Were our parents right to buy their council homes?

24/01/2019 15:41:08

Next year marks the 30th anniversary of the Right to Buy legislation that changed definitively the property landscape of Scotland and, even after all this time, it continues to have a profound effect on the way we live.

The Conservative governments of the 1980s weren’t universally popular north of the border but Right to Buy was welcomed by many ordinary people who wouldn’t have voted for Mrs Thatcher, before or after the legislation was passed.

Three decades later, the policy of allowing council tenants to buy their homes, often for significantly marked down prices, has had a slew of unintended consequences that weren’t foreseen at the time.

While there are winners and losers in today’s housing market, many of those on the losing side might argue they can trace their current problems back to Right to Buy.

The post-war housing boom meant that 50 years ago, more than half of Scots lived in council homes. The picture today is dramatically different as nearly two-thirds own their own homes, 22% rent social housing and 15% live in private rented homes - but things are changing.

There has been a near doubling of those who rent from private landlords in recent years and most of those have seen their monthly accommodation costs soar.

But let’s start with the positives. In most areas of Scotland today, the property market serves existing homeowners well. Prices are rising faster in Glasgow and Edinburgh than in London and many parts of the South-east of England, which would have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago.

Those already at or near the top of the property ladder, looking to downsize, are the greatest beneficiaries of a buoyant market. Following a decade of, at best, sluggish growth, following the 2008 crash, those sellers will reap the rewards of a recent period of sustained price rises.

As you start to descend the property ladder, things look a little less rosy. Those already in mid-ranged properties, looking to upsize, have been hit by the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax.

Introduced by the Scottish Government in 2015 as a replacement for Stamp Duty, it imposes a progressive levy on residential properties of 2% on homes worth more than £175,000, up to 12% on those which sell for more than £750,000.

Accompanied, as they are, by a tax often reaching into the tens of thousands, fewer high value properties are now coming on to the market, which has an impact further down the chain.

Craig Smith, Director of Scottish Property Centre Shawlands, explained: "Those in the middle and upper rungs of the property ladder are finding there’s less choice, so they’re  not putting their own properties on the market.

“Someone buying a home worth £400,000 faces a transaction tax bill of £25,300 which is seen by many as a massive disincentive to move, particularly if they haven’t yet sold their own property.

“Buyers who earn £50,000-a-year will have to raise the equivalent of half their annual salary just to meet the cost of the property tax. Many find they have little choice but to stay put and build extensions to their homes to create more living space.”

Those looking to get their foot on the first rung of the property ladder might look on Right to Buy less favourably than their parents did.

While Baby Boomers were enjoying the benefits, often of being the first in their families to own their own homes, they were also, unconsciously contributing to a systematic depletion of the public rented housing stock.

With fewer rented houses available to meet demand, rents have soared in the past decade. Edinburgh has witnessed the biggest hikes, from £747 for the average rent in 2008, to £1,062 today. Over the same period, Glasgow saw its average rents jump from £567 to £749.

The Scottish Government points out that 80,000 affordable homes have been delivered since 2007, but 157,000 households remain on council housing waiting lists.

Those looking to buy their first property, find a greater lack of affordability. Between 2001 and 2007 property prices in Scotland doubled, but wage growth didn’t keep pace. In 1971, average houses prices were three times the average salary - last year the ratio was seven times.

Deposits required, particularly during the recession, went up from 10% to as high as 20%, freezing a lot of people out of the mortgage market.

It’s futile to blame previous generations for the ills of today and Right to Buy offered prosperity and security to millions of people. But spare a thought for today’s renters, many of whom can only wish they had the same opportunities as their parents.

For more information on finding an affordable property that’s right for you contact your nearest Scottish Property Centre branch or visit https://www.scottishpropertycentre.net/

Property Alerts

Get notified about latest hot properties!