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Posts Tagged ‘mortgages’

When owning your own home becomes more of a distant dream

Young people are increasingly finding it impossible to buy their own home. The reasons are easy to find: income rises of young people have failed to match rises in house prices, and access to loans has become more restrictive since the financial crisis. In 2002, 58.6% of 25-34 year-olds owned their own home; today, the figure is just 36.7%.

Conventional wisdom is that the source of the problem is on the supply side: a lack of house building. But according to the Redfern Review, led by the chief executive of Taylor Wimpey, Pete Redfern, the source of the problem lies mainly on the demand side. Overall demand for housing has been rapidly rising, stoked by low interest rates and the Help to Buy scheme, which is available to existing home owners as well as first-time buyers. However, purchases by first-time buyers have fallen as their incomes have declined relative to those of older people.

Of course, increasing supply, especially of cheaper starter homes, would help young people, but, according to the Redfern Review, such schemes take a long time to make much of a difference (although building modular homes could be much quicker). In the meantime, help could be provided on the demand side by making the Help to Buy scheme available only to first-time buyers and by increasing the help to them provided under the scheme, and also by encouraging lenders to make access to mortgages easier.

But a problem for most young people is high levels of debt, including student loans. Such debt and a lack of savings makes it difficult to raise a deposit, let alone afford mortgage repayments. And on the rental side, accommodation is becoming less and less affordable as rents rise faster than incomes, further exacerbating the difficulty of clawing down debt and saving for a deposit.

A long-term solution must involve increased supply – as the Redfern Review recognises. But in the short-term, providing more help to first-time buyers and those paying high rents could make a significant difference.

Webcast
Tackling UK housing crisis ‘will take generations’ ITV News, Joel Hills (16/11/16)

Articles
Review of home ownership in UK shows severe decline in young buyers PropertyWire (16/11/16)
Housing crisis: Lack of new building not to blame for soaring house prices finds Labour-commissioned report Independent, Ben Chu and Ashley Cowburn (16/11/16)
Redfern Review: Focus on First Time Buyers and Launch Housing Commission Money Expert, Danny Lord (16/11/16)
First-time buyers need more help, review finds BBC News (16/11/16)
Redfern Review echoes Homes for Scotland’s call for joined-up approach to housing Scottish Housing News, Nicola Barclay (17/11/16)
Redfern review into housing: worth building on? The Guardian, Nils Pratley (15/11/16)
UK housing review downplays developers’ role in crisis, critics say The Guardian, Graham Ruddick (16/11/16)

Report
The Redfern Review into the decline of homeownership (16/11/16)

Data
Economic Data freely available online: UK house prices The Economics Network
UK House Price to income ratio and affordability Economics Help blog (21/9/15)
House Price Index Nationwide
UK House Price Index: reports ONS/Land Registry
House Price Index: Statistical Bulletin ONS (Sept. 2016)

Questions

  1. Do a data search to find out what has happened since 1990 to (a) average UK house prices; (b) average incomes; (c) the distribution of income since 1990; (d) first-time buyer affordability of houses.
  2. Use a supply and demand diagram to illustrate current average house prices compared with house prices in 2000.
  3. How does the price elasticity of supply of houses affect the impact of a rise in demand on house prices? Illustrate your answer with a diagram.
  4. What determines the price elasticity of supply of houses?
  5. What particular problems do young people face in being able to afford to buy a house or flat?
  6. How would making it easier for young people to be able to raise finance to purchase their first home affect the price of starter homes?
  7. What policies could be adopted by the government to make rents more affordable? Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of such policies.
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The housing market: an Australian case study of demand and supply

Many countries have experienced soaring house prices in recent years. To find out why, you need to look at demand and supply.

Low mortgage interest rates and more relaxed lending rules in the last couple of years have stimulated demand. In some countries, such as the UK, demand has been further boosted by governments providing increased help to buyers. In others, various tax breaks are given to house purchasers.

Typically the rise in demand has not been matched by an equivalent rise in supply. Social house building has slowed in many countries and building for private purchase has often be hampered by difficulties in obtaining appropriate land or getting planning permission.

