Some numbers are a newspaper editor’s dream! One such number this week was -3.6%. This was the fall in house prices in September reported by the Halifax (part of the Lloyds Banking Group). This certainly helped to alert a large audience to the downward momentum in house price growth that has been underway since about the start of the summer. While the Nationwide Building Society reported a 0.1% rise in September it is significant that both Halifax and Nationwide estimate that across the three months to September house prices actually fell by around 0.9%. In other words, the average UK house price fell by 0.9% in the third quarter of the year.
The annual rate of house price inflation, as the name suggests, compares house prices with the same point in time a year ago. The impact of the house price falls in the third quarter has been to reduce the annual rate of house price inflation to around the 3% mark. While the annual rate is still in positive territory, an obvious concern is how long this will be the case. Well, we can expect the annual rate to fall further because the UK saw strong house price growth in the final quarter of 2009 – the Nationwide estimates this to have been 2.2%. If I (Dean) was to throw my hat in the ring and hazard a guess as to the annual rate of house price inflation in the final quarter of 2010, I’d be inclined to say that it would be around the zero mark. If my crystal ball is found to be right, it would mean that house prices will end 2010 no higher than they finished 2009.
Now this is going to surprise you, but there has been considerable agreement amongst economists as to the reasons behind the recent house price falls. In short, it has been shifts in housing demand and supply. The evidence, such as that from estate agents, points to increases in houses prices during the second half of 2009 and the early part of this year as having induced additional housing supply. This means that estate agents saw instructions to sell increase strongly. People felt a little more confident about putting their property on the market and there was also a recovery in the volumes of new homes constructed.
So far, so good, you might think. But, as this year has moved on growing uncertainty about the economic environment and the on-going difficulties facing many potential buyers, especially first-time buyers, in obtaining mortgage credit, has contributed to a weakening of demand. The impact on the number of potential first-time buyers has been particularly acute because, by being increasingly credit-constrained, they have in effect become increasingly deposit-constrained too. The point is that buyers, especially first-time buyers, are being asked to find relatively large deposits to compensate for limited mortgage credit and both their limited ability and willingness to find these deposits is impacting on housing demand. So with a weakening demand we have been left with what Rightmove describes as a ‘supply hangover’. The effect has been for prices to fall.
It is a feature of housing markets that demand–supply imbalances induce considerable volatility in house prices. Going forward, it will continue to be the relative magnitudes of instructions to buy (housing demand) and of instructions to sell (housing supply) that will determine the path of house prices. Just how imbalanced will those estate agents books remain? How long will the supply hangover persist? Could supply increase further as people rush to sell and thereby further destabilising the market? Or will sellers begin taking property off the market, deciding that now is not the time to sell? Questions like these help to show just how real and how exciting the concepts of demand and supply are. Demand and supply are not concepts confined to the pages of textbooks they are alive and at work. The UK housing market demonstrates just how alive they are!
House prices record worst monthly fall ever Independent, Alistair Dawber (8/10/10)
Regions slip behind in bleak housing market Financial Times, Norma Cohen (8/10/10)
What next for house prices? Telegraph, Kara Gammell (8/10/10)
Fears grow for new market crash as house prices plummet Daily Record, Holly Williams (8/10/10)
Property price plunge blamed on need to sell The Herald, Helen McArdle (8/10/10)
Housing market crash feared after average house prices take record plunge Guardian, Jill Treanor (7/10/10)
UK house prices fell 3.6% in September, Halifax says BBC News (7/10/10)
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
- 2010 has been a year of contrasting fortunes for house prices. See if by using a demand and supply diagram you can illustrate the impact of demand and supply shifts on house prices in the first half of the year and then do the same again for more recent months.
- What do Rightmove mean by a ‘supply hangover’? What factors do you think will determine whether this effect persists?
- You become an estate agent. You buy 2 big books. One is to be used to record instructions to buy and the other instructions to sell. You have a meeting with your staff where you discuss those factors that you think will determine how full these two books will be from period to period. What factors do you think you are likely to identify? What impact would one book being fuller than the other have on house prices?
- Explain what we mean by a potential house buyer being credit-constrained. What is meant by a potential buyer being deposit-constrained? Why might first-time buyers be more deposit-constrained than other types of buyers?
- You often hear people talk about the housing market. But, what do we mean by a market? And what do we mean by a housing market? Do prices in all housing markets behave in the same way?
- We’ve seen that there are several institutions that publish an average house price figure. How do you think the likes of Halifax and Nationwide do this? What of Rightmove? Are there any other ways of estimating the average house price? Can you think of any problems that might arise with these estimates?
- It’s now your time for you to dust-off your crystal ball. Imagine that you are employed to write a monthly commentary on UK house prices. What would you expect to be reporting in the coming months?