UK house prices have been falling in recent months. According to the Nationwide Building Society, average UK house prices in September 2023 were 5.3% lower than in September 2022. This fall reflects the increasing cost of owning a home as mortgage rates have risen. The average standard variable rate mortgage was 3.61% in August 2021, 4.88% in August 2022 and 7.85% in August 2023. A two-year fixed rate mortgage with a 10% deposit had an interest rate of 2.48% in August 2021, 3.93% in August 2022 and 6.59% in August 2023. Thus over two years, mortgage rates have more than doubled. This has made house purchase less affordable and has dampened demand.
But do house prices simply reflect current affordability? Given the large increase in mortgage costs and the cost-of-living crisis, it might seem surprising that house prices have fallen so little. After all, from September 2019 to August 2023, the average UK house price rose by 27.1% (from £215 352 to £273 751). Since then it has fallen by only 5.8% (to £257 808 in September 2023). However, there are various factors that help to explain why house prices have not fallen considerably more.
The first is that 74% of borrowers are on fixed-rate mortgages and 96% of new mortgages since 2019 have been at fixed rates. More than half of people with fixed rates have not yet had to renew their mortgage since interest rates began rising in December 2021. These people, therefore, have not yet been affected by the rise in mortgage interest rates.
The second is that interest rates are expected to peak and then fall. Even though by December 2024 another 2 million households will have had to renew their mortgage, those taking out new longer-term fixed rates may find that rates are lower than those on offer today. This could help to reduce the downward effect on house prices.
The third is that rents continue to rise, partly in response to the higher mortgage rates paid by landlords. With the price of this substitute product rising, this acts as an incentive for existing homeowners not to sell and existing renters to buy, even though they are facing higher mortgage payments.
The fourth is that house prices do not necessarily reflect the overall market equilibrium. People selling may hold out for a better price, hoping that they will eventually attract a buyer. Houses thus are taking longer to sell. This creates a glut of houses at above-equilibrium prices, with fewer sales taking place. At the same time, these higher prices depress demand. People would rather wait for a fall in house prices than pay the current asking price. This creates more of a ‘buyers’ market’, with some sellers being forced to sell well below the asking price. According to Zoopla (see linked article below), the average selling price is 4.2% below the asking price – the highest since 2019. Nevertheless, with sellers holding out and with reduced sales, actual sale prices have fallen less than if markets cleared.
So will house prices continue to fall and will the rate of decline accelerate? This depends on confidence and affordability. With interest rates falling, confidence and affordability are likely to rise. This will help to arrest further price falls.
However, with large numbers of people still on low fixed rates but with these fixed terms ending over the coming months, for them interest rates will be higher and this could continue to have a dampening effect on demand. What is more, affordability is likely to rise only slowly and in the short term could fall further. Petrol and diesel prices remain high and home energy costs and food prices are still well above the levels of two years ago. Inflation generally is coming down only slowly. The higher prices plus a rising tax burden from fiscal drag1 will continue to squeeze household budgets. This will reduce the size of deposits and the monthly payments that house purchasers can afford.
Over the longer term, house prices are set to rise again. Lower interest rates, rising real incomes again and a failure of house building to keep up with the growth in the number of people seeking to buy houses will all contribute to this. However, over the next few months, house prices are likely to continue falling. But just how much is difficult to predict. A lot will depend on expectations about house prices and incomes, how quickly inflation falls and how quickly the Bank of England reduces interest rates.
1 With tax thresholds frozen, as people’s wages rise, so a higher proportion of their income is taxed and, for higher earners, a higher proportion is taxed at a higher rate. This automatically increases income tax as a proportion of income.
- House Price Index – September 2023
Zoopla, Richard Donnell (28/9/23)
- UK home sellers increase discounts to secure deals, Zoopla data shows
Financial Times, Joshua Oliver (28/9/23)
- Buyer’s market! House hunters bag £12k off average asking price, says Zoopla
This is Money, Jane Denton (28/9/23)
- House price growth remained weak in September
Nationwide HPI Reports (2/10/23)
- UK mortgage approvals hit six-month low as interest rates cool market
The Guardian, Phillip Inman (29/9/23)
- UK house prices are plummeting at the most rapid pace in over a decade
Euronews, Daniel Harper (2/10/23)
- House prices fall across all UK regions for first time since 2009
Financial Times, Valentina Romei (2/10/23)
- Will house prices fall in 2023?
The Times, Hannah Smith and Georgie Frost (4/10/23)
- First-time buyers in UK drop by a fifth as higher mortgage costs bite
The Guardian, Julia Kollewe (27/9/23)
- England worst place in developed world to find housing, says report
The Guardian, Robert Booth (5/10/23)
- UK homeowners face huge rise in payments when fixed-rate mortgages expire
The Guardian, Richard Partington (17/6/23)
- UK house prices: Where the cheapest areas to buy are, and how far prices could fall
i News, Zesha Saleem (29/9/23)
- Why are house prices falling?
Independent, Vicky Shaw (7/9/23)
- Use a supply and demand diagram to illustrate the situation where house prices are above the equilibrium.
- Why does house price inflation/deflation differ (a) from one type of house (or flat) to another; (b) from one region of the economy/locality to another?
- Find out why house prices rose so much (a) in the early 2000s; (b) from 2020 to 2022.
- Find out why house prices fell so much from 2008 to 2010. Why was this fall so much greater than in recent months?
- Find out what is happening to house prices in two other developed countries of your choice. How does the current housing market in these countries differ from that in the UK?
- Paint possible scenarios (a) where UK house prices continue to fall by several percentage points; (b) begin to rise again very soon.
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?