The articles linked below look at the situation in Australia. Here too house prices have been soaring. Over the past 30 years they have grown by 7.25% per year – way above the growth in incomes. As the second article below states:

So expensive are homes becoming that the share of median household income devoted to mortgage payments for Australians aged 35 to 44 has more than doubled in 30 years. Incredibly, it’s happened at a time when mortgage rates have slid to their lowest on record.

But why? Again, to understand this it is necessary to look at demand and supply.

Strong population growth combined with easy availability of mortgage loans, low interest rates and tax breaks for both owner occupiers and property investors have stoked demand, while new building has lagged behind. As far as investors are concerned, any shortfall of rental income over mortgage payments (known as negative gearing) can be offset against tax – and then there is still the capital gain to be made from any increase in the property’s price.

But in some Australian towns and cities, price rises have started to slow down or even fall. This may be due to a fall in demand. For example, in Perth, the ending of the commodity boom has led to a fall in demand for labour in the mining areas; mine workers often live in Perth and fly up to the mining areas for shifts of a week or more. The fall in demand for labour has led to a fall in demand for housing.

House price changes are amplified by speculation. People rush to buy houses when they think house prices will rise, further pushing up prices. Landlords do the same. This speculation fuels the price rises. Speculation also amplifies price falls, with people with houses to sell keen to sell them quickly before prices fall further. Potential purchasers, including property investors, hold back, waiting for prices to fall.

Articles
House prices are surging because of low supply – it’s Economics 101 The Guardian, Stephen Koukoulas (27/10/16)
Who’s to blame for rising house prices? We are, actually. Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Martin (27/10/16)
The Price of Australia’s Real Estate Boom The New York Times, A. Odysseus Patrick (17/10/16)
Solutions beyond supply to the housing affordability problem The Conversation, Nicole Gurran (24/10/16)

Data
Residential Property Price Indexes: Eight Capital Cities Australian Bureau of Statistics (20/9/16)

Questions

  1. Identify the specific demand factors that have driven house price rises in Australia.
  2. How are the price elasticities of demand and supply relevant to explaining house price rises? Use a diagram to illustrate your analysis.
  3. What determines the rate of increase in house prices?
  4. Explain what is meant by ‘negative gearing’. How is the tax treatment of negative gearing relevant to the property market?
  5. What are the arguments for and against giving tax breaks for house purchase?
  6. Why are rising prices seen as politically desirable by politicians?
  7. What practical steps could a government (central or local) take to increase the supply of housing? Would such steps always be desirable?
  8. Does speculation always amplify house price changes? Explain.
  9. How are house prices related to inequality?
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Interest rates still at 0.5%

In 2009, interest rates in the UK were cut to a record low of 0.5%. Since that point, there has been almost unanimous agreement amongst the members of the Monetary Policy Committee to keep rates at this low. It is only in the last couple of months when some have even voted to raise rates. However, this month, interest rates were once again held at 0.5%.

The low interest rates have played a key part in creating an economic stimulus for the UK economy. With low interest rates, some of the key components of aggregate demand are stimulated and this in turn is crucial in creating a growth environment. However, with the recovery of the UK economy, there are now expectations that interest rates may soon begin to rise. Perhaps adding to this expectation is the fact that the bank’s stimulus programme has remained unchanged at £375bn. As more data is released that continues to show the positive progress of the UK economy, it becomes increasingly likely that interest rates will soon rise.

Despite the fact that interest rates will inevitably increase, Mark Carney has said that any increase will be slow and gradual to minimise the effect on consumers, especially home-owners. Mortgage payments are typically the biggest expenditure for a household and so any increase in interest rates will certainly put added pressure on home-owners and with wage growth still remaining slow, there are concerns of the impact this may have. Perhaps this may continue to deter some of the Committee for voting in favour of interest rate rises. There does appear to be some conflict between economists as to what the next step is likely to be. Yael Selfin is the economics director at KPMG and said:

With inflationary pressures still subdued, it is no surprise that rates have been held … Despite recent revisions to GDP and productivity, there is still room for further improvements in productivity, to mop up some of the rise in demand over the coming months. Steady falls in unemployment and strong economic growth are likely to see rates rising in February next year.

However, Andrew Goodwin, who is the senior economic adviser to the EY ITEM Club commented that:

On one hand, the stronger performance might convince some members that the economy is sufficiently robust to withstand the steady tightening of policy, although it should be noted that the Bank routinely builds into its forecasts the expectation of some upward revisions to the recent historical data … On the flip side, the revisions also provide some ammunition for those of a dovish persuasion, with evidence that a stronger productivity performance has had little feed through into inflationary pressures.

The key question therefore appears to be not whether interest rates will increase, but when. The MPC certainly considers inflation when making its decisions, but over the past few years, it is economic growth which has probably been the biggest influence. The data for the UK economy over the coming months, as well as the fast-approaching General Election, will prove crucial in determining exactly when interest rates increase. The following articles consider this monetary policy change.

UK interest rates held at record low of 0.5% BBC News (4/9/14)
Bank of England holds interest rates at 0.5pc for 66th month The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (4/9/14)
Timing of UK interest rate hike mired in UK services sector conundrum International Business Times, Lianna Brinded (3/9/14)
Interest rates expected to hold Mail Online, Press Association (31/8/14)
Bank of England holds rates despite robust recovery Reuters, Andy Bruce (4/9/14)
Bank of England keeps record-low rate on weak inflation Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton (4/9/14)

Questions

  1. By outlining the key components of aggregate demand, explain the mechanisms by which interest rates will affect each component.
  2. How can inflation rates be affected by interest rates?
  3. Why is there a debate between economists and the MPC as to when interest rates should be increased?
  4. If interest rates do increase, how is this likely to affect home-owners?
  5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a slow and gradual rise as opposed to one big rise?
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Housing is ‘gaining momentum’, says Nationwide

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.

Articles
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

Questions

  1. How is the equilibrium determined in the housing market? Using a demand and supply diagram, illustrate the equilibrium. Make sure you think about the shapes of the curves you’re drawing.
  2. Which factors affect the demand for and supply of housing?
  3. Why are there regional variations in house prices?
  4. Why is the housing market a good indicator of the strength of the economy?
  5. Why have house prices risen throughout 2013? Is the trend likely to continue?
  6. If the housing market does indeed gain momentum, how might this affect the rest of the economy? Which sectors in particular are likely to benefit?
  7. Explain why the government’s intervention in the housing market could be seen to have a multiplier effect?
  8. Concerns have been raised that the government’s schemes to help the housing market may create a house price bubble. Why might this be the case?
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A ‘surprising’ rise

The housing market is crucial in any economy, as it provides so many jobs in related industries. It is frequently a good signal of how buoyant the economy is. With recession in the UK, mortgage rationing continuing and many homeowners having to find 20% deposits to buy a house, many would expect the housing market to be showing signs of trouble.

And to some extent this is the case. Studies on house prices have clearly shown how unpredictable this market is and prices remain 0.7% below what they were a year ago. However, in August house prices increased, recording their biggest rise in two and a half years, at 1.3%. For many, this rise was a surprise, but came as a welcome relief following the declines in previous months. Despite this rise, analysts have suggested that this trend is unlikely to continue throughout the rest of the year, as the demand for houses remains weak. Robert Gardner, the Chief Economist at Nationwide said:

“Given the difficult economic backdrop, the extent of the rebound in August is a little surprising. However, we should never read too much into one month’s data, especially since monthly price changes have been impacted by a number of one-off factors this year, such as the ending of the stamp duty holiday for first time buyers’.

So, what is behind this upward trend? Nationwide’s Chief Economist says that it could be explained by a resilient labour market, where employment has risen in recent months, despite the recession. The labour market undoubtedly has a big effect on the housing market, as mortgages do take up so a large percentage of take-home pay.

