Many countries have experienced soaring house prices in recent years. To find out why, you need to look at demand and supply.
Low mortgage interest rates and more relaxed lending rules in the last couple of years have stimulated demand. In some countries, such as the UK, demand has been further boosted by governments providing increased help to buyers. In others, various tax breaks are given to house purchasers.
Typically the rise in demand has not been matched by an equivalent rise in supply. Social house building has slowed in many countries and building for private purchase has often be hampered by difficulties in obtaining appropriate land or getting planning permission.
The articles linked below look at the situation in Australia. Here too house prices have been soaring. Over the past 30 years they have grown by 7.25% per year – way above the growth in incomes. As the second article below states:
So expensive are homes becoming that the share of median household income devoted to mortgage payments for Australians aged 35 to 44 has more than doubled in 30 years. Incredibly, it’s happened at a time when mortgage rates have slid to their lowest on record.
But why? Again, to understand this it is necessary to look at demand and supply.
Strong population growth combined with easy availability of mortgage loans, low interest rates and tax breaks for both owner occupiers and property investors have stoked demand, while new building has lagged behind. As far as investors are concerned, any shortfall of rental income over mortgage payments (known as negative gearing) can be offset against tax – and then there is still the capital gain to be made from any increase in the property’s price.
But in some Australian towns and cities, price rises have started to slow down or even fall. This may be due to a fall in demand. For example, in Perth, the ending of the commodity boom has led to a fall in demand for labour in the mining areas; mine workers often live in Perth and fly up to the mining areas for shifts of a week or more. The fall in demand for labour has led to a fall in demand for housing.
House price changes are amplified by speculation. People rush to buy houses when they think house prices will rise, further pushing up prices. Landlords do the same. This speculation fuels the price rises. Speculation also amplifies price falls, with people with houses to sell keen to sell them quickly before prices fall further. Potential purchasers, including property investors, hold back, waiting for prices to fall.
House prices are surging because of low supply – it’s Economics 101 The Guardian, Stephen Koukoulas (27/10/16)
Who’s to blame for rising house prices? We are, actually. Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Martin (27/10/16)
The Price of Australia’s Real Estate Boom The New York Times, A. Odysseus Patrick (17/10/16)
Solutions beyond supply to the housing affordability problem The Conversation, Nicole Gurran (24/10/16)
Residential Property Price Indexes: Eight Capital Cities Australian Bureau of Statistics (20/9/16)
- Identify the specific demand factors that have driven house price rises in Australia.
- How are the price elasticities of demand and supply relevant to explaining house price rises? Use a diagram to illustrate your analysis.
- What determines the rate of increase in house prices?
- Explain what is meant by ‘negative gearing’. How is the tax treatment of negative gearing relevant to the property market?
- What are the arguments for and against giving tax breaks for house purchase?
- Why are rising prices seen as politically desirable by politicians?
- What practical steps could a government (central or local) take to increase the supply of housing? Would such steps always be desirable?
- Does speculation always amplify house price changes? Explain.
- How are house prices related to inequality?
The UK has voted to leave the EU by 17 410 742 votes (51.9% or 37.4% of the electorate) to 16 141 241 votes (48.1% or 34.7% of the electorate). But what will be the economic consequences of the vote?
To leave the EU, Article 50 must be invoked, which starts the process of negotiating the new relationship with the EU. This, according to David Cameron, will happen when a new Conservative Prime Minister is chosen. Once Article 50 has been invoked, negotiations must be completed within two years and then the remaining 27 countries will decide on the new terms on which the UK can trade with the EU. As explained in the blog, The UK’s EU referendum: the economic arguments, there are various forms the new arrangements could take. These include:
‘The Norwegian model’, where Britain leaves the EU, but joins the European Economic Area, giving access to the single market, but removing regulation in some key areas, such as fisheries and home affairs. Another possibility is ‘the Swiss model’, where the UK would negotiate trade deals on an individual basis. Another would be ‘the Turkish model’ where the UK forms a customs union with the EU. At the extreme, the UK could make a complete break from the EU and simply use its membership of the WTO to make trade agreements.
