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.
The British love to talk about house prices. Stories about the latest patterns in prices regularly adorn the front pages of newspapers. We take this opportunity to update an earlier blog looking not only at house prices in the UK, but in other countries too (see the (not so) cool British housing market). This follows the latest data release from the ONS which shows the UK’s annual house price inflation rate ticking up from 10.2 per cent in June to 11.7 per cent in July and which contrasts markedly with the annual rate in July 2013 of 3.3 per cent.
The July annual house price inflation figure of 11.7 per cent for the UK is heavily influenced by the rates in London and the South East. In London house price inflation is running at 19.1 per cent while in the South East it is 12.2 per cent. Across the rest of the UK the average rate is 7.9 per cent, though this has to be seen in the context of the July 2013 rate of 0.8 per cent.
Chart 1 shows house price inflation rates across the home nations since the financial crisis of the late 2000s. It shows a rebound in house price inflation over the second half of 2013 and across 2014. In July 2014 house price inflation was running at 12.0 per cent in England, 7.6 per cent in Scotland, 7.4 per cent in Wales and 4.5 per cent in Northern Ireland. If we use the East Midlands as a more accurate barometer of England, annual house price inflation in July was 7.6 per cent – the same as across Scotland. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)
Consider a more historical perspective. The average annual rate of growth since 1970 is 9.7 per cent in the UK, 9.7 per cent in England (9.6 per cent in the East Midlands), 9.6 per cent in Wales, 8.8 per cent in Scotland and 8.7 per cent in Northern Ireland. Therefore, house prices in the home nations have typically grown by 9 to 10 per cent per annum. But, as recent experience shows, this has been accompanied by considerable volatility. An interest question is the extent to which these two characteristics of British house prices are unique to Britain. To address this question, let’s go international.
Chart 2 shows annual house price inflation rates for the UK and six other countries since 1996. Interestingly, it shows that house price volatility is a common feature of housing markets. It is not a uniquely British thing. It too shows shows something of a recovery in global house prices. However, the rebound in the UK and the USA does appear particularly strong compared with core eurozone economies, like the Netherlands and France, where the recovery is considerably more subdued. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)
The chart captures very nicely the effect of the financial crisis and subsequent economic downturn on global house prices. Ireland saw annual rates of house price deflation exceed 24 per cent in 2009 compared with rates of deflation of 12 per cent in the UK. Denmark too suffered significant house price deflation with prices falling at an annual rate of 15 per cent in 2009.
House price volatility appears to be an inherent characteristic of housing markets worldwide. Consider now the extent to which house prices rise over the longer term. In doing so, we analyse real house price growth after having stripped out the effect of consumer price inflation. Real house price growth measures the growth of house prices relative to consumer prices.
Chart 3 shows real house prices since 1995 Q1. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.) It shows that up to 2014 Q2, real house prices in the UK have risen by a factor of 2.4 This is a little less than in Sweden where prices are 2.6 times higher. Nonetheless, the increase in real house prices in the UK and Sweden is significantly higher than in the other countries in the sample. In particular, in the USA real house prices in 2014 Q2 were only 1.2 times higher than in 1995 Q1. Therefore, in America actual house prices, when viewed over the past 19 years or so, have grown only a little more quickly than consumer prices.
The latest data on house prices suggest that house price volatility is not unique to the UK. The house price roller coaster is an international phenomenon. However, the rate of growth in UK house prices over the longer term, relative to consumer prices, is markedly quicker than in many other countries. It is this which helps to explain the amount of attention paid to the UK housing market. The ride continues.
House Price Indices: Data Tables Office for National Statistics
Property prices in all regions of the UK grow at the fastest annual pace seen in seven years Independent, Gideon Spanier (16/9/14)
UK House Prices Have Not Soared This Fast In Seven Years The Huffington Post UK, Asa Bennett (16/9/14)
UK house prices hit new record as London average breaks £500,000 Guardian, Phillip Inman (6/12/14)
Six regions hit new house price peak, says ONS BBC News, (16/9/14)
Welsh house prices nearing pre-crisis peak BBC News, (16/9/14)
- What is meant by the annual rate of house price inflation? What about the annual rate of house price deflation?
- What factors are likely to affect housing demand?
- What factors are likely to affect housing supply?
- Explain the difference between nominal and real house prices. What does a real increase in house prices mean?
- How might we explain the recent differences between house price inflation rates in London and the South East relative to the rest of the UK?
- What might explain the very different long-term growth rates in real house prices in the USA and the UK?
- Why were house prices so affected by the financial crisis?
- What factors help explain the volatility in house prices?
- How might we go about measuring the affordability of housing?
- In what ways might house price patterns impact on the macroeconomy?
House prices have been rising strongly in London. According to the Halifax House Price index, house prices in London in the first quarter of 2014 were 15.5% higher than a year ago. This compares with 8.7% for the UK as a whole, 1.3% for the North of England and –1.5% for Scotland. CPI inflation was just 1.6% for the same 12-month period.
The London housing market has been stoked by rising incomes in the capital, by speculation that house prices will rise further and by easy access to mortgages, fuelled by the government’s Help to Buy scheme, which allows people to put down a deposit of as little as 5%. House prices in London in the first quarter of 2014 were 5.3 times the average income of new mortgage holders, up from 3.5 times in the last quarter of 2007, just before the financial crisis.
Concerns have been growing about increasing levels of indebtedness, which could leave people in severe financial difficulties if interest rates were to rise significantly. There are also concerns that an increasing proportion of people are being priced out of the housing market and are being forced to remain in the rental sector, where rents are also rising strongly.
