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.
Tackling UK housing crisis ‘will take generations’ ITV News, Joel Hills (16/11/16)
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)
The Redfern Review into the decline of homeownership (16/11/16)
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)
- 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.
- Use a supply and demand diagram to illustrate current average house prices compared with house prices in 2000.
- 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.
- What determines the price elasticity of supply of houses?
- What particular problems do young people face in being able to afford to buy a house or flat?
- 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?
- What policies could be adopted by the government to make rents more affordable? Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of such policies.
The housing market is often a good indicator of the level of confidence in an economy. Prior to the credit crunch, there had been a house price bubble and as the financial crisis began and economies plunged into recession, house prices began to fall significantly. In the last few months, the housing market has begun its recovery and data from the ONS shows average property prices up by 5.4% across the UK in November, compared with a year earlier.
When we analyse the housing market, or any market, we have to give attention to both demand-side and supply-side factors. It is the combination of these factors that yields the equilibrium price. For most people, buying a house will represent their single biggest expenditure and so there are many factors that need to be considered.
The demand for housing is affected by incomes, by the availability of mortgages, the rate of interest and hence the cost of mortgages. Speculation also tends to be a key factor that influences the demand for houses, as people may buy houses if they believe that prices will soon rise. Of course, simply by responding to expectations about future price changes causes the price changes to happen – a classic case of self-fulfilling speculation.
The availability of mortgages has been one of the biggest factors increasing the demand for and hence price of houses in recent months. More individuals have been able to get onto the property ladder and, with confidence returning to the market, these factors have caused a rightward shift in the demand for owner-occupied houses.
Another key factor has been the growth in the demand for housing as an investment opportunity, in particular from the global super rich. This has been of particular concern in London, where there are fears of a housing bubble developing and of lower-income households being priced out of the market.
At the same time, there has been a growth in the supply or housing and thus a rightward shift of the supply curve. Ceteris paribus, this would push down average prices. However, the data suggest that house prices, especially in London, have increased, implying that the impact on price of the increase in demand has more than offset the downward force in prices from the increase in supply. Part of this can be explained by the demand-side factor of an increase in demand for top-end properties, which ‘has been distracting developers from the need for more affordable accommodation.’ When asked about the changes observed in the London housing market, Civitas said:
London is one of the most – if not the most – attractive property markets for international investors all over the world. It is also at the centre of an affordability crisis in the UK which is having serious consequences for younger people and the less well-off…For too many it [investment at the top end of the market] is providing financial shelter rather than human shelter.
With the upward pressure on house prices, many are now warning of another bubble developing in London. When comparing house prices in London with a Londoner’s income, Ernst and Young found that house prices were 11 times average annual income. Data like this were last seen prior to the financial crisis and it is this which has led to concerns of a post-crisis bubble.
There are suggestions that more action is needed to combat this bubble, such as imposing a limit in income multiples in relation to how much of a mortgage you are able to borrow. Another criticism levelled at the market is the government’s Help to Buy scheme, which critics argue is raising demand and pushing up prices, because there is no matched increase in supply.
So, with the rest of the market returning to some semblance of normality, it is currently just London showing signs of a bubble and we are all well aware of what the consequences might be if a bubble is allowed to grow and then eventually burst. The following articles consider the housing market.
Housing bubble forming in London, warns Ernst and Young BBC News (3/2/14)
London housing market shows new bubble sign – report Reuters, Andrew Winning (3/2/14)
Expert calls for stronger action to tame London housing bubble risks Independent (21/5/12)
London shows signs of house price ‘bubble’, experts warn The Telegraph, Scott Campbell (3/2/14)
Economic forecasters call for measures to cool down London’s property market The Guardian, Rupert Neate (3/2/14)
Think-tank calls for a ban on rich foreigners buying homes in London to puncture property bubble Mail Online, Lizzie Edmonds (2/2/14)
London property bubble to last until 2018 Sky News (3/2/14)
- What are the key factors that will affect (a) the demand for and (b) the supply of housing?
- Which factors explain why house prices in London have increased relative to prices across the country? Identify which factors are demand-side and which are supply-side.
- How has Help to Buy affected the housing market?
- What government policies could be implemented to ‘puncture’ the bubble?
- Why is a housing bubble a problem?
- Why has a house price bubble not emerged in the rest of the UK?