For some people, buying a home is a milestone or the start of a new chapter. For Joanne, it was a lifeline. When she and her ex-husband decided to divorce, the 35-year-old healthcare assistant was left feeling hopeless as she struggled to find a home she could afford for her and daughters Poppy and Flora, then aged three and four. “I had to find a home for us that I could afford and present this to the mediator. I was only earning £800 a month, working three days a week and looking after my children. Looking for properties to rent was soul destroying, as I couldn’t even afford a one-bedroom flat.”
Joanne confided in a friend who recommended she look into the help-to-buy scheme. As she researched the options, she came across shared ownership. She wasn’t alone – according to a report by Savills, more than half of all shared ownership sales in 2016/17 were to single-person households. As the report points out, shared ownership often appeals to people with lower incomes – as it is only available to households with incomes below £80,000 (£90,000 in London). “It was a glimmer of hope,” she says. “I hadn’t even realised these schemes existed.” Joanne signed up for the scheme in February 2017 and had to wait to be approved before she could start looking for properties to present to her divorce mediator. “I had gathered lots of potential property information in a 20-mile radius, but one in particular stood out,” she says. “It was in the beautiful town of Thaxted, minutes from where I worked, with lovely nurseries for the children, a good school and local amenities on the doorstep.”
Joanne’s divorce was agreed on the basis that she would look to buy a shared ownership property, allowing her stability while also being affordable. As soon as the financial aspects were agreed, she immediately booked a viewing of the house, aiming to buy a 35% share of it under the scheme through a housing association. When she viewed it in June 2017, she loved it. “The bedrooms were a great size and the garden was huge. I could see the potential and loved it from the first visit.” On top of that, the owner had been in a similar situation to Joanne and the home had been a lifeline for her too.
Joanne made an offer and was thrilled when it was accepted, finally getting the keys in December 2017. Three years on, she has never been happier. “I love it. I am able to support myself and provide a home for my children. I’ve decorated slowly, depending on what I can afford,” she adds. She is with a new partner now but buying the house remains an important milestone. “In the beginning, everything seemed so bleak. But knowing I could buy it on my own and no one else had to do it for me was a real feeling of achievement. It’s a great opportunity for people in my situation and also for first-time buyers – I would definitely do it again. If I decided to move on then I hope to get the 35% I put down on it at least, and anything above that is a bonus because my house has given me so much.”
Digital marketer Laura, 27, from Liverpool, found herself in a similar situation after splitting up with her boyfriend. “I decided I wanted to do it myself and not rely on anyone else”, she says, but despite looking for homes that needed renovating to keep the cost down, realised that saving for a deposit could take years. After living in house shares she started doing some research and found out about the shared ownership scheme in 2018. “It just seemed to answer all my problems,” she says. “I could get a completely new place in the area I wanted and I didn’t need to spend money renovating it.” She started looking around at properties and found a two-bedroom flat in Aigburth. “It was a new-build, it was where I wanted to be, it was just perfect.”
Laura made an offer on the property through affordable housing provider Onward Homes early in 2020 and after a hold-up due to the coronavirus lockdown eventually moved in in July. “It’s just so nice to have my own place,” she says. “I’ve got a brand new kitchen, a beautiful view, it’s in a sought-after area. I’ve always got this now, it’s mine and that feels great.” And while some people may have large deposits and not have to go down the shared ownership route, Laura thinks for people in her position it’s a great opportunity. “If you’re a first-time buyer and you’re struggling to save up it’s a way of getting your foot on the ladder. You own a percentage so you’re not just paying rent. For young couples or couples who can’t get on the ladder, it’s great. I have a friend who is engaged and they both live with their parents, I keep saying she should do it. I think a lot of people don’t understand it, they think there’s a catch. There isn’t. It is what it is, and for the right person it’s great.”
To find out more about shared ownership – and if you could be eligible – head to sharedownership.net