Does Shared Ownership have a communication problem?

6 minute read

The scheme remains unknown to many prospective home buyers and those who are aware of it, tend to misunderstand it. It’s a big issue – but there is a way forward.

Shared Ownership is amazing. It enables many thousands of people from all walks of life to move into their own homes. But it could help so many more. And while there are several challenges to overcome, the language used to define and explain the scheme is a key starting point. It’s often unclear, restricted by regulation and inconsistent. Is it time to rethink how we talk about SO at a strategic level so that the whole sector is talking with one voice?

SO has huge potential to become the mainstream gateway into homeownership. But lack of awareness is a challenge among audiences. Another is a basic understanding of how it works. As Richard Fearon, CEO of Leeds Building Society puts it, “…a stronger case needs to be made for Shared Ownership to help more people get the keys to their first home. There is a clear lack of awareness about the benefits of Shared Ownership.”

Poor communications often lie at the heart of the problem – muddled messaging has created confusion about the scheme. And that’s despite the best efforts of Housing Associations (HAs) and Registered Providers (RPs) over the years.

Positioning the Shared Ownership opportunity

We still see significant misconceptions across the sector. The rules around what RPs can say in their marketing – and what they can’t – are there for good reason, but they lead to confusion. I worry that it’s seriously restricting the potential of this amazing industry.”  Kelly McCabe, owner of TMP The Mortgage People and co-founder of The Exchange.

Making the most of the growing opportunity and fostering increased trust in Shared Ownership will require a strategic, sector-wide brand messaging exercise. The goal? Clear, concise communications rooted in honesty and transparency that make customers feel valued.

shared ownership

Communications that position Shared Ownership as an advantageous, flexible option, rather than a ‘way in’ to homeownership, will also benefit RPs.

After all, in the current economic climate, more and more people are looking for affordable routes into homes that offer more security and stability. Brands that focus on these aspects will ultimately stand out in the marketplace.

Communicating the complex (without getting into trouble)

One of the most fundamental communication issues has been the term ‘Shared Ownership’ itself. A generation very familiar with private renting (to the point they have been nicknamed ‘Generation Rent’) often presume they will need to share their property with strangers. And while it would be easy to dismiss this basic misunderstanding, it continues to taint audience perceptions. Is it time to acknowledge that the term ‘Shared’ is a big part of the problem?

Does SO count as homeownership?

This confusion may stem from the lack of clarity in the housing industry itself. If asked whether SO counts as homeownership, most Registered Providers (RPs) will say a resounding ‘yes’. But the Advertising Standards Agency has other ideas. When Keaze Ltd used the term “It’s yours” in a Shared Ownership promotion, they were given a rap on the knuckles for exaggerating the level of ownership that SO delivers.

Shared Ownership

After a series of similar incidents, RPs now tend to choose phrases that indicate aspiration to full ownership such as “your doorway into homeownership”. But this does little to clear up what Shared Ownership means. And if something is unclear, confusing or giving mixed messages, it’s very hard to trust it. It’s a complex and nuanced brand messaging issue that needs to be addressed, and one that a specialist creative agency could overcome.

Fostering trust in Shared Ownership

Prospective buyers need to trust the person (or organisation) they are buying from. This is true for all housing, but especially so for Shared Ownership properties, where a long-term relationship is created between the buyer and the seller. RPs become the landlord after the sale and customers will want to know that they will be well looked after. That trust element becomes even greater with affordable housing where schemes like SO provide a lifeline to security and stability. To foster trust, RP brands need to convey integrity and commitment as a landlord, as well as the validity of the Shared Ownership scheme.

Is it time to retire the ‘housing ladder’ metaphor?

One method to create validity may be to drop the ‘property ladder’ marketing metaphor. References to ladders crop up constantly in housing development promotions, particularly when it comes to getting on that ‘first rung’. It’s so much a part of British thinking that it’s only recently that questions are being asked about whether it still holds up today.

And let’s be frank: the SO term ‘staircasing’ also muddies the water here. Ladder? Staircase? It’s a terminology trap.

With one in five Britons renting privately, double the amount in 2001, the timeline and steps to home ownership have dramatically changed. In the property ladder metaphor, Shared Ownership can only ever be seen as the waiting room before ‘proper’ homeownership. This comparison demotes the Shared Ownership opportunity. SO has a lot more to offer than private renting, including increased affordability, security and flexibility. A repositioning may be needed if it is going to shine.

Why strong brand and communications are key for Shared Ownership developments

For some smaller or less forward-thinking RPs, branding and communications focused on SO can be lower down the list of priorities. But the best time to start crafting your brand messaging strategy is day one. New housing developments are arriving in a competitive marketplace and must work harder than ever to stand out from the crowd. A creative brand that sparks an emotional connection with prospective buyers will have the edge.

shared ownership

Strong Shared Ownership branding out in the wild

Three SO branding examples that we would’ve been pleased to call our own.

“The housing market doesn’t work for everyone and we’re here to change it.”

Leaders Romans Group has created a dedicated brand for everything Shared Ownership: SOWN. That’s a great start. Giving Shared Ownership its own platform and acknowledging that the current path to homeownership isn’t working for everyone will make your target audience feel heard. While references to ladders can still be found, the emphasis is on getting there on personalised terms.

“Working to end the housing crisis in Cornwall”

Coastline Housing’s tagline works to build trust effectively in two ways. Firstly, it presents itself as a company local to Cornwall, implying that they know, understand and care about the place they operate in. Secondly, they tie themselves to a social purpose greater than themselves: the ending of the housing crisis. This suggests they won’t leave in the lurch once the sale has gone through.

“Your gateway to sustainable living”

Just buying a house can’t be the sole focus of your SO marketing campaign, people have to know that they will enjoy living there too. Parkside had its audience firmly in mind when promoting its Shared Ownership development. Highlighting the sense of community, proximity to nature and access to city entertainment within a warm, animated aesthetic. Lovely stuff.

Let us take ownership of your Shared Ownership brand

Create clarity. Build trust. Add value. We can supercharge your Shared Ownership branding strategy.

Let’s talk.