Government to Homeowners - Do As We Say, Not As We Do

I’ve written some daft property stories and the likelihood that such schemes and ideas will disappear thanks to our public spending cuts will be no loss to anyone.

There were the buy-to-let houses near one of Moscow’s ring roads offered to British investors via mortgages with a cool 11% interest rate – and Britons bought them, too.

There was the time when a Dubai developer’s four PRs harassed me (admittedly in a rather swish bar) for saying there may not be enough demand amongst British purchasers for their never-ending construction programme of flats and villas.

In 1994 I was told by a (now moved on) partner in a top-end estate agency that buy-to-let flats at Clarence Dock in Leeds had architecture worthy of “an eighth wonder of the world”. It was described by an architecture expert only this month as “a load of blocks” which sums it up rather more accurately.

Aside from the genuinely rich, very few Britons will have the money – and almost none will have the mortgages – for such indulgent investments in the next few years. The era of the amateur investor taking a punt on a property with a carelessly-researched loan has gone, probably for good. Few will mourn the loss.

Yet the coalition’s relish to protect us from ourselves, financially at least, appears now to include saying even our very ordinary homes, as well as investments, should not be treated as our pensions. Grant Shapps’ words last week - “‘People should think of homes as a place to live rather than a pension” - could not be interpreted any other way. There are pros and cons to such a view and this blog is not talking about that genuine debate.

But is it legitimate for a government which never mentioned this view in the past to do so now, without putting it to the public? Isn’t it ironic that a government minister who is championing ‘popular votes’ on local housing development should now be telling people from the top down to change their attitude to their own homes?

This is not a defence of the indefensible – the speculators and flippers (and sometimes the MPs) happy to make money by doing nothing with a property except see it rise in value, and as a by-product deny first time buyers an affordable home.

But this is a defence of millions of ordinary people who were encouraged by Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown that they could – if properties value rose – enhance their future prospects this way. More fool the public if they believed prices were always going to rise, but if values did go up…why not use the appreciation to help in later life?

Has anyone seen or heard a speech from a coalition politician, before the election, saying how inappropriate it was for ordinary people to do this?

There was certainly no mention from Chris Huhne (five buy to let properties and counting according to this report) nor from Grant Shapps himself (who has done very nicely from property, thank you, according to this story).

Is it not time for the government, now almost 10% through its term in office, to be more nuanced in its approach to property?

Not everyone is a speculator although almost everyone, with good fortune, lives long enough to be a pensioner.

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