The signs are the housing slump is coming to an end, but green shoots of recovery aren't good news for everyone, especially first-time buyers desperately seeking to a foot on the lowest rung of the property ladder.
Despite the fall in house prices and interest rates there are still many buyers and young families struggling to buy a home. Perhaps this isn't surprising when even after the slump the average house price is still six times the average salary.
However, there is help out there in the form of shared ownership. And if you can find your way through the maze, buyers might be surprised to learn that even prime city addresses are now within reach. You don't necessarily need to be a "key worker" or first-time buyers and can now secure a home through shared-ownership in some of the more salubrious parts of town, including Chelsea in London and Salford Quays in Manchester.
Government-funded shared-ownership schemes are helping first-time buyers get on to the property ladder although a proliferation of schemes and rebranding has caused confusion. Once restricted to key workers such as nurses, teachers and fire-fighters, today profession is irrelevant and eligibility typically rests upon your current address or place of work and salary. However, a recent Mori poll suggested that take-up is low among many low- and middle income Londoners, with the most common misconception being that earnings must not exceed £30,000. In fact, the limit is £60,000 and Boris Johnson recently expressed his preference for upping the figure to £75,000.
Sharing a flat in the borough of Chelsea where flats commonly fetch astronomical prices, Hannah Flynn, 27, despaired of ever saving the requisite deposit on her teacher's salary of £30,000." I really wanted to buy in central London but there was no way I could afford something outright without moving much further away." Just five minutes' walk from the school in Victoria where Hannah works, she was amazed to find a ADominion's shared ownership scheme where she bought a 40 per cent of a one-bedroom apartment with a market value £332,000. "The amount required was much more affordable than on the open market. I'm saving money by walking to work every day and, with Victoria Station less than a minute away, I really feel like I'm in the thick of things."
Another misconception is that all shared ownership properties lie out in the sticks. Traditionally, London waterside living has had a hefty price tag but the launch of a new affordable riverside development hopes to change that. Notting Hill Home Ownership recently launched Bridges Wharf, a landmark development in Battersea, now available with 55 shared ownership one- and two-bedroomed apartments are set within the 11-storey Orbis Wharf. Set in two acres of prime waterfront, the development will feature retail and commercial units, hotel with rooftop terrace and underground spa.
Aside from being an "everyday Londoner" Bridges Wharf applicants must currently live in the local borough, Wandsworth, and, for a one-bedroom apartment, earn at least £26,000 if they're buying alone or £30,000 between joint applicants. Buyers can opt for shares of between 25 per cent and 75 per cent of the property's full value – meaning that you can move in for just £57,500, paying a subsidised rent on the remainder – with the option to buy more shares when you can afford them.
Rupert Dawes, partner at Knight Frank, which has an affordable housing team, says that in the current climate, schemes such as these prove attractive to buyers but there is a downside if the market rises: "They are de-risking their purchase – effectively buying a flat which would cost £300,000 on the open market-for a 25 per cent stake – although the flip side of course is that when they sell they only receive 25 per cent on their investment."
In a volatile market, shared ownership buyers may be limiting their risk but they aren't limiting their location. Shared ownership schemes are available in the heart of Westminster, trendy Hoxton with Gensis Homes a short walk walk from the delights of the White Cube Art Gallery, Shoreditch House and Spitalfields.
ADominion are selling the development in Westminster and group director Simon Devitt says that buying into this type of scheme gives buyers added security compared with buying on the open market. "To shift stock, developers are offering shared equity deals but we're a regulated business and apply stringent criteria to assess whether buyers can truly afford to buy. If they can't we won't sell, I'm not sure that all developers do the same."
And it's not just prime London which is opening up. Schemes across most British cities are helping buyers on lower incomes afford prime locations. In Manchester, Ask Developments recently announced that their latest development is available through the "homebuy direct" initiative, which gives you an interest-free loan of up to 30 per cent of the value, cutting the cost to £70,000 for a smart city pad. The developer won many design accolades for its "micro pod" apartments at nearby Abito and has improved on the design at Salford Quays, a waterfront location on the site of a former dock warehouse. The 12-storey building overlooks The Lowry arts centre, The Imperial War Museum North and Old Trafford football stadium, and penthouses are available for £150,000.