However, another key factor that affects house prices is the availability of mortgages. The Bank of England and Treasury launched the Funding for Lending Scheme at the beginning of August in a bid to make mortgages cheaper and more easily available. However, analysts suggest that the scheme is yet to have an effect. Furthermore, until deposit requirements are eased, that first step on the property ladder will remain elusive for many people. Mortgage approvals did increase slightly in July, but still remain a major barrier for the housing market to really boom.

The following articles consider this ‘surprising’ rise in house prices and the factors behind it.

Articles
House prices in ‘surprising’ jump, Nationwide says BBC News (31/8/12)
UK house prices record surprise increase Financial Times, Tanya Powley (31/8/12)
Surprise house price rise in August not indicative of market, says Nationwide The Telegraph, Emma Wall (31/8/12)
House prices in surprise rebound Independent, Vicky Shaw (31/8/12)
House prices continue to hold The Economic Voice, Jeff Taylor (31/8/12)
Mortgage approvals still subdued, Bank of England says BBC News (30/8/12)
Banks are pulling back from property – expect prices to fall Money Week, Matthew Partridge (31/8/12)
UK house prices up, as London continues surge Share Cast, Michael Miller (29/8/12)

Data
Lending to Individuals Bank of England 2012
House Price Index Land Registry 2012
UK house prices (links) Economics Network

Questions

  1. Use a supply and demand diagram to analyse recent trends in the housing market.
  2. Why is the Bank of England’s lending scheme not having the expected impact on the housing market?
  3. To what extent do you think the state of the housing market depends on mortgage rationing? Which other factors are likely to affect the housing market?
  4. In the article from the Economic Voice, the author says that house prices holding as they are is a surprise, because of relatively high inflation and the fact that wages are not keeping pace. Explain the economic thinking behind this view.
  5. The Chief Economist at Nationwide has said that the future of the housing market depends heavily on what happens to the labour market. Why is this the case?
  6. Why have mortgages been rationed and minimum deposit requirements been increased?
  7. Why is the housing market so important for the economy?
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Bank rate

In March 2009, the Bank of England’s base rate was slashed to 0.5% in a bid to boost aggregate demand and stimulate the UK economy. And there it has remained for almost 2 years and as yet, no change is in sight. In the February 2011 meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee (who are responsible for setting interest rates to keep inflation on target), the decision was to keep interest rates at 0.5% rather than raise them to tackle high and rising UK inflation. Those in favour of keeping interest rates at this record low argue that any increase could damage the UK’s ability to recover and may lead to the dreaded double-dip recession. This is of particular concern given the economy’s performance in the last quarter of 2010.

However, one group that will certainly not be happy is the savers. With instant-access savings accounts paying on average just 0.84% before tax and with inflation at 3.7%, savers aren’t just not gaining much interest, but are actually seeing the value of their money in real terms fall. Howard Archer of HIS Global Insight said:

“For now, we retain our view that the Bank of England will hold off from raising interest rates until the latter months of the year. Even if interest rates do rise in the near term, the likelihood is still that they will rise only gradually and remain very low compared to past norms.

Monetary policy will need to stay loose for an extended period to offset the impact of the major, sustained fiscal squeeze. Consequently, we retain the view that interest rates will only rise to 2pc by the end of 2012.”

Following some speculation that the Bank of England may succumb to the pressure of inflation and hike up interest rates (markets had priced in a 20% chance of a rate rise), sterling did take a hit, but after the decision to keep rates at 0.5%, sterling recovered against the dollar. There is a belief amongst some traders that rates will rise in May, but others believe rates may remain at 0.5% until much later in 2011, as the country aims to avoid plunging back into recession. Of 49 economists that responsed to a poll by Reuters, three quarters of them said that rates would rise by the end of 2011, with median forecasts predicting a rise around November. This is certainly a space to watch, as it has implications for everyone in the UK and for many in countries around the world.

