Your Thoughts: House Price Growth Slowing Down

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According to UK mortgage lender Halifax, February saw the lowest increase in house price since July 29013, going up just 5.1% YoY. This means that house price inflation has halved over the course of 11 months.

Halifax’s housing economist, Martin Ellis says this is down to a sustained period of house price growth in excess of pay rises making it more and more difficult for many to buy a home. He says that this, alongside a reduced momentum in the job market and less consumer spending will equate to a further slowdown in inflation rise throughout 2017.

This week Finance Monthly has heard from a number of sources in the housing markets sector, to see what their thoughts are on the slowdown, and whether indeed more growth curbing is to occur in the coming months.

Neil Bainbridge, Ashcox & Stone:

Why is it slowing down? The key factor in this is uncertainty and it’s slowing in some areas and not others. In Swindon, we were looking at six per cent average growth in 2016 in house sales, this year it’s predicted to be around four per cent but we are only in March. So far, we’ve had a strong start to the year and that shows no signs of slowing down. I suspect we will be between five to six per cent by the end of the year.

We have to remember that our economy’s growth is consumer led and consumer confidence is attached to our love of property and if people stop having that confidence, spending will slow, credit will slow and consequently growth will slow. it’s a fragile position we are in when our economy’s growth relies on the confidence of the average consumer.

Things could start slowing as people take stock and think, “if I don’t sell my house or buy a new home this year, what’s the market going to be like next year? Am I better off sitting tight?” Will they wait for decisions regarding Brexit, interest rates and a wealth of other economic uncertainties?

As a non-Londoner, it seems to me that that market is still very much an ‘anomaly’ with outside investors with strong currencies against the pound, being able to buy more for their money. However, uncertainty over Brexit may cause those people to think twice before rushing to buy that investment property if concerns over jobs being relocated overseas are realised.

Less of an impact but still one to watch is the trans-Atlantic effect of the American dollar as they consider a rise in interest rates in the USA and that’s likely to have a knock-on effect on economies around the world, including here in the UK.  Interest rates in the UK are likely to rise at the end of 2017, beginning of 2018 to counteract the inevitable rise in inflation, caused by the increase in food and fuel prices that we are already beginning to see. These are the sorts of headline costs that most affect consumer confidence.

Another factor to bear in mind is the massive effort by the government to put the brakes on the buy-to-let market which is causing a huge number of potential landlords or investors to avoid investing in the property market. But that’s a whole other debate.

Professor Ivan Paya, Lancaster University Management School:

The results of our forecasts suggest that house prices in the national and all regional property markets will grow this year. For the UK national market, the considered forecasting models predict a slowdown in the rate of house price inflation to 3.5% in 2017 (we note that the value of the corresponding statistic in 2016 was 4.4%). Although house prices are expected to grow at a lower rate than last year, the two main factors responsible for the positive forecasted growth in the housing market are (i) the sound domestic economic conditions (mainly a healthy growth rate of consumption), and (ii) the fall in the real mortgage rate (mainly due to the recent rise in inflation rate). At the same time, we note a slight reduction in the number of housing starts in the past year, which can also explain the continued positive trend in the national property prices.

When it comes to the regional housing markets, the predicted patterns of property price behaviour vary across regions. We note that expectation about the future interest rate increases, which is an important determinant of housing dynamics in London but not in the other regional markets, is the key factor that puts a downward pressure on the house price growth in this region. On the other hand, we note a small decrease in the ratio of property prices to personal income in the last quarter for the first time since the early 2013. This measure is an indicator of housing affordability, and it has been gradually deteriorating until the third quarter of 2016, when the ratio of prices to income reached its historical maximum. The improvement in housing affordability together with the fall in the real mortgage rate and the sluggish supply of housing are all factors responsible for continued growth in London property prices. According to the forecasting results, housing inflation in London will slow down in the first quarters of 2017, but the growth in property prices is predicted to build up towards the end of the year. Overall, the forecasts indicate a 3.9% growth in London property prices in the course of 2017.

