The mortgage dream looks wobbly




The dream of owning your own home is increasingly out of reach for millions…at least the pundits keep telling us that.

I do not accept this is entirely true. I know of several cases personally where younger people with a bit of saving and the flexibility to move to cheaper areas or take on smaller properties have been able to get on the housing ladder.

So the dream may be a bit battered but it’s still there, just getting harder to achieve.

The problem with the dream is how much people have had to sacrifice to achieve it and will have to sacrifice.

I was reminded of all this with the publication this week of a study from provider LV= suggesting that many millions of today’s mortgage holders will struggle to pay off their mortgage before they retire.

According to LV=, 1.5m retirees are still paying off their mortgage in retirement and a more worrying 4.5m mortgage holders (a third of the total) do not believe they will be able to pay off their mortgage before they take their pension at about age 65.

Even worse than this, 9% of mortgage holders (1.2m people) are unsure if they will ever pay off the mortgage.

All of this is a consequence of lack of housing supply, soaring house prices over many years and a lack of decent rental housing. One might want to point the finger at successive governments which have failed to put in place long term policies to meet housing need but this is not really a political issue, it’s fundamentally about supply and demand. Too much demand and not enough supply.

I always smile when experts talk about ‘fixing the housing crisis’ because, in my view it cannot be fixed, only managed. All my adult life there has been a so-called ‘housing crisis.’ The housing market itself is extremely dysfunctional but like all markets it generally works because it evens out the gap between supply and demand.

Many people are driven out of the housing purchase market because they just cannot afford to buy or where they have been able to get on the market they are stretched financially for years due to the price of housing in many areas. Pension companies are forever badgering people to put more into their pension but the truth is that many people just struggle to pay for their mortgage or their rent and this affects every aspect of their spending and saving.

Of greatest concern from the LV= study of 4,000 people is that there are signs that some people are dipping into pensions to keep paying the mortgage. Whether this is using the tax free cash on retirement or using the Pension Freedoms to find the cash earlier than planned is not clear but it may well be a bit of both.

The reality is that many millions will indeed be paying off their mortgage past retirement and that’s a shame. It means the cash they always expected to have in their golden years will be diminished.

Many planners, I know, do not factor in mortgages to a great degree in terms of planning for clients’ financial futures, perhaps based on the assumption that most clients have cleared off the mortgage by 65. That may need to change.

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Kevin O’Donnell is editor of Financial Planning Today and a journalist with 40 years of experience in finance, business and mainstream news. This topical comment on the Financial Planning news appears most weeks, usually on Fridays but occasionally other days. Follow @FPT_Kevin