BOE leaves bank rate unchanged at 0.5% at Feb meeting Automated Trader (10/2/11)
Economists predict interest rates will rise in November Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (11/2/11)
UK May rate hike view holds firm after BOE Reuters, Kirsten Donovan (10/2/11)
Interest rates: What the economists say Guardian (10/2/11)
Fixed rate mortgages becoming more expensive BBC News (10/2/11)
Bank rate: savers’ celebrations on hold Telegraph, Richard Evans (10/2/11)
Inflation fears turn up heat ahead of bank rate decision City AM, Julian Harris (10/2/11)
Sterling takes BOE in its stride, higher rate talk aids Reuters, Anirban Nag (10/2/11)
Bank of England holds interest rates of 0.5% Telegraph, Emma Rowley (10/2/11)

Questions

  1. Why are interest rates such an important tool of monetary policy? Think about which variables of aggregate demand will be affected by the Bank of England’s decision.
  2. What is the relationship between interest rates and inflation?
  3. What explanation is there for the fall in the value of sterling following speculation that interest rates may rise? Why did sterling recover after the Bank of England’s decision?
  4. How has the recent speculation affected fixed rate mortgages?
  5. What does the Telegraph article about “savers’ celebrations on hold” mean about the ‘real value’ of money and savings?
  6. What are (a) the arguments for keeping interest rates at 0.5% and (b) the arguments for raising interest rates? Who wins and loses in each case?
  7. Are there any other government policies that could be used to combat inflation, without creating the possibility of a double-dip recession? Why haven’t they been used?
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Increased Gazumping!

The owner-occupied housing market has seen widespread coverage. With house prices falling throughout the recession and problems accessing mortgages for many people, it is this sector of housing that has received most attention. However, it is rental homes that we’ll be considering here and a new strategy being adopted by landlords. As access to mortgages dried up, people instead turned to renting. Demand for rental properties began to increase, such that competition between potential tenants increased significantly. Not only has there been a substantial increase in rents – up by some 35%, but it has also led to a new ‘sealed bid’ strategy.

A strategy that is often used for purchasing houses is where potential buyers submit sealed bids and it is this approach which is now spreading to the rental sector, as demand and competition for properties increases. Potential tenants are required to submit a sealed bid, containing the amount that they are willing to pay to rent out the property and all this must be done within a deadline. Whoever submits the highest bid ‘wins’ the property and hence tenants are encouraged to submit a bid at or close to the maximum they are willing to pay. Landlords insist that they are not trying to force tenants to pay more, but that it is simply the most effective way of letting properties that are short in supply, but face significant demand. As the BBC News article states:

‘It seems that with the current state of the housing market, sealed bids will be here to stay – as long as many would-be renters are chasing a dwindling supply of good rental homes.’

Rental ‘gazumping on the up as demand rises Metro, Tariq Tahir (8/11/10)
’Bidding war’ for homes to rent BBC News, Nigel Cassidy (20/11/10)
Rental market’s now so hot tenants are having to make sealed bids Mail Online, Sebastien O Kelly (8/11/10)
Is the buy-to-let market on its way back? Seek4Media (20/11/10)
Gazumping on the rise as London rental soars Gulf Times, London Evening Standard (8/11/10)

Questions

  1. Using a supply and demand diagram, explain the trend we have seen in the rental market, thinking about the impact on demand, supply and hence on price. How does this explain why sealed bids have been used to combat the increased competition?
  2. Which factors have affected (a) the demand for rental properties and (b) the supply of rental properties? How is the elasticity of demand and supply relevant here in terms of the impact on price?
  3. To what extent is a sealed bid format fair on potential tenants? Who does such a strategy favour?
  4. How could this sealed bid strategy be an example of price discrimination?
  5. What is likely to happen to your consumer surplus if you have to submit a sealed bid?
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Housing hype

House prices are on the rise again and at the fastest rate since June 2007, according to the Nationwide. In June 2007, the average house price was £184,070, which did prevent many first-time buyers from getting on to the property ladder. Enter the recession. Over the past two and a half years, house prices have fluctuated considerably. Land Registry data shows that the average house price in April 2009 had fallen to £152,657, which gave first time buyers more of a chance, but at the same time mortgage lending fell and many lenders required a 25% deposit, which again ruled out many purchasers. Gradual increases in the latter part of 2009 and the beginning of 2010 have seen the average price rise to £164,455 (£167,802 according to Nationwide) and the trend looks unlikely to reverse, although it should stabilise.

