House prices are in the news again, but that should come as no surprise because they are such a favourite topic of the British! Three different organisations – the Halifax Bank, the Nationwide Building Society and Rightmove – have all reported that house prices fell in November. The Halifax reported a 0.1% fall, the Nationwide a 0.3% fall and Rightmove a 3.2% fall. The Halifax and Nationwide base their figures on house price information supplied by prospective mortgage applicants while Rightmove report the average asking price of those putting their property on to the market. We should not worry too much about the variations in the magnitude of the reported price falls because the downward trend in house prices is now pretty well established. The Halifax, for instance, has reported five monthly falls since April and they estimate that the average house price over the three months to November is 0.7% lower than a year ago. While the other two organisations are still reporting annual house price inflation rates in positive territory, these rates too are edging closer and closer to negative territory.
The recent falls in house prices come after a rebound in prices in the second half of 2009 which carried on into the early months of this year. The Nationwide had annual house price inflation rates peaking in the spring at around the 10% mark. This appears to have reflected an increase in housing demand and can be seen in the Bank of England mortgage approval numbers for house purchase which recovered from as low as 26,702 in November 2008 to 59,215 in November 2009. By April, Rightmove was reporting that property supply was beginning to outstrip demand and in their May report they noted that suppliers were coming on to the market more quickly than at any time since June 2008. It is argued that supply increased further through late May and into June when the new coalition government suspended house information packs (HIPs). HIPs were a set of documents, including a property information questionnaire, which a seller needed to provide before a property could be marketed.
Rightmove reported in their November press release that the number of new sellers coming to the market each week between 10 October and 6 November averaged 24,028. This was a fall of 9.1% on the previous 4-week period. But, we need to see this reduction in the context of housing demand and the mortgage approvals numbers again provide clues as to the strength of housing demand. The fall in approvals in October to just 47,185 approvals was the sixth consecutive monthly fall. This number of approvals, as Rightmove note, is about half the monthly number of additional properties coming on to the market. In other words, the flow of properties coming on to the market is contributing to a large stock of properties on the books of estate agents. While some existing suppliers have been taking their property off the market, Rightmove note that the current average number of unsold properties on estate agents’ books is only a little down on the historic high reported a couple of months back. This leaves sellers fighting over a limited number of prospective buyers.
In the short term, the extent of further downward pressure on house prices will depend on extent of the imbalance between demand and supply. If a large number of suppliers begin to remove their property from the market, perhaps on the hope that the market will improve later next year, this would help to address the imbalance. Equally, if first-time buyers were to return to the market in larger numbers then that too would help to alleviate downward pressure on prices. The latter, however, is unlikely given the tight credit conditions which are resulting in potential first-time buyers struggling to find the deposit needed to get on to the property ladder. It seems that while many wannabe buyers of property may have a willingness to purchase, their ability to purchase continues to be frustrated by their inability to find the necessary deposit.
House prices slip further in November Financial Times, Norma Cohen (9/12/10)
Bonus for first-time buyers as house prices plummet for the third month in a row Daily Mail (9/12/10)
House prices drop fort he third month, has the bubble burst? London Daily News (9/12/10)
House prices fall 0.1% but hopes rise Independent, Peter Cripps (9/12/10)
House prices drop amid mortgage ‘deep freeze’ Telegraph, Myra Butterworth (9/12/10)
Mortgage approval numbers are available from the Bank of England’s statistics publication, Monetary and Financial Statistics (Bankstats) (See Table A5.4.)
Halifax House Price Index Halifax (part of the Lloyds Banking Group)
Nationwide House Price Index Nationwide Building Society
Rightmove House Price Index Rightmove
Live Tables on Housing Market and House Prices Department of Communities and Local Government
- Tracking house prices is like following a roller-coaster ride! See if you can re-tell the story of UK house prices over the past year using demand and supply diagrams.
- Why do you think UK house prices are so volatile? Can you point to any other market where prices are so volatile? If so, do they share any common features?
- How important are first-time buyers in affecting house prices? What factors do you think affect the number of prospective first-time buyers deciding to enter the housing market?
- Using a demand and supply diagram illustrate the effect on house prices of: (i) a tightening of financial institutions’ lending criteria; (ii) the expectation of forthcoming house price falls; and (iii) increasing economic confidence .
- Although UK house prices are volatile they do increase over the longer-term and by more than the average price of consumer goods and services. What might explain this?
- What do we mean by a demand-supply imbalance? Would you expect this imbalance to continue?
- The average house price is currently falling. But, different housing markets will have their own price patterns. What might explain any differences in house price patterns across different housing markets?