6pm and if you don’t complete by this date, you won’t be given the equity loan.

The October deadline – set by Homes England which runs the Help to Buy Equity Loan scheme –was set to give applicants enough time to complete their purchase by the 31 March 2023 scheme closure date, based on statistics from house developers on how long the process takes between reservation and completion.

‘Absolutely right to market Help to Buy’

Joe Garner, co-founder and managing director at NewPlace, says “it is absolutely the right thing to do” for developers to continue to advertise and inform buyers about help to buy properties before the deadline closes, “no matter how tight that may be”.

Garner says: “If a first-time buyer still has the opportunity to buy a new home with financial assistance, that door should be held open right up until it becomes impossible for them to do so. The alternative in my opinion is an unknown, high rate, economically convulsive dystopian future where there are very few if any alternative assistance schemes for first-time buyers at anywhere near the level of direct financial support provided by Help to Buy.

“Coupled with some mortgage rates being literally twice as high as they were a few months ago, having a stab at beating the deadline sounds a lot more appealing to me.”

However, he adds: “For first-time buyers who are not registered on the scheme already or don’t have a mortgage offer already, it is highly likely that they have missed the boat for now.”

Trade Association, the Home Builders Federation, adds: “It is absolutely still appropriate on the basis that if you are reserving a home today then Help to Buy is still available if you’re a first-time buyer (which in the current market could be an increasingly attractive option).

“Buyers should speak to the house builders’ sales representatives or agents to understand the scheme and timelines so they can make an informed choice.”

Guidelines on marketing Help to Buy

Based on Homes England and government guidance on marketing guidelines for homebuilders, they are not doing anything wrong.

As part of the guidelines on marketing ‘supporting the closure of Help to Buy to new applications’, homebuilders must end all promotion on 31 October 2022 or when their last eligible dwelling is reserved, whichever comes first.

In the lead-up to this end date, developers are not allowed to use phrases such as “time is running out” or “last chance to apply” that could make homebuyers feel pressured to use Help to Buy.

They are also not allowed to describe Help to Buy as a discount incentive or promotion.

Developers should also avoid phrases such as “make the most of the Help to Buy scheme before it ends”, “Help to Bye” and “don’t miss out”.

Homes England cautions: “We’ll continue to monitor advertising and promotional activity. If we find marketing or promotional materials that do not follow the guidelines, we will request they are changed immediately, at the cost of the homebuilder.”

YourMoney.com contacted Galliard Homes (the developer we noted with several adverts on Help to Buy) but it declined to comment.

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