Behind these changing prices is a story of demand and supply and the importance of expectations. As the credit crunch began and house prices began to fall, those looking to sell wanted to do so before prices fell further, while those looking to buy were expecting prices to fall further and so had an incentive to delay their purchase. In recent months, however, the demand for houses has out-stripped supply and it is this that has contributed to rising prices. At the same time, the stamp duty holiday that ended in December 2009 was re-introduced in the 2010 Budget and mortgage approvals have begun to increase. All of this has led to annual house price inflation of 10.5% by April 2010.

Articles
House price inflation hits 10.5%, says the Nationwide BBC News (29/4/10)
House price rise reaches double digits, finds Nationwide Telegraph, Myra Butterworth (29/4/10)
House price growth hits three-year high Times Online (29/4/10)
Taylor Wimpey says house prices rise 9pc Telegraph (29/4/10)
Bringing down the house price Guardian (27/4/10)

Data
House Price Data Nationwide
April 2010 Press release Nationwide
Halifax House Price Index site Lloyds Banking Group
(see especially the link to historical house price data)
House Price Index site Land Registry

Questions

  1. Using a diagram, explain why house prices fell towards the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009.
  2. Using your diagram above, now illustrate why house prices have begun to increase.
  3. Is the demand and supply of houses likely to be price elastic or inelastic? How does this affect your diagrams from questions 1 and 2?
  4. Why is the upward trend expected to stabilise during the latter part of 2010?
  5. To what extent has the stamp duty holiday affected house prices?
  6. Has the recession had an impact on equality in the UK economy?
  7. Will rising house prices contribute to economic recovery. Explain why or why not.
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Demand and supply imbalances: No longer raising the roof on UK house prices?

In the Perils of snow and stamp duty blog here on the Sloman Economics News site we noted two particular influences that may have contributed to February’s reported fall in UK house prices: the end of the stamp duty holiday and the poor winter weather. Here we ponder a little more on the recent relationship between the economic and house prices cycles and, more generally, on the significance and causes of the recent imbalances between housing demand and supply.

What is particularly interesting about February’s house price fall (the Halifax put the fall at 1½% and the Nationwide at 1%) is that it is happening just after the economy reportedly grew by 0.3% in the last quarter of last year. But, then again, the house price fall is a reversal of an upward trend that started back in the summer of 2009 when the economy was still contracting! One’s gut reaction might be that cycles in house prices and economic growth ought to coincide. One reason for this is that the growth in income of the household sector will reflect the phase of the business cycle that the economy is in. For instance, during the slowdown or recessionary phase, like the period during 2008/9, the household sector’s income is likely to be shrinking and this will impact on housing demand. The magnitude of the effect on demand will depend on the sensitivity of housing demand to changing incomes – something that economists refer to as the income elasticity of demand.

We can, despite what might appear to be the recent puzzling behaviour of UK house prices, apply the concepts of demand and supply to gain some insight into what has been driving house prices. One way of thinking about the concepts of housing demand and supply is to relate them respectively to the number of ‘instructions to buy’ and the number of ‘instructions to sell’ on an estate agent’s book. We can then try and think of factors which might influence, in a given period, the number of instructions to buy and sell.

One possible explanation of the house price growth of last year is that despite the household sector’s shrinking income there were in fact a number of relatively cash-rich households out there, partly because the lowering of interest rates meant that the debt-servicing costs on variable rate mortgages fell. This left some households with more discretionary income to spend or to use to increase their housing investment by trading-up between one housing market and another. The key point here is if there is not a similar increase in the number of instructions to sell then the imbalance between the flow of instructions to buy and instructions to sell results in upward pressure in prices. In those markets where the imbalance between demand and supply is greatest price pressures are most acute. This appears to have been especially true last year in particular markets in the south of England.

