The strength of the housing market is often a key indicator of the strength of the economy. But, the opposite is also true: a weak economy often filters through to create a weak housing market. With the current weak economy, a boost in confidence is needed and signs suggest that the housing market is beginning to recover.
While the picture of the housing market today is nothing like the pre-crisis view, things are beginning to look up. For a couple of years now, house price inflation in the UK has been very close, if not equal to zero. However, data from Nationwide Building Society suggests that in May, house prices rose by 0.4% and the once stagnant year-on-year change in house prices rose to 1.1% (see chart below: click here for a PowerPoint of the chart). This is the fastest it has grown since the end of 2011.
Commentators have suggested that this latest data is an indication that ‘the market is gaining momentum’. A further confirmation of this rejuvenated market came with the data that property sales were 5% up each month this year, than the average monthly level for 2012. Despite this improvement, they still remain well below the pre-crisis levels.
Which factors have contributed to this tentative recovery? Most households require a mortgage to purchase a house and, given the central role that the housing market played in the financial crisis with companies engaging in excessive lending as a means of expanding their mortgage books, the availability of mortgages fell. The number of mortgage approvals is likely to feed through to affect the number of house sales and these have improved in the first few months of 2013. Interest rates offered by lenders have also fallen, making mortgages more affordable, thus boosting demand. Furthermore, government assistance is available to help individuals put a deposit down on a house, by offering them an equity loan. Further measures are due to come into effect in January 2014, with the aim of providing a further boost to the housing market. The chief economist at Nationwide, Robert Gardner said:
Widespread expectations that the economy will continue to recover gradually in the quarters ahead, that interest rates will remain low, and the ongoing impact of policy measures aimed at supporting the availability and lowering the cost of credit all provide reasons for optimism that activity will continue to gain momentum in the quarters ahead.
Despite the optimism, the situation is different across the UK, with some areas benefiting more than others. London and the South-East are driving this 0.4% rise, whereas other areas may be in need of further assistance to keep pace (see The UK housing market: good in parts).
Although these latest data may be a sign of things to come, it is also possible that things could go the opposite way. Incomes remain low; employment data are hardly encouraging; and the spectre of inflation is always there. Perhaps most importantly, consumer confidence remains fragile and until that gains momentum, uncertainty will continue to plague the UK marketplace. The following articles consider this issue.
UK house prices again up in May, says Nationwide The Guardian, Hilary Osborne (30/5/13)
Housing market could boost retail industry, Kingfisher says The Telegraph, Graham Ruddick (30/5/13)
UK house prices see modest rise, says Nationwide BBC News (30/5/13)
Hugh’s Review: House prices in spotlight BBC News, Hugh Pym with Yolande Barnes of Savills and Matthew Pointon of Capital Economics (31/5/13)
House prices are racing ahead as stimulus for the market kicks in Independent, Russell Lynch (31/5/13)
’Pick up’ in house prices recorded in sign of market confidence, says Nationwide Independent, Vicky Shaw (30/5/13)
House prices at highest level for nearly two years as confidence in UK economy grows and mortgages get cheaper This is Money, Matt West (30/5/13)
Stamp duty is ‘choking’ housing market as it rises seven times faster than inflation over last 15 years Mail Online, Tara Brady (28/5/13)
Nationwide launches Help to Buy mortgages The Telegraph, William Clarke (29/5/13)
UK home prices rise most in 18 months, Nationwide says Bloomberg, Jennifer Ryan (30/5/13)
House price data
Links to house price data The Economics Network
Statistical data set – Property transactions Department of Communities and Local Government
Nationwide house price index Nationwide Building Society
Halifax House Price Index Lloyds Banking Group
Lending to individuals – November 2012 Bank of England