New buyers on the block

Keen to get a foot on the ladder but lack funds? You must learn to share, says Belinda Archer
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The Independent Online

We all know the grim facts. House prices in England and Wales have almost tripled over the past 10 years, going from an affordable average of £66,500 in 1995 to an intimidating £176,365 last year - more than seven times the national average wage. Despite a recent slowdown, increases for this year have been estimated at about 13.9 per cent nationwide. So properties aren't getting any cheaper.

We all know the grim facts. House prices in England and Wales have almost tripled over the past 10 years, going from an affordable average of £66,500 in 1995 to an intimidating £176,365 last year - more than seven times the national average wage. Despite a recent slowdown, increases for this year have been estimated at about 13.9 per cent nationwide. So properties aren't getting any cheaper.

Would-be buyers are scouting round for novel ways of securing a crucial first toehold on the property ladder, and some industry observers claim co-ownership - purchasing with other people besides your partner, from friends to family to colleagues and, in some cases, even total strangers - is about to take off.

Pete Edwards is typical of this new breed of buyer. A professional in his late twenties, he has joined forces and bank balances with two friends, Jack Bowley and James Soares, and recently bought a flat with them in Hackney, east London.

"We are all friends from Southampton and had been renting together in London for a couple of years," says Edwards. "We came up with the idea of clubbing together and buying somewhere. It made sense because renting is throwing money down the drain, and without one another, we wouldn't have been able to buy so easily, if at all."

Several new companies have sprung up, convinced that co-ownership is the way ahead. BuyAssent is a sort of property introduction website, where people who want to co-buy but don't know anyone suitable can meet other like-minded individuals. Adrian Jones, director and the brain behind the company, explains: "BuyAssent is a cross between a bulletin board, a dating agency and an estate agent. It's fun and simple to use. There are lots of houses on the site and those who register can attach their name to a property.

"Through this they can meet other people in a confidential, on-line environment and then get in touch with one another and possibly buy together."

Sharetobuy.com is another new company that hopes to capture the property zeitgeist. James Cartlidge, director, explains: "Sharetobuy is a mortgage designed to help people club together and get on the property ladder. It is possible to do this already, but there is no really easy, off-the-shelf way of doing it, and we have put together a package that addresses all the issues."

This package consists of a mortgage, through the Britannia Building Society, which will consider salary multiples of between two and four (lenders usually only consider two). It also includes a free, watertight legal agreement, which covers every eventuality.

BBC1 is filming a 10-part series, for broadcast in the autumn, called Come Buy With Me. Each week it will focus on one person who wants to buy for the first time, can't afford to do it alone but doesn't know anyone to do it with.

Sarah Van der Noot, a professional property finder who is presenting the show, says: "It's like property matchmaking. We will introduce the main contributor to a short list of contenders who have been properly vetted. They will stay in their current home, meet their friends and get a glimpse into how they live. It's a sort of handholding exercise, and the people will be genuine property owners for the first time at the end of it."

Co-ownership was how Van der Noot herself got on to the ladder, when she first bought with a girlfriend in 1991. "It worked perfectly. We owned together for five years, and at the end had made enough money to comfortably go off and buy on our own," she says.

Haven't people been buying with friends or relatives for years? Van Der Noot says: "It is still not a hugely well known concept, even though some people have done it." Adrian Jones is similarly convinced the timing is right. "The market is ready for it," he says. "It's stuck, and a lot of people are effectively excluded from buying for the first time. The market is also ready for new thinking and new ideas about the way we live."

Rather than simply a solution for hungry first-time buyers, co-ownership is also being punted by BuyAssent as "a positive lifestyle choice" for others - such as two single parents buying together and sharing childcare, or newly divorced adults who find themselves without property again.

And it isn't necessarily a long-term solution. As new co-owner Edwards says: "The plan is all to move out together in three or four years and buy on our own."

So if you end up with someone who always nicks your milk from the fridge, at least you know it won't be for ever. Unlike your spouse.

www.sharetobuy.com

www.buyassent.co.uk

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