Conservatives want more people to be homeowners. We are the homeowning party. We have a proud record of extending ownership to many more. We have done this in the past by Council house sales, by creating conditions for affordable mortgages, and by tax breaks.
Some write into this site to say we need to get house prices down, so more homes are affordable. Labour tried this – inadvertently no doubt – with a big house price fall at the end of the last decade. It did not price more people into home ownership, because there was too little mortgage money available to buy the cheaper homes. The number of new homes built slumped to new lows.
The sharp downward adjustment may help in the future, but whilst it is happening it puts people off wanting to buy, plunges people into negative equity and undermines the banks who have lent against homes at higher prices. Why would people want to buy a home if they thought it could be 10% cheaper in a year or two? At some point the authorities have to say enough, and stabilise the position. That is happening now.
The overall fall in real and in many cases cash house prices has also changed relative prices a lot. The most desirable districts of central London, Sandbanks, parts of Oxford and Cambridge and a few other hotspots have risen whilst elsewhere there have been falls. In the northern towns most damaged by the Big Recession of 2007-9 there are more empty homes and larger price falls were experienced. The big movements in relative prices might help in due course rebalance the economy. When more people see that homes are better value out of London, and see there can be lifestyle improvements for them by moving, the market may start to assist the areas with more and cheaper homes.
It is far too early to call an end to this housing “boom” which a few commentators already claim is happening. They should get out of Belgravia and Chelsea more. There is no boom in much of the country. We need to see more housing transactions. They generate income for those involved, and usually lead on to work for builders, decorators, home improvers, furniture suppliers and the like.
Some who want lower house prices bemoan how much money and activity the UK expends on housing. I think it is good we do, and want to see more spent in the years ahead. A person’s home is a vital part of their lifestyle and their comforts, an important determinant of whether they can enjoy their lives or not. Modern technology can transform a home. Many more will want to reach for the better heating installations, better insulation, improved labour saving devices, more stylish bathrooms and kitchens that money can now buy. There is plenty of room for more home improvement, to cut running costs, to make life easier and cheer people up. This also creates plenty of work for the many trades and professions involved in housing activity.
We have to live with the fact that expensive flats and houses in the centre of London are now largely the preserve of the international rich set. It would be stupid to try to stop them coming to London, spending their money with us and setting up businesses and investments here. As they drive the price of prime central London to ever giddier heights, the rest of us can see the charms and attractions of cheaper locations which need our money and our support.