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.
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.
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)
Residential Property Price Indexes: Eight Capital Cities Australian Bureau of Statistics (20/9/16)
- Identify the specific demand factors that have driven house price rises in Australia.
- How are the price elasticities of demand and supply relevant to explaining house price rises? Use a diagram to illustrate your analysis.
- What determines the rate of increase in house prices?
- Explain what is meant by ‘negative gearing’. How is the tax treatment of negative gearing relevant to the property market?
- What are the arguments for and against giving tax breaks for house purchase?
- Why are rising prices seen as politically desirable by politicians?
- What practical steps could a government (central or local) take to increase the supply of housing? Would such steps always be desirable?
- Does speculation always amplify house price changes? Explain.
- How are house prices related to inequality?
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)
- By outlining the key components of aggregate demand, explain the mechanisms by which interest rates will affect each component.
- How can inflation rates be affected by interest rates?
- Why is there a debate between economists and the MPC as to when interest rates should be increased?
- If interest rates do increase, how is this likely to affect home-owners?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of a slow and gradual rise as opposed to one big rise?
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
- 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.
- Which factors affect the demand for and supply of housing?
- Why are there regional variations in house prices?
- Why is the housing market a good indicator of the strength of the economy?
- Why have house prices risen throughout 2013? Is the trend likely to continue?
- 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?
- Explain why the government’s intervention in the housing market could be seen to have a multiplier effect?
- 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?
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.
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)
Lending to Individuals Bank of England 2012
House Price Index Land Registry 2012
UK house prices (links) Economics Network
- Use a supply and demand diagram to analyse recent trends in the housing market.
- Why is the Bank of England’s lending scheme not having the expected impact on the housing market?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- Why have mortgages been rationed and minimum deposit requirements been increased?
- Why is the housing market so important for the economy?