First-time buyers soar to highest level for six years

Business Secretary Vince Cable has warned that a government scheme to boost home ownership “could inflate the market”.

But critics have warned it risks inflating another housing bubble and piling huge housing risk on the Government.

Mr Cable admitted the scheme “could be a problem” if it is not properly designed.

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The Liberal Democrat told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday: “It’s a question of getting it properly designed, but you’re right, we mustn’t risk returning to the problems of the last decade when housing got out of control.”

But a growing proportion of these buyers found themselves having to pay stamp duty on top of raising funds for a deposit, according to the study from Halifax, after the property market revival led to an upturn in house prices.

Halifax estimates that there were 120,000 first-time buyers in the first six months of 2013, showing an increase of almost one fifth year-on-year and marking the biggest number since there were 181,500 buyers from this sector in the first half of 2007.

More than half (51 per cent) of this year’s first-time buyers bought homes which were over the £125,000 stamp duty threshold, at which a rate of one per cent kicks in, up from 44 per cent a year ago.

In London, where prices have risen particularly strongly, 97 per cent of people taking their first step on the housing ladder had to pay stamp duty this year, while the South East had the second biggest proportion at 85 per cent.

Northern Ireland, which has seen sharp falls to property prices since the economic downturn, had the lowest proportion of first-time buyers paying stamp duty, at 13 per cent, followed by the North of England at 22 per cent. In both Wales and Scotland, 30 per cent of first-time buyers faced stamp duty charges.

Londoners also need to find the biggest deposit typically at £60,747, while average deposits in the North are smallest at £13,526. First-time buyer deposits across the country stand at around £26,859.

Halifax said that the average house price paid by a first-time buyer was 4.26 times their annual earnings, well above an average of 3.23 over the last 30 years. Buyers in this sector are 30 years old on average, up from 29 in 2011.

Once first-time buyers have managed to make the jump on to the property ladder, mortgage repayments have become more affordable as a proportion of income. Halifax said that the proportion of disposable earnings they typically need to put towards mortgage payments has dropped to 27 per cent, which is way below a peak of 50 per cent in autumn 2007 and sits comfortably under the long-term average of 36 per cent.

Mortgage rates have been slashed to some of their lowest ever levels following the launch of the Government’s Funding for Lending scheme last August, which gives lenders access to cheap finance in order to help borrowers. Lenders have also reported that their “risk appetite” is returning.

However, concerns have been raised around a scheme called Help to Buy, which will be fully fired into action next year and will underwrite £130bn of low-deposit mortgage lending with state guarantees. Some analysts have warned that the scheme must not lead to a “property bubble”, with people overstretching themselves.

The Halifax research follows a study from housing charity Shelter last week, which found that parents are having to contribute £17,000 on average to help their children on to the property ladder. Shelter warned the situation had become “desperate” for a generation struggling to buy a home of their own.

The study used figures from Halifax’s own database as well as a range of other statistics.

Meanwhile, the heatwave has been blamed for slowing a growth in house prices during the summer. Despite the slow down, prices are still 1.3 per cent higher than they were a year ago, according to the Hometrack property analyst figures.