“Help to buy” – or help to rip off?

“Britain’s biggest housebuilders have doubled the average profits they make from each home since the Help to Buy scheme was launched.

Analysis by The Times reveals that the top five builders in Britain are making an average profit of £57,000 on each house they sell, compared with a mean average of about £29,000 in 2007.

Barratt, the biggest builder, is making almost double the amount of profit compared with ten years ago but is building only 411 more homes. Another builder, Bellway, is making more than £58,000 profit a house compared with a little more than £30,000 in 2007 but is building 2,000 fewer homes.

At the time of its launch in 2013, it was hoped the scheme would stimulate house-building. When it was extended in 2014, Mark Clare, then chief executive of Barratt, said: “Britain urgently needs more homes and by setting out a longer-term framework for Help to Buy this announcement will enable the industry to deliver just that.” Yet figures show that the total number of new houses delivered has barely changed since the introduction of the scheme.

The profits last year have been compared with 2007 because this was the last full year that housebuilders were at their peak before the financial crash. Annual pre-tax profits were divided by the number of homes built in each year to reach a “profit per house” figure.

Britain is facing its worst housing crisis in generations, with ownership at a 30-year low and a record 1.8 million families with children renting privately.

Housebuilders were quick to point out that underlying growth will have boosted profits, with house prices having risen by 23 per cent across the UK since 2007. They also noted that they were paying huge amounts back in debt each year at high interest rates before the financial crash, compared with today, when they have millions in cash at the end of each year.

However, analysts believe that a large driver of profits is the government’s Help to Buy scheme, which supports about 40 per cent of housebuilders’ sales. Robin Hardy, an analyst at Shore Capital, believes that housebuilders would be making £22,000 less in profit on each house built for first-time buyers if Help to Buy was not in place. “We reckon that homes sold through Help to Buy are 53 per cent higher than in June 2013, whereas house price figures from Land Registry or Nationwide suggest that across all first homes it’s more like 19 per cent,” he said. “That suggests that someone is gaming the system.”

Neal Hudson, a housing expert at Resi Analysts, said that shareholders had become “the main priority” for housebuilders since the financial crash. “The over-arching factor has been big pressure from the City,” he said. “The priority for them is profit margin not the number of homes built.”

Persimmon, Britain’s second-largest housebuilder, made an average profit of just over £60,000 on each house it built in 2017. In 2007 the figure was £36,787. It built only 138 more homes.

The housebuilder made pre-tax profits of £966 million in 2017 and has a war chest in net cash of £1.3 billion. Jeff Fairburn, its chief executive, was paid £75 million in a bonus scheme last year, which was more than the highest paid banking executives on Wall Street.

Lord Best, vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on housing, said: “These bumper profits come at a time of growing recognition of the catalogue of failings of major housebuilders: poor design, miserable space standards, defective workmanship, delaying development to keep prices high . . . and exploiting a loophole in the planning process to renege on their obligations to include affordable homes in their developments.”

However, developers said the type of product they build has changed, with far fewer flats and a much tighter control over what type of land they buy.

A Home Builders Federation spokesman said: “House building is cyclical. After the financial downturn companies posted big losses and had to make huge writedowns on the value of their land. Many companies disappeared. Since 2013 output has increased by 74 per cent, an increase that as well as providing desperately needed homes has given the economy a huge boost.”

Source: The Times (pay wall)

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