The long-term economic effects would thus depend on which model is adopted. In the Norwegian model, the UK would remain in the single market, which would involve free trade with the EU, the free movement of labour between the UK and member states and contributions to the EU budget. The UK would no longer have a vote in the EU on its future direction. Such an outcome is unlikely, however, given that a central argument of the Leave camp has been for the UK to be able to control migration and not to have to pay contributions to the EU budget.
It is quite likely, then, that the UK would trade with the EU on the basis of individual trade deals. This could involve tariffs on exports to the EU and would involve being subject to EU regulations. Such negotiations could be protracted and potentially extend beyond the two-year deadline under Article 50. But for this to happen, there would have to be agreement by the remaining 27 EU countries. At the end of the two-year process, when the UK exits the EU, any unresolved negotiations would default to the terms for other countries outside the EU. EU treaties would cease to apply to the UK.
It is quite likely, then, that the UK would face trade restrictions on its exports to the EU, which would adversely affect firms for whom the EU is a significant market. Where practical, some firms may thus choose to relocate from the UK to the EU or move business and staff from UK offices to offices within the EU. This is particularly relevant to the financial services sector. As the second Economist article explains:
In the longer run … Britain’s financial industry could face severe difficulties. It thrives on the EU’s ‘passport’ rules, under which banks, asset managers and other financial firms in one member state may serve customers in the other 27 without setting up local operations. …
Unless passports are renewed or replaced, they will lapse when Britain leaves. A deal is imaginable: the EU may deem Britain’s regulations as ‘equivalent’ to its own. But agreement may not come easily. French and German politicians, keen to bolster their own financial centres and facing elections next year, may drive a hard bargain. No other non-member has full passport rights.
But if long-term economic effects are hard to predict, short-term effects are happening already.
The pound fell sharply as soon as the results of the referendum became clear. By the end of the day it had depreciated by 7.7% against the dollar and 5.7% against the euro. A lower pound will make imports more expensive and hence will drive up prices and reduce the real value of sterling. On the other had, it will make exports cheaper and act as a boost to exports.
If inflation rises, then the Bank of England may raise interest rates. This could have a dampening effect on the economy, which in turn would reduce tax revenues. The government, if it sticks to its fiscal target of achieving a public-sector net surplus by 2020 (the Fiscal Mandate), may then feel the need to cut government expenditure and/or raise taxes. Indeed, the Chancellor argued before the vote that such an austerity budget may be necessary following a vote to leave.
Higher interest rates could also dampen house prices as mortgages became more expensive or harder to obtain. The exception could be the top end of the market where a large proportion are buyers from outside the UK whose demand would be boosted by the depreciation of sterling.
But given that the Bank of England’s remit is to target inflation in 24 month’s time, it is possible that any spike in inflation is temporary and this may give the Bank of England leeway to cut Bank Rate from 0.5% to 0.25% or even 0% and/or to engage in further quantitative easing.
One major worry is that uncertainty may discourage investment by domestic companies. It could also discourage inward investment, and international companies many divert investment to the EU. Already some multinationals have indicated that they will do just this. Shares in banks plummeted when the results of the vote were announced.
Uncertainty is also likely to discourage consumption of durables and other big-ticket items. The fall in aggregate demand could result in recession, again necessitating an austerity budget if the Fiscal Mandate is to be adhered to.
We live in ‘interesting’ times. Uncertainty is rarely good for an economy. But that uncertainty could persist for some time.
