SPIN: The First Home Owners’ Grant (FHOG) helps first-time home buyers enter the market.
FACT: More precisely, the FHOG helps first-time buyers to compete with other buyers who can use the equity in their old homes to bid up prices. But by increasing bids from first-time buyers, the FHOG also raises prices, especially at the bottom of the market where first-time buyers are concentrated. Thus the FHOG partly defeats its own purpose. Moreover, the FHOG only helps people who are rich enough to be contemplating home ownership; it does nothing for life-long renters.
SOLUTION: Make the grant available only for new homes in order to encourage construction, so that the increase in demand is offset by the greatest possible increase in supply. Then make the grant available to investors as well as intending owner-occupants, so that the increase in supply extends to rental accommodation. But keep the grant in the form of a fixed sum per dwelling, so that investors have an incentive to build a larger number of cheaper dwellings rather than a smaller number of more expensive ones; that maximizes the supply at the affordable end of the market. In short, turn the FHOG into a New Home Builder’s Grant.
Because new homes and “first homes” historically account for similar fractions of turnover in the housing market, this reform would be roughly budget-neutral. But more of the outlay would be spent on increasing the supply of housing for the benefit of renters and first-time buyers, not pumping up prices for the benefit of established investors.