As many as one transaction in three is now undertaken by a so-called Last Time Buyer – twice as many as a decade ago.
Data from the Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association shows nearly 200,000 owner occupier housing transactions in England annually are made by the over-55s as a growing number use their equity reserves to find their last home. EstateAgentToday.co.uk reports IMLA’s research shows that each year only around 2.5 per cent of the estimated 8m older homeowners in England move but it predicts this to grow as the demographic group is increasing faster than any other.
Using information from the English Housing Survey, the association estimates that property turnover has halved over the past 25 years and transactions continue to run at only about three-quarters the pace before the 2008 global credit crisis. And IMLA warns: “The picture would have been a lot bleaker had it not been for much higher activity from Last Time Buyers.” A majority of older homeowners, 63 per cent, own their property outright, and they hold a substantial share of housing equity – £1.8 trillion out of a total £2.6 trillion. It’s this equity, says IMLA, that is fuelling the last time buyer phenomenon. In 2016/2017, the most recent information available, LTBs in England accounted for nearly all of the moves (132,000) by outright owners (138,000).
However, the association says that while LTBs currently account for a small percentage of the 55+ home-owning population, no fewer than 47 per cent of homeowners over 55s plan to downsize at some stage. This represents four million households. But IMLA says a poor choice of suitable properties to buy, high transaction costs and affordability pressures are constraints on the growth of the sector. It says relatively few older homeowners actually need to move for health or other personal reasons, and for the vast majority any move is aspirational in nature and focused on the mainstream housing market. And, although there is some preference on the part of older people to move to a smaller and/or a cheaper home, there is a wide spectrum and not insubstantial numbers of older homeowners looking to move in the opposite direction.
“It is curious that house-builders appear to have been slow to recognize what could be a sizeable market for a variety of designs that combine practicality, low maintenance and energy efficiency. Retirement developments aimed at senior citizens have their place, but they’re not appropriate for everyone” says Kate Davies, executive director of IMLA. “From a lending perspective, we have already seen considerable financial innovation around mortgages into retirement, lifetime mortgages and retirement interest-only products. But there is much more that could be done in fostering LTB schemes, whether these are bespoke equity loan deals, shared ownership schemes or entirely new arrangements” she adds. “It may also be time for the government to address this LTB policy blind spot and begin to work more closely with the lending and house-building sectors to kick-start activity, much as it did for first-time buyers with its Help to Buy initiatives.”