Why Brexit is grim news for the world economy The Economist (24/6/16)
International banking in a London outside the European Union The Economist (24/6/16)
What happens now that Britain has voted for Brexit The Economist (24/6/16)
Britain and the EU: A tragic split The Economist (24/6/16)
Brexit in seven charts — the economic impact Financial Times, Chris Giles (21/6/16)
How will Brexit result affect France, Germany and the rest of Europe? Financial Times, Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, Stefan Wagstyl, Duncan Robinson and Richard Milne (24/6/16)
How global markets are reacting to UK’s Brexit vote Financial Times, Michael Mackenzie and Eric Platt (24/6/16)
Brexit: What happens now? BBC News (24/6/16)
How will Brexit affect your finances? BBC News, Brian Milligan (24/6/16)
Brexit: what happens when Britain leaves the EU Vox, Timothy B. Lee (25/6/16)
An expert sums up the economic consensus about Brexit. It’s bad. Vox, John Van Reenen (24/6/16)
How will the world’s policymakers respond to Brexit? The Telegraph, Peter Spence (24/6/16)
City of London could be cut off from Europe, says ECB official The Guardian, Katie Allen (25/6/16)
Multinationals warn of job cuts and lower profits after Brexit vot The Guardian, Graham Ruddick (24/6/16)
How will Brexit affect Britain’s trade with Europe? The Guardian, Dan Milmo (26/6/16)
Britain’s financial sector reels after Brexit bombshell Reuters, Sinead Cruise, Andrew MacAskill and Lawrence White (24/6/16)
How ‘Brexit’ Will Affect the Global Economy, Now and Later New York Times, Neil Irwin (24/6/16)
Brexit results: Spurned Europe wants Britain gone Sydney Morning Herald, Nick Miller (25/6/16)
Economists React to ‘Brexit’: ‘A Wave of Economic and Political Uncertainty’ The Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey Sparshott (24/6/16)
Brexit wound: UK vote makes EU decline ‘practically irreversible’, Soros says CNBC, Javier E. David (25/6/16)
One month on, what has been the impact of the Brexit vote so far? The Guardian (23/7/16)
- What are the main elements of a balance of payments account? Changes in which elements caused the depreciation of the pound following the Brexit vote? What elements of the account, in turn, are likely to be affected by the depreciation?
- What determines the size of the effect on the current account of the balance of payments of a depreciation? How might long-term effects differ from short-term ones?
- Is it possible for firms to have access to the single market without allowing free movement of labour?
- What assumptions were made by the Leave side about the economic effects of Brexit?
- Would it be beneficial to go for a ‘free trade’ option of abolishing all import tariffs if the UK left the EU? Would it mean that UK exports would face no tariffs from other countries?
- What factors are likely to drive the level of investment in the UK (a) by domestic companies trading within the UK and (b) by multinational companies over the coming months?
- What will determine the course of monetary policy over the coming months?
The housing market can be divided into two areas: owner-occupied and rental. Many news articles have focused on the problems in owner-occupation with house prices preventing first-time buyers from getting on the property ladder and forcing young people to move out of areas where they grew up. Second homes, foreign investors and a shortage of affordable housing have all added to the problems in this part of the housing market. But what about the rental market?
Many people have been forced to consider rental accommodation due to the affordability issues with owner-occupation. But, with more and more people demanding rental properties, affordability in this sector is also becoming a problem. Latest figures from Your Move and Reeds Rains suggest that rents have increased by around 6.3% over the past year to an average of £816 per month. This has occurred, despite inflation being at very low levels.
The average increase in rents has varied across the UK, as is the case with average increases in house prices, but looking at the UK-wide data in both cases, house price growth appears to have been out-stripped by rental price growth. This spells trouble for the government which is already under pressure to address the housing shortage. Adrian Gill, Director of the two firms has said:
“Rents have been growing faster than ever – particularly in real terms, given inflation has essentially been zero since February. Across the country, towns and cities are seeing demand from local tenants outstrip the supply of properties to let, with inevitable effects on rents. There is little sign yet of this cooling substantially as the autumn progresses.”
So definitely bad news for those in rented accommodation, especially in places like London, where average rents are up 11.6%, and the East of England, where they have increased by 8.8%. However, this report will make for happier reading for landlords, who will not only see an increase in their rental income, but will also recognise that the value of the house itself has increased.
The following articles consider the housing market and in particular, the latest data on rental prices.
Average monthly rent hits record high of £816, highlighting housing shortage The Guardian, Rupert Jones (16/10/15)
Tenants ‘face 6.3% annual rent rise’ BBC News, Kevin Peachey (16/10/15)
London Skyscraper rents rise 11%, Hong Jong remains priciest Bloomberg, Neil Callanan (14/10/15)
Buy-to-let investors earn near 10% a year Introducer Today, Harvey Jones (16/10/15)
Rent rises slower in Scotland Herald Scotland, Jody Harrison (21/10/15)
Record rents as property shortage deepens Sky News (16/10/15)
Generation rent: the reluctant rise of the older tenant The Telegraph, Hannah Betts (3/10/15)
- Use a demand and supply diagram to explain the housing problem.
