House prices have been rising strongly in London. According to the Halifax House Price index, house prices in London in the first quarter of 2014 were 15.5% higher than a year ago. This compares with 8.7% for the UK as a whole, 1.3% for the North of England and –1.5% for Scotland. CPI inflation was just 1.6% for the same 12-month period.
The London housing market has been stoked by rising incomes in the capital, by speculation that house prices will rise further and by easy access to mortgages, fuelled by the government’s Help to Buy scheme, which allows people to put down a deposit of as little as 5%. House prices in London in the first quarter of 2014 were 5.3 times the average income of new mortgage holders, up from 3.5 times in the last quarter of 2007, just before the financial crisis.
Concerns have been growing about increasing levels of indebtedness, which could leave people in severe financial difficulties if interest rates were to rise significantly. There are also concerns that an increasing proportion of people are being priced out of the housing market and are being forced to remain in the rental sector, where rents are also rising strongly.
But how can the housing market in London be dampened without dampening the housing market in other parts of the country where prices are barely rising, and without putting a break on the still relatively fragile recovery in the economy generally?
The Governor of the Bank of England has just announced two new measures specific to the housing market and which would apply particularly in London.
The first is to require banks to impose stricter affordability tests to new borrowers. Customers should be able demonstrate their ability to continue making their mortgage payments if interest rates were 3 percentage points higher than now.
The second is that mortgage lenders should restrict their lending to 4½ times people’s income for at least 85% of their lending.
Critics are claiming that these measures are likely to be insufficient. Indeed, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has argued for a limit of 3½ times people’s income. Also banks are already typically applying a ‘stress test’ that requires people to be able to afford mortgage payments if interest rates rose to 7% (not dissimilar to the Bank of England’s new affordability test).
The videos and articles look at the measures and consider their adequacy in dealing with what is becoming for many living in London a serious problem of being able to afford a place to live. They also look at other measures that could have been taken.
Webcasts and Podcasts
The Bank of England announces plans for a new affordability test BBC News (26/6/14)
Bank of England moves to avert housing boom BBC News, Simon Jack (26/6/14)
Bank of England to act on house prices in south-east BBC News, Robert Peston (25/6/14)
Bank of England measures ‘insure against housing boom’ BBC News, Robert Peston (26/6/14)
Carney: There is a ‘new normal’ for interest rates BBC Today Programme, Mark Carney (27/6/14)
Bank of England imposes first limits on size of UK mortgages Reuters, Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Huw Jones (26/6/14)
Stability Report – Mark Carney caps mortgages to cool housing market: as it happened June 26, 2014 The Telegraph, Martin Strydom (26/6/14)
Bank of England cracks down on mortgages The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (26/6/14)
Mortgage cap ‘insures against housing boom’ BBC News (26/6/14)
Viewpoints: Is the UK housing market broken? BBC News (26/6/14)
How can UK regulators cool house prices? Reuters (25/6/14)
Bank will not act on house prices yet, says Carney The Guardian, Jill Treanor and Larry Elliott (26/6/14)
Mark Carney’s housing pill needs time to let economy digest it The Guardian, Larry Elliott (26/6/14)
Bank Of England Admits Plans To Cool Housing Market Will Have ‘Minimal’ Impact Huffington Post, Asa Bennett (26/6/14)
Carney Surprises Are Confounding Markets as U.K. Central Bank Manages Guidance Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton and Emma Charlton (26/6/14)
House prices: stop meddling, Mark Carney, and bite the bullet on interest rates The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (27/6/14)
Mark Carney’s Central Bank Mission Creep Bloomberg, Mark Gilbert (26/6/14)
Implementing the Financial Policy Committee’s Recommendation on loan to income ratios in mortgage lending Bank of England (26/6/14)
Bank of England consults on implementation of loan-to-income ratio limit for mortgage lending Bank of England News Release (26/6/14)
Links to sites with data on UK house prices Economic Data freely available online, The Economics Network
- Identify the main factors on the demand and supply sides that could cause a rise in the price of houses. How does the price elasticity of demand and supply affect the magnitude of the rise?
- What other measures could have been taken by the Bank of England? What effect would they have had on the economy generally?
- What suggests that the Bank of England is not worried about the current situation but rather is taking the measures as insurance against greater-than-anticipated house price inflation in the future?
- Why are UK households currently in a ‘vulnerable position’?
- What factors are likely to determine the future trend of house prices in London?
- Is house price inflation in London likely to stay significantly above that in other parts of the UK, or is the difference likely to narrow or even disappear?
- Should the Bank of England be given the benefit of the doubt in being rather cautious in its approach to dampening the London housing market?