So what of February’s fall? Well, again we have to think about the balance between instructions to buy and sell. What appears to have happened is that the demand pressures that built up in some markets lessened. And, as we consider elsewhere on this site, it is perhaps even the case that the wonderful British weather ‘played a hand’ by discouraging some households from looking to buy and adding to our estate agents’ lists of instructions to buy.

Articles
UK housing recovery running out of steam CITY A.M., Jessica Mead (5/3/10)
UK house prices ‘lose momentum’, say Nationwide BBC News (26/2/10)
UK house prices see first fall since June, says Halifax BBC News (4/3/10)
Fears grow of double dip for UK housing market The Independent, Sean O’Grady (5/3/10)

Data
Halifax House Price Data Lloyds Banking Group
House Prices: Data Download Nationwide Building Society

Questions

  1. What do economists mean by the income elasticity of demand? How income elastic do you think owner-occupied housing demand is likely to be?
  2. How important do you think current house prices are likely to be in affecting the number of instructions to buy and instructions to sell in the current period?
  3. How important do you think expectations of future house prices are in affecting the number of instructions to buy and sell in the current period?
  4. What role might financial institutions, like banks and building societies, play in affecting UK house price growth in 2010? How might their influence compare with that in the period 2008/9?
  5. Rather than economic growth affecting house prices, is it possible that house price growth could affect economic growth?
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The perils of snow and stamp duty

The winter months traditionally see lower house sales and prices tend to remain steady or fall. However, house prices had continued to increase over Christmas, as the stamp duty holiday came to an end. In a bid to boost the housing market, the stamp duty threshold had been pushed up from £125,000 to £175,000 for just over a year. This seemed to work, as the housing market did rally throughout 2009 and in particular, in the final months of 2009. Mortgage approvals increased, as first-time buyers in particular tried to complete before stamp duty fell back to £125,000.

However, the end of this ‘holiday’, combined with the icy conditions experienced throughout the UK were contributing factors in the first decline in house prices in about 9 months. According to Halifax, house prices in February fell by 1.5%. House prices are still higher that they were 9 months ago, but the upward momentum they did have, has now taken a dive. Mortgage lending was also down in January by about 32%.

Another factor that has contributed to this downturn is the increased number of properties on the market. Throughout 2009, the number of properties for sale was relatively low and as such, ‘Sale agreed’ notices were appearing on properties within days of them being for sale. This imbalance between demand and supply is now beginning to even out. Is this downward trend merely a blip or does it spell further trouble for the UK economy?

Articles
Snow and end of stamp duty holiday leads to first property price decrease in the UK for nine months PropertyWire (1/3/10)
UK house prices see first fall since June, says Halifax BBC News (4/3/10)
Mortage lending slump prediction comes true as stamp duty returns Daily Mail Online (23/2/10)
House price ‘lose momentum’, says Nationwide BBC News (26/2/10)
Snow and tax send house prices down 1.5% (including video) Times Online, Francesca Steele (4/3/10)
UK house prices fall, snapping rally Telegraph (4/3/10)
House prices fall in February Guardian, Hilary Osborne (4/3/10)

Data
For the Halifax data, see
Halifax house Price Index, February 2010

See also Lloyds Banking Group Housing Research home page and in particular the Historical House price Data link

Questions

  1. What is stamp duty and how did an increase in the threshold aim to stimulate the housing market? Can this be illustrated diagramatically?
  2. Illustrate how house prices are determined using a demand and supply diagram.
  3. One factor that had caused house prices to rise was a lack of supply. Show this on your diagram. Are there any factors that make price fluctuations even more severe, following changes in the demand and supply of houses?
  4. Illustrate how the imbalance of demand and supply has begun to even out.
  5. Why is the state of the housing market such an important factor in determining the strength of the economy?
  6. How do interest rates affect the housing market? Think about the impact on mortgages. Why have mortgage approvals fallen?
  7. To what extent has the weather contributed to falling house prices?
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