- If the main cause of the housing issue is house price rises, why has this affected the rental market so badly?
- What are the solutions to the housing problem? In each case, explain whether it is a demand- or supply-side solution.
- Why is the rate of consumer price inflation important when thinking about house price or rental price increases?
- Given the regional differences in house prices, does the government have a role to intervene here? How could governments affect regional variations in house prices?
House prices are always a good signal for the strength or direction of the economy. While there will always be certain areas that are more sought after than others and such differences will be reflected in relative house prices, the regional divide that we currently see in the UK is quite astonishing.
Prior to the financial crisis, house prices had been rising across the county, but in the year following the financial crisis, they declined by 19 per cent. It was only in 2013, when prices began to increase and, perhaps more importantly, when the variation in regional house prices began to increase significantly. In mid-2014, the UK’s annual house price inflation rate was 11.7 per cent, but the rates in London and the South East were 19.1 and 12.2 per cent, respectively. Elsewhere in the UK, the average rate was 7.9 per cent.
These regional differences have continued and figures show that the current differential between the cheapest and most expensive regional average house price is now over £350,000. In particular, data from the Land Registry shows that the average house price in London is £458,283, while in the North East, it is only £97,974.
Those people who own a house in London have benefited from such high house prices, in many cases finding that their equity in their house has grown significantly. Furthermore, any home-owners selling their house in London and moving elsewhere are benefiting from lower house prices outside London.
However, most first-time buyers looking for a house in London are being competed out of the market, finding themselves unable to gain a mortgage and deposit for the amount that they require. The opposite is, of course, happening in other parts of the country. First-time buyers are more able to enter the property market, but home-owners are finding that they have much less equity in their house.
This has also caused other problems, in particular in the labour market. Workers who are moving to jobs in London are finding the house price differentials problematic. Although wage rates are often higher in London than in other parts of the country, the house price differential is significantly bigger. This means that if someone is offered a job in London, they may find it impossible to find a house of similar size in London compared to where they had been. After all, an average family home in the North East can be purchased for under £100,000, whereas an average family home in London will cost almost £500,000.
The housing market is problematic because of particular characteristics.
Supply tends to be relatively fixed, as it can take a long time to build new houses and hence to boost supply. Furthermore, the UK has a relatively dense population, with limited available land, and so planning restrictions have to be kept quite tight, which is another reason why supply can be difficult to increase.
On the demand-side, we are seeing a change in demographics, with more single-person households; people living longer; second home purchases and many other factors. These things tend to push up demand and, with restricted supply, house prices rise. Furthermore, with certain areas being particularly sought after, perhaps due to greater job availability, ease of commuting, schools, etc., house price differentials can be significant.
The Conservatives, together with the other main parties, have promised to build more houses to help ease the problem, but this really is a long-run solution.
The Bank of England will undoubtedly have a role to play in the future of the housing market. The affordability of mortgages is very dependent on interest rate changes by the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee.
Although house prices in London have recently fallen a little, the housing cost gap between living in London and other areas is unlikely to close by much as long as people continue to want to live in the capital. The following articles consider the housing market and its regional variations.
London’s homeowners have made £144,000 on average since 2009 International Business Times, Sean Martin (20/2/15)
Wide gap in regional house prices, Land Registry figures show BBC News, Kevin Peachey (27/2/15)
Mapped: 10 years of Britain’s house price boom (and bust) The Telegraph, Anna White (27/2/15)
Oxford houses less affordable than London Financial Times, Kate Allen (26/2/15)
January’s UK house prices show unexpected climb The Guardian (5/2/15)
House prices since 2008: best and worst regions The Telegraph, Tom Brooks-Pollock (22/8/14)
House prices hit new record high of £274k with six regions now past pre-crisis peak – but the North lags behind This is Money, Lee Boyce (14/10/14)
House price indices: Data Tables ONS
Links to sites with data on UK house prices Economic Data freely available online, The Economics Network
Regional House Prices Q4 2014 Lloyds Banking Group
- What are the main factors that determine the demand for housing? In each case, explain what change would shift the demand curve for housing to the right or the left.
