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?
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?