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?
You may have heard that house prices are stalling. August’s house price numbers from the Nationwide Building Society revealed that the average UK house price fell by 0.9% which came on the back of a 0.5% fall in July. The Nationwide talks of an ‘unwinding of the demand-supply imbalance that drove up prices for much of the last year’. It seems that the house price rises last year have, over recent months, induced additional supply by encouraging home-owners to put their property on the market. Unfortunately, there are indications that housing demand has weakened during 2010 though, of course, this gives buyers a greater degree of bargaining power.
But, you might wonder how we can get a handle on the strength of housing demand. Well, one particularly useful piece of information in assessing housing demand is the number of mortgage approvals for purchasing property. After all, there are not many of us that can reach into our back-pocket to find the £166,507 that the Nationwide estimates is needed to buy the average UK property.
If we look at Table A5.4 from August’s edition of Monetary and Financial Statistics, which is published by the Bank of England, we find that the number of mortgage approvals for house purchase in July was 48,722. Now, this was marginally up on the 48,562 in June, but, of more significance is the fact that July’s number was over 8% lower than in July 2009 when approval numbers stood at 53,126. Indeed, this number was to rise further through 2009, hitting 59,117 in November. This indicates a strengthening of housing demand at the time and helps us to appreciate why house prices rebounded last year.
But, the start of 2010 was to see mortgage approval numbers fall away and they have essentially flatlined over recent months at between 48,000 and 50,000. This time the numbers indicate a weakening of housing demand and so help to explain why house price growth has seemingly ceased and gone into reverse.
It remains to be seen how the balance between housing demand and supply will ‘play out’ over the remainder of the year. Will, for instance, some properties be taken off the market in response to this weaker demand? Could housing demand weaken further in response to economic conditions or to economic uncertainty? The answers to these questions will help to determine that all important balance between housing demand and supply. But, by monitoring the mortgage approval numbers we have a ready-made barometer on the strength of housing demand. Feel free to see which way the barometer needle swings in future!
UK mortgage approval rise but total lending weakest since March Telegraph (31/8/10)
House prices set to slump even further as home loans stay scarce Independent, Sean O’Grady (1/10/10)
Housing market ‘faces double dip’ Press Association (31/8/10)
UK mortgage approvals beat estimates as banks make more funds available Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton (31/8/10)
Mortgage approval numbers and other lending data are available from the Bank of England’s statistics publication, Monetary and Financial Statistics (Bankstats) (See Table A5.4.)
- What variables do you think are important in affecting the level of housing demand?
- What variables do you think are important in affecting the level of housing supply?
- Using a demand-supply diagram illustrate how shifts in housing demand and/or supply may have affected house prices (i) during 2009 and (ii) during 2010.
- What would you expect to happen to the strength of housing demand in the coming months? How will this impact on house prices?
In the Perils of snow and stamp duty blog here on the Sloman Economics News site we noted two particular influences that may have contributed to February’s reported fall in UK house prices: the end of the stamp duty holiday and the poor winter weather. Here we ponder a little more on the recent relationship between the economic and house prices cycles and, more generally, on the significance and causes of the recent imbalances between housing demand and supply.
What is particularly interesting about February’s house price fall (the Halifax put the fall at 1½% and the Nationwide at 1%) is that it is happening just after the economy reportedly grew by 0.3% in the last quarter of last year. But, then again, the house price fall is a reversal of an upward trend that started back in the summer of 2009 when the economy was still contracting! One’s gut reaction might be that cycles in house prices and economic growth ought to coincide. One reason for this is that the growth in income of the household sector will reflect the phase of the business cycle that the economy is in. For instance, during the slowdown or recessionary phase, like the period during 2008/9, the household sector’s income is likely to be shrinking and this will impact on housing demand. The magnitude of the effect on demand will depend on the sensitivity of housing demand to changing incomes – something that economists refer to as the income elasticity of demand.
We can, despite what might appear to be the recent puzzling behaviour of UK house prices, apply the concepts of demand and supply to gain some insight into what has been driving house prices. One way of thinking about the concepts of housing demand and supply is to relate them respectively to the number of ‘instructions to buy’ and the number of ‘instructions to sell’ on an estate agent’s book. We can then try and think of factors which might influence, in a given period, the number of instructions to buy and sell.
One possible explanation of the house price growth of last year is that despite the household sector’s shrinking income there were in fact a number of relatively cash-rich households out there, partly because the lowering of interest rates meant that the debt-servicing costs on variable rate mortgages fell. This left some households with more discretionary income to spend or to use to increase their housing investment by trading-up between one housing market and another. The key point here is if there is not a similar increase in the number of instructions to sell then the imbalance between the flow of instructions to buy and instructions to sell results in upward pressure in prices. In those markets where the imbalance between demand and supply is greatest price pressures are most acute. This appears to have been especially true last year in particular markets in the south of England.
So what of February’s fall? Well, again we have to think about the balance between instructions to buy and sell. What appears to have happened is that the demand pressures that built up in some markets lessened. And, as we consider elsewