Better communication is key to perfecting shared ownership

Get the message right

Amy Nettleton, assistant development director – sales and marketing – at Aster Group. 

Shared ownership is a vital component of the housing mix needed to solve the crisis facing the UK. 

Thankfully, the number of key stakeholders that recognise this is increasing all the time – the developers and housing associations working to put more of these homes on the market, the mortgage providers offering tailored products for shared ownership buyers, and the rising number of people who are applying for homes through the scheme. 

But, as this report has hopefully shown, the job isn’t finished. 

Our objective here was not to pick holes in shared ownership or to name and shame those we feel could do more to improve it.  Our aim was to highlight the last remaining barriers that need breaking down to ensure a way of buying a home that has stood the test of time for 40 years is fit for the future. 

Key to this is how we communicate some fundamental truths about the shared ownership model as it exists now.  

Staircasing isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the be all and end all

On the face of it, it’s concerning that only 10 per cent of the owners in our survey had bought more equity in their property. 

The proportion of Aster customers staircasing is rising all time because we’ve taken steps to raise awareness of it proactively. It’s part of the discussion with prospective buyers from the outset, a key theme in our marketing materials and part of the pitch for our sales teams. We’ve also pioneered @SOchathour on social media – an open forum where people interested in shared ownership can ask questions and get advice from experts. 

But shared ownership isn’t just a stepping stone to full ownership. It provides a home for life regardless of whether the buyer staircases or not. 

Some will never increase their share of equity beyond their original purchase and making that choice isn’t a problem. Whether they own 25, 50 or 75 per cent, these people are still benefitting from the security of owning a stake in their home. They can still make changes to the property that could increase its value and they can still sell it and move somewhere else if they wish to.  

Staircasing is one element of shared ownership. But it’s about educating people on their options, not forcing them down a path. 

Shared ownership has evolved

The original framework for shared ownership had flaws. It was rigid and overly complicated and, arguably, didn’t work for the people it was principally invented to help. But it has changed immeasurably since then. 

Just over half of the owners in our survey didn’t know they could sell up and move from one shared ownership home to another. This and other misconceptions are based on an outdated model that simply doesn’t exist anymore. Housing associations should be doing more to explain this shift to customers who bought their homes before these improvements were made. 

Shared ownership is not a last resort, it’s a choice

There is still a perception that shared ownership should only be considered once all other options have been exhausted. But it actually gives prospective homeowners more freedom. 

According to the NSG, the typical shared ownership buyer earns approximately £33,000 a year, slightly more than the national average of around £27,000. In the traditional ownership market, someone on this salary would be very restricted in what they could buy and where due to the ability to raise a deposit – hence why those that can so often rely on the bank of mum and dad. Shared ownership means there is less need to compromise on space or to move away from friends and family to an area with a lower average house price.  

If we’re still describing shared ownership in the same way we were a decade ago, then it’s no wonder people aren’t aware of some of the major differences that make it better now than it was back then. 

Most of the shared ownership buyers who responded to our survey said they would recommend the scheme to a friend or family member, so it clearly works for many people. Yes, there are still elements of the design that need to be fine-tuned, but the real and fundamental change we need now is messaging – how we position it to key stakeholders, how the government supports the housing sector in raising its profile, and how we sell it to potential customers.