- Which factors determine supply? Which way will they shift the supply curve?
- Put the demand and supply for housing together and use that to explain the recent trends we have seen in house prices.
- Use your answers to question 1 – 3 to explain why house prices in London are so much higher than those in the North East of England.
- Why are interest rates such an important factor in the housing market?
- Explain the link between house prices and the labour market.
- Do you think government policy should focus on reducing regional variations in house prices? What types of policies could be used?
The housing market was at the heart of the 2014 Autumn Statement. Perhaps most eyecatching were the reforms to stamp duty. Stamp Duty is a tax on house purchases. Overnight we have seen the introduction of a graduated system of tax, along the lines of the income tax system – similar to the model to be adopted in Scotland from next April under the Land and Buildings Transactions Tax. For the rest of the UK, there will be five tax bands, including a zero rate band for property values up to £125,000. The total tax liability will be dependent upon the proportion of the value of the property that falls in each taxable band.
But, alongside the Stamp Duty announcement, the Autumn Statement was noteworthy for its references to new build. New build is clearly central to UK housing policy.
The Autumn Statement reaffirmed the government’s wish to see house building play a central role in easing pressures on the housing market. Over the past 40 years or more UK house prices have been characterised by considerable volatility and by a significant real increase. This can be seen clearly in the chart. Actual (nominal) house prices across the UK have grown an average rate of 10 per cent per year. Even if we strip out the effect of economy-wide inflation, we are still left with an increase of around 3.5 per cent per year. (Click here to download a PowerPoint of the chart).
The economics point to supply-side problems that mean demand pressures feed directly into house prices. The commitment to build has now seen the announcement of a new garden city near Bicester in Oxfordshire. This is set to provide 13,000 or more new homes. The government has also pledged £100 million to the Ebbsfleet Garden City project to provide the infrastructure and land remediation necessary to bring in more private-sector developers to help deliver an expected 15,000 new homes.
An interesting development in housing policy is the willingness of government to consider being more actively involved itself in house building. The development of former barracks at Northstowe in Cambridgeshire will be spearheaded by the Homes and Communities Agency which will lead on the planning and construction of up to 10,000 new homes. This signals, at least on paper, that government is prepared to think more broadly about the way in which it works with the private sector in helping to deliver new homes.
The desire to facilitate new build appears to make some economic sense. But, the politics of delivering on new homes is considerably more difficult since the prospect of new developments naturally raises considerable local concerns. Furthermore, it does not deal with fundamental questions around the existing housing market stock. In particular, how we can further increase investment in our existing housing stock, especially given the significant land constraints that face a country like the UK. As yet, the debate around how to improve what we already have has not really taken place.
Autumn Statement: documents Gov.UK
Autumn Statement: Government will build tens of thousands of new homes Independent, Nigel Morris (2/12/14)
Government could build and sell new homes on public sector land Guardian, Patrick Wintour (2/12/14)
Bicester chosen as new garden city with 13,000 homes BBC News, (2/12/14)
Nick Clegg reveals coalition plan for new garden city in Oxfordshire Guardian, (2/12/14)
State to build new homes for first time in generation Telegraph, Steven Swinford (2/12/14)
House Price Indices: Data Tables Office for National Statistics
- Explain the distinction between real and nominal house prices.
- Would you expect real house price inflation to always be less than nominal house price inflation?
- What factors are likely to affect housing demand?
- What factors are likely to affect housing supply?
- Show using a demand-supply diagram the impact of rising incomes on the demand for a particular housing market characterised by a price inelastic supply.
- Would we expect all housing markets to exhibit similar characteristics of housing demand and supply?
- What is the economic rationale for the government’s new build policy?
- What other measures could be introduced to try and alleviate the long-term pressure on real house prices?
- How might we go about assessing the affordability of housing?
- Would a policy which reduced for the stamp duty payment of most buyers help to curb inflationary pressures in the housing market? Explain your answer using a demand-supply diagram.