Mortgage approval numbers flatline – is the housing market heading for trouble?

You may have heard that house prices are stalling. August’s house price numbers from the Nationwide Building Society revealed that the average UK house price fell by 0.9% which came on the back of a 0.5% fall in July. The Nationwide talks of an ‘unwinding of the demand-supply imbalance that drove up prices for much of the last year’. It seems that the house price rises last year have, over recent months, induced additional supply by encouraging home-owners to put their property on the market. Unfortunately, there are indications that housing demand has weakened during 2010 though, of course, this gives buyers a greater degree of bargaining power.

But, you might wonder how we can get a handle on the strength of housing demand. Well, one particularly useful piece of information in assessing housing demand is the number of mortgage approvals for purchasing property. After all, there are not many of us that can reach into our back-pocket to find the £166,507 that the Nationwide estimates is needed to buy the average UK property.

If we look at Table A5.4 from August’s edition of Monetary and Financial Statistics, which is published by the Bank of England, we find that the number of mortgage approvals for house purchase in July was 48,722. Now, this was marginally up on the 48,562 in June, but, of more significance is the fact that July’s number was over 8% lower than in July 2009 when approval numbers stood at 53,126. Indeed, this number was to rise further through 2009, hitting 59,117 in November. This indicates a strengthening of housing demand at the time and helps us to appreciate why house prices rebounded last year.

But, the start of 2010 was to see mortgage approval numbers fall away and they have essentially flatlined over recent months at between 48,000 and 50,000. This time the numbers indicate a weakening of housing demand and so help to explain why house price growth has seemingly ceased and gone into reverse.

It remains to be seen how the balance between housing demand and supply will ‘play out’ over the remainder of the year. Will, for instance, some properties be taken off the market in response to this weaker demand? Could housing demand weaken further in response to economic conditions or to economic uncertainty? The answers to these questions will help to determine that all important balance between housing demand and supply. But, by monitoring the mortgage approval numbers we have a ready-made barometer on the strength of housing demand. Feel free to see which way the barometer needle swings in future!


UK mortgage approval rise but total lending weakest since March Telegraph (31/8/10)
House prices set to slump even further as home loans stay scarce Independent, Sean O’Grady (1/10/10)
Housing market ‘faces double dip’ Press Association (31/8/10)
UK mortgage approvals beat estimates as banks make more funds available Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton (31/8/10)


Mortgage approval numbers and other lending data are available from the Bank of England’s statistics publication, Monetary and Financial Statistics (Bankstats) (See Table A5.4.)


  1. What variables do you think are important in affecting the level of housing demand?
  2. What variables do you think are important in affecting the level of housing supply?
  3. Using a demand-supply diagram illustrate how shifts in housing demand and/or supply may have affected house prices (i) during 2009 and (ii) during 2010.
  4. What would you expect to happen to the strength of housing demand in the coming months? How will this impact on house prices?