I’m old enough to remember artistes including Sandie Shaw, Lulu and Cliff Richard representing the UK in the annual Eurovision Song Contest, back in the days before voting became either tactical or political. Or both.
This was an age when live communications between participating countries invariably sounded as though host nation presenters were trying, unsuccessfully, to contact the Moon.
In the UK, the task of contacting ‘abroad’ usually fell to a glittering Katy Boyle who, with her perfect diction, would ask, “Hello Luxembourg. London here. Can we have your votes please?”
Katy’s prompt, a few seconds later, “Come in Luxembourg,” produced only a scratchy, crackling feedback.
Yet somehow, the musicians performed, and the votes were counted. There was a wonderfully amateur feel to proceedings, even though 20-odd countries across Europe had been linked by satellite, enabling them to produce a live broadcast.
Goodness, how times have changed. Last year’s global television audience for Eurovision exceeded 160 million; only football’s World Cup final can attract a larger number. A music contest initially designed to bring European nations closer together has developed into a serious, big-money affair.
Consider the economics behind this year’s event in Liverpool. Four- and five-bedroom houses across the city are being rented via online platforms for up to £40,000 a week; hotels as far away as Manchester and Chester are fully booked despite the existence of an unofficial Eurovision supplement which has resulted in even modest budget hotels charging music fans over £200 a night.
Liverpool city council estimates the contest’s longer-term economic value to the city will surpass £250 million. More than 100,000 visitors are expected to descend upon the city and, if they cannot get tickets for the main event, there’s plenty of other live music and shows to catch. A personal favourite, thanks solely to its name, is a musical being staged at the Empire: A Thong for Europe.
Clearly, attending live entertainment gigs has, together with everything else, become very expensive; little wonder that so many people are concerned about the cost of living when they see food, utility, transport and a host of other costs soar.
Yet not everyone can ask their boss for a pay rise, or go on strike for higher pay; it’s a tad more difficult if you’re retired, for example.
Last October’s energy price cap was set almost 98% higher than the previous 12 month period, which resulted in average annual heating bills of £2,500, albeit that figure was temporarily reduced by £400. Elsewhere, the average household is spending almost £4,300 annually on grocery and ‘essentials’ shopping, a figure that has risen by 15% in the space of a year.
Meanwhile, although record levels of house price growth witnessed during the pandemic have started to plateau, average UK house prices have managed to increase by more than 8% over the past 12 months, a situation which offers older homeowners an opportunity to strengthen their personal finances in the midst of a cost of living storm.
Though the UK property market currently appears uncertain, thanks mainly to a combination of interest rate levels remaining significantly higher than they were for more than a decade, coupled with a burgeoning cost of living, thousands of older homeowners continue to explore the suitability of equity release as a means of improving their financial position.
The latest figures published by the Equity Release Council, covering the quarterly period January to March 2023, revealed that 16,691 individuals successfully concluded equity release transactions; total lending during the period totalled £699m.
David Burrowes, Chair of the Equity Release Council, said, “People have had to adjust to the realities of a higher interest rate environment in many aspects of their personal finances [and] these figures show the equity release market has been no exception. Would-be customers have evidently been biding their time to see what interest rates do next.
“Homeowners with a present need have proceeded cautiously with average loan sizes at their lowest since 2017 in some cases, despite a 30% rise in house prices during that time.”
Such has been the progress within the equity release sector over the past decade that homeowners who unlock tax-free funds from their property can do so safe in the knowledge that recent product innovations provides them with options designed to keep costs under control.
As Mr Burrowes noted: “Every product that meets Council standards allows people to make penalty-free partial loan repayments, reducing the build-up of interest. In addition, almost every product now offers early repayment charges that reduce to zero, making switching plans more practical in future if interest rates fall.”
Mark Gregory, founder and chief executive of Equity Release Supermarket, pointed out that while the total number of equity release customers fell during the first quarter of 2023 when measured against the previous three-month period, “It’s worth noting that 2022 was a record year for the industry and it would have been surprising, given the steady rise in interest rates, had the opening quarter of 2023 been as impressive.
“However, given strong underlying customer demand, coupled with continued product improvement and innovation, subsequent quarters appear likely to witness stronger lending volumes.”
The continued emergence of a sizeable cohort of older homeowners who recognise their property’s built-in value accounts for the fact that equity release will continue to be a mainstream form of borrowing.
Accordingly, while interest rates remain higher than the average we’ve witnessed over the past 15 years, many folks are content to sit on the sidelines, conscious that while their property may not be increasing in value at a ridiculous rate, this is a great time to familiarise themselves with a range of equity release products.
Using Equity Release Supermarket’s first ever consumer research tool – smartER, homeowners over age 55 can now start their own personal research without being hand held by an adviser in the discovery phase. Results from the whole of the market are instantly produced and you can evidence over 400 products with corresponding interest rates and loan amounts available – just to you.
Technology…how the world has moved on since the days of Sandie Shaw and Lulu! One wonders how many folks are engaged in some serious forward planning: to release equity from their homes this year with a view to attending next year’s Eurovision Song Contest.