The forecasts predict a similar pattern of house price behaviour in the regions contiguous to London, including Outer Metropolitan, Outer South East and South West. We note that the property market of East Anglia, which is currently growing faster than any other regional market of the country, is predicted to slow down in 2017, but still remain the market with the highest housing inflation (the forecasts suggest that house prices in this region will grow by 5.7% over the year). We see deterioration in housing affordability in all these regional property markets: the ratios of house prices to households’ disposable income are at or close to their historical maxima.

Charles Fletcher, Head of Analysis, Cogress:

The news is not particularly surprising when you consider the series of unprecedented events over the past twelve months that have rocked the UK economy and property market. From the stamp duty changes, to rising inflation rates squeezing consumer-spending power, and the shocking referendum results in the UK, a house price slowdown amidst such economic uncertainty was effectively inevitable.

With that said, property values are still 5.1% higher than they were at the same time last year. Even though the growth rate is slowing, a shortage in supply of both new homes and existing properties will continue to lift UK house prices. Meanwhile, demand for housing is being supported by an economy that continues to perform well with employment still expanding.

Over the next few months, we expect that the UK’s financial resilience will be reflected in the property market. Although prices and transaction levels in prime central London areas like Chelsea and Kensington may keep dropping, this will be offset by properties valued below £1,000,000, which are still trading well. This trend towards more affordable properties is indicative of mounting consumer caution over major spending decisions and the difference between one’s ‘need’ for property and one’s ‘want’ for property. The large disparity between supply and demand for property across the country means that competition will remain fierce for properties at the more affordable end of the market, even against Brexit’s uncertainty. Which means that cities such as Manchester, Bristol and Leeds will continue to benefit from ongoing tenant demand.

While issues of affordability will remain top-of-mind for many UK consumers and first-time buyers, falling house prices in central London represent an opportunity for foreign buyers. Many central London estate agents have been reporting that a large portion of their applicants are $-based buyers hoping to take advantage of currency fluctuations to invest in valuable long-term property assets.

Despite predictions of a price crash, we expect that house prices will continue to grow at a stable rate over the next few months. This is as a result of the country’s sound economic conditions and a resilient property market that can withstand any potential volatility Brexit brings.

Gavriel Merkado, Founder & CEO, REalyse:

The recent announcement that the UK housing market has slowed to its lowest pace in three and a half years was not a surprise. The UK market has experienced a period of instability, with an imbalance in supply and demand leading to properties becoming overpriced. If you pair this with the low interest rates the UK has been experiencing and the relative ease of access to debt finance, you are left with a market that is unaffordable for the masses.

Over the past year, the government has been instructed that to help solve the housing crisis 300,000 more homes must be built in England alone, year-on-year. Despite this goal, we are still experiencing low levels of housebuilding and development, which have subsequently added to high prices. Therefore, it appears that a key reason for the slowdown is affordability.

It will be interesting to see the impact this shift has on the market over the next few months. We have already endured a period of uncertainty following the Brexit vote, and while the initial shock period is calming, implications are still far reaching. Brexit may well lead to an increase in inflation, with the Bank of England forced into increasing interest rates, which in turn may put pressure on the purchasing market.

There is also the impact of movement of EU migrants to consider, with many of them residing in the UK expecting to return home in the lead-up to Brexit. If this does prove to be the case, we may experience a drop in demand for rental property, which in turn could balance out the demand for buying property.

Investors and developers should monitor the situation closely, as we are already noticing a shift in the patterns of growth and decline. Central areas, such as London and Manchester, that were previously viewed as overpriced, could experience a stabilisation in prices, whilst some regional cities and suburban areas, such as Cambridge, could continue to rise in price. Other socio-economic factors, such as the development of the high-speed rail links may also lead to the increase in value of other regional towns and cities.

We would also love to hear more of Your Thoughts on this, so feel free to comment below and tell us what you think!

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