My SO Home: No. 25

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My personal experience of shared ownership started off extremely positively. And my family and I managed to go through all the steps of shared ownership – initial share purchase, staircase to 100%, and then, finally, sale on the private market.

Regardless, things gradually deteriorated over time. In fact, to the point where my feeling on getting the call from the estate agents that our sale had completed was one of overwhelming relief. Combined with: “I can’t believe anyone actually bought that from us!”.

We didn’t stand a chance of buying on the open market

Back in the mid-2000s, my girlfriend and I were living in private rented accommodation in west London. Our ‘studio flat’ was not the most glamorous! I heard later from my in-laws that, privately, they thought living together in such a small space after university would make us or break us in pretty short order.

We didn’t stand a chance of buying a property on the open market. But a friend pointed us towards a Notting Hill Genesis (NHG) shared ownership scheme. (This was prior to several merges that made NHG what they are today. Our lease was actually with Paddington Churches Housing Association). Luckily for us, the flat was just down the road from where we were renting. We got through the financial review. And, after a very exciting 8 weeks or so, we were in “our” brand-new 2-bedroom flat with all the space we could ever possibly want.

Our honeymoon period

The honeymoon period lasted for quite a while. Though there were some early warnings that dealing with NHG was going to be a challenge. In particular, issues around the centralised heating system and their apparent unwillingness to take responsibility for something that (for once) the lease specified was absolutely their responsibility.

It also took me several hours on the phone to persuade them that they needed to start charging us. We’d budgeted to pay hundreds of pounds a month in rent, service charges and ground rent. But the money was just building up in our current account. We were concerned that they’d figure it out sooner or later, and come to us with a demand for thousands of pounds, which we might have accidentally spent by then.

If any ‘normal’ business were run like that it’d fall apart pretty quickly. But in housing they have such a captive market that it all sustains itself and they can get away with it.

Staircasing to 100%

After a few years, our financial situation had changed enough that we were able to staircase to 100%.

This was the first time we’d ever really dealt with NHG in any meaningful capacity. The combination of their incredible slowness and apparent inability to deal with any sort of normal procedure, combined with their own deadlines (e.g. 3 months from valuation to sale completion) – not to mention our paying for all associated processes and paperwork – added a fair bit of stress to proceedings. Still, after many emails and much chasing we got it over the line. We could sit back and enjoy not having to pay rent any more.

And, fortunately for us, it turned out that our particular flat, in our particular block, on our particular development had the following attributes:

  • The lease was for 125 years, not 99 years.
  • NHG were the freeholder, so there were no extra-complex freeholder / management company / landlord arrangements.
  • We did not require either a waking watch or remedial works.
  • NHG had pro-actively(!) procured an EWS1 certificate which arrived late December 2020.
  • We had a 6-month window where our Property Management Officer seemed to stay the same and be reasonably competent.
  • Ground rent and service charges were not (yet) offensively high so as to put off mortgage lenders.

We put our flat on the open market at a price that was very much on the ‘good deal’ side of things.

Shared ownership success story - couple sitting with packing boxes
Image: wirestock on Freepik

After 12 months – and 3 buyers who pulled out – we finally managed to sell and move our young family out of London in early 2022, prior the infamous ‘mini-budget’.

A shared ownership success story?

I’m aware that this is very much a shared ownership success story. But, with hindsight, we’ve realised that our positive experience came about as much through blind luck as design.

We are now more aware of the many and varied things that could have gone wrong. For example, we could have had a short lease, which would cost thousands of pounds to extend. We could easily have had a maintenance issue that would put off would-be buyers. Or we could have been in another block on the same development which did require remedial works before lenders would lend on it.

There but for the grace of God!

I have since read various reports into shared ownership where the providers of such schemes inevitably champion the reduced cost of entry. Which, on the face of it, contrasts with the ‘lived experience’ testimonials from people currently living in unsafe accommodation with onerous charges of various shapes and sizes. In my experience, both of these things can be true.

Problems can very easily be compounded by a housing association that is incredibly keen to get people through the door but then is just completely ineffectual at looking after them once they’re paying rent, service charge, and ground rent. Not through maliciousness, but pure incompetence, compounded by high staff turnover and a system seemingly designed to prevent Property Management Officers from actually being able to achieve anything.

We also had two, possibly three, sets of solicitors involved in various purchases and sales of the property over time, and at no point did anyone highlight or flag anything in the lease at all as being potentially problematic. I am not a stupid person, but sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know. When I read some of these stories, I can’t help but think that there but for the grace of God go I.

Featured image: wirestock on Freepik

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