Regardless of personal political persuasion, the outcome of May’s general election was a significant boost to the prospects for our market.
The surge in activity that most predicted, however, has not materialised and points to the work needed to get the residential market moving with confidence. The memory of the severest recession for a generation runs deep and encouraging vendors to enter the market will need more than warm words and advertising.
Mortgage availability is at its healthiest level for years and Help to Buy is boosting first-time buyers’ deposits, but there is no doubt this is still more of a seller’s market. While we should be clear that there is no silver bullet to quickly readdress the shortage of residential housing restricting movement in the sector, there are several key barriers we must demonstrate that we are working to overcome.
As the UK’s largest new homes agency, we hear on a daily basis from housebuilders. There is no doubt that the current shortage of skilled labour restricts their ability to build. In such a cyclical market, it is no surprise that this is now presenting a challenge. But nearly all major housebuilders are taking the responsibility into their own hands and driving the recruitment and training of the next generation of housebuilders - and all credit to them for doing so.
For example, Willmott Dixon’s programme Opening Doors provides 300 teenagers with 25,000 hours of work experience between them each year and each one is guaranteed an interview for an apprenticeship.
Finding an adequate supply of land also continues to present a challenge. A more contemporary, informed debate about the issue of green belt needs to take place. This debate must also run hand-in-hand with further support from local authorities to deliver their regional housing programmes and greater engagement of local communities early on in the planning process.
We must demonstrate that all areas of the UK can help drive our economy. With government increasingly focused on investment in transport infrastructure in the North, it’s time for a joined-up plan to house those who will drive the northern powerhouse economy. A recent report by Countrywide found that more people now live in the four principal northern cities - Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool - than at any point during the last 30 years.
Countrywide’s own Residential Investment Vehicle in partnership with Hermes Investment Management has recently purchased empty new build units in Manchester and Nottingham, providing flexibility for groups such as students and young professionals. With £1bn to spend over the next decade, this vehicle is a drop in the ocean. But we need to invest in the regions now and further still, communicate the case for investment in the regions.
Ultimately, we are all in the business of property. But it is impossible to separate a growing and sustainable economy from a robust and secure supply of houses for those who fuel that growth. It’s crucial we all play our part in seeing not only our sector but the society and communities we serve flourish.
Alison Platt is chief executive officer of Countrywide