Overview: Can you blame the first-time buyers?

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The Independent Online

First-time buyers are pretty thin on the ground at the moment and as their numbers dwindle to an all-time low, so their value has shot up. Analysts such as Richard Donnell, head of FPDSavills residential research, sees their apparent withdrawal as a worrying trend and predicts localised house-price corrections if the trend continues. Young buyers are not expected to be less enthusiastic about owning their own homes, but are simply not prepared - or able - to pay the prices.

Well, I would say to them: the power is yours. Just hold out en masse until prices do correct. The trouble with that line, however appealing, is that they might end up missing the boat, which is why so many have had their hands forced by record house-price growth and have brought forward their buying plans, as Donnell points out.

He says that they have been "rather pushed and pulled around recently". Following the alarms about rising prices, they were then confronted with predictions about dramatic price falls and, not unreasonably, have decided to sit on the fence for the past year, no doubt easing the bank accounts of numerous landlords.

But it is not only the twentysomethings who are bemused by the prices being asked for even modest homes. A few months ago, a developer was telling me that a property was worth "only so many hundreds of pounds per square foot", when he checked himself and said it was ridiculous to be saying that. "It is a huge amount to pay, a quite unjustified price."

All sorts of figures can be flourished to show that over the long term, our homes are not so expensive, that we are spending less of our income on buying them, that interest rates have never been as tempting and so on. It is just that the obsession the British have about buying property which now extends to even the poorest and most remote parts of the globe permeates even the simplest pleasures. Enjoyed your stay, your meal, your visit to friends in a little-known part of Wales? Then why not buy something there, quickly before anyone else spots the opportunity?

Why are we only happy when house prices are rising? Surely if the whole point is for people to enjoy owning their own homes, then we can all happily trade up and down without the panic of feeling that we have failed to move at the right time. Who can blame first-time buyers if they regard the property market as a vast lottery, despite the measured explanations from the experts? They have no doubt seen the examples of houses that have slipped in value by the odd £500,000 or even million in the past few months and wondered how they ever came to be valued at those dizzy heights in the first place.

In some regions, first-time buyers are having to spend as much as 37 per cent of their income on mortgage repayments with those taking 95 per cent loans in an even worse predicament, Donnell says. As the smart money moves north to capitalise on rising prices there and increasingly parents are having to help their offspring purchase a property - financed perhaps from the value of their own homes - no wonder more and more first-time buyers are beginning to wonder whether there is more to life than struggling to own a home. That amounts to a real market force.