But how can the housing market in London be dampened without dampening the housing market in other parts of the country where prices are barely rising, and without putting a break on the still relatively fragile recovery in the economy generally?
The Governor of the Bank of England has just announced two new measures specific to the housing market and which would apply particularly in London.
The first is to require banks to impose stricter affordability tests to new borrowers. Customers should be able demonstrate their ability to continue making their mortgage payments if interest rates were 3 percentage points higher than now.
The second is that mortgage lenders should restrict their lending to 4½ times people’s income for at least 85% of their lending.
Critics are claiming that these measures are likely to be insufficient. Indeed, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has argued for a limit of 3½ times people’s income. Also banks are already typically applying a ‘stress test’ that requires people to be able to afford mortgage payments if interest rates rose to 7% (not dissimilar to the Bank of England’s new affordability test).
The videos and articles look at the measures and consider their adequacy in dealing with what is becoming for many living in London a serious problem of being able to afford a place to live. They also look at other measures that could have been taken.
Webcasts and Podcasts
The Bank of England announces plans for a new affordability test BBC News (26/6/14)
Bank of England moves to avert housing boom BBC News, Simon Jack (26/6/14)
Bank of England to act on house prices in south-east BBC News, Robert Peston (25/6/14)
Bank of England measures ‘insure against housing boom’ BBC News, Robert Peston (26/6/14)
Carney: There is a ‘new normal’ for interest rates BBC Today Programme, Mark Carney (27/6/14)
Bank of England imposes first limits on size of UK mortgages Reuters, Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Huw Jones (26/6/14)
Stability Report – Mark Carney caps mortgages to cool housing market: as it happened June 26, 2014 The Telegraph, Martin Strydom (26/6/14)
Bank of England cracks down on mortgages The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (26/6/14)
Mortgage cap ‘insures against housing boom’ BBC News (26/6/14)
Viewpoints: Is the UK housing market broken? BBC News (26/6/14)
How can UK regulators cool house prices? Reuters (25/6/14)
Bank will not act on house prices yet, says Carney The Guardian, Jill Treanor and Larry Elliott (26/6/14)
Mark Carney’s housing pill needs time to let economy digest it The Guardian, Larry Elliott (26/6/14)
Bank Of England Admits Plans To Cool Housing Market Will Have ‘Minimal’ Impact Huffington Post, Asa Bennett (26/6/14)
Carney Surprises Are Confounding Markets as U.K. Central Bank Manages Guidance Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton and Emma Charlton (26/6/14)
House prices: stop meddling, Mark Carney, and bite the bullet on interest rates The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (27/6/14)
Mark Carney’s Central Bank Mission Creep Bloomberg, Mark Gilbert (26/6/14)
Implementing the Financial Policy Committee’s Recommendation on loan to income ratios in mortgage lending Bank of England (26/6/14)
Bank of England consults on implementation of loan-to-income ratio limit for mortgage lending Bank of England News Release (26/6/14)
Links to sites with data on UK house prices Economic Data freely available online, The Economics Network
- Identify the main factors on the demand and supply sides that could cause a rise in the price of houses. How does the price elasticity of demand and supply affect the magnitude of the rise?
- What other measures could have been taken by the Bank of England? What effect would they have had on the economy generally?
- What suggests that the Bank of England is not worried about the current situation but rather is taking the measures as insurance against greater-than-anticipated house price inflation in the future?
- Why are UK households currently in a ‘vulnerable position’?
- What factors are likely to determine the future trend of house prices in London?
- Is house price inflation in London likely to stay significantly above that in other parts of the UK, or is the difference likely to narrow or even disappear?
- Should the Bank of England be given the benefit of the doubt in being rather cautious in its approach to dampening the London housing market?
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?
Interest rates in the UK have been at 0.5% since mid-2009, when they were reduced with the objective of stimulating the economy, through encouraging consumption and investment. Over the past 12 months, economic recovery has begun and with the housing market rising by 8.4% over the past year, what can we expect from interest rates?
Interest rates are a powerful tool of monetary policy and affect many of the components of aggregate demand. As such, they are also a key tool in achieving low and stable inflation rates and keeping unemployment low. Unemployment has been falling, as the economic recovery has taken hold, but is still above the 7% level that the Bank of England has said is needed before rates are increased. However, with the improvements in the housing market, some are now expecting interest rates to go up sooner than previously thought. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)
28 economists were questioned about the future of interest rates in the UK and 93% of those asked were of the opinion that interest rates will still be at 0.5% by the end of 2014. Furthermore, more than 50% think that interest rates will not begin to go up until the second half of 2015 and 15% suggest that they will not increase until 2016.
What happens to interest rates will depend on many things, including changes in productivity, unemployment trends, wage growth and inflation. It is also likely to depend on economic changes in countries around the world. The following articles consider the future of interest rates.
UK interest rates to stay at 0.5% in 2014 – economists BBC News (3/1/14)
It is high time we raised interest rates and returned to normality The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (2/1/14)
BoE will ‘move goalposts’ on interest rates Financial Times, Chris Giles and Claire Jones (1/1/14)
Interest rate rise with no wage increase ‘will push heavily-indebted to edge’ The Guardian, Heather Stewart (2/12/14)
BoE may lower jobless rate guidance, but not this month – Reuters poll Reuters, Suzanne Plunkett (3/1/14)
- Explain how each component of aggregate demand will be affected by changes in interest rates.
- How do interest rates affect unemployment?
- Interest rates are used to keep inflation on target. Explain how this is done.
- What might be the effect on the macroeconomic objectives if interest rates are increased?
- What are the arguments (a) for increasing Bank rate and (b) for maintaining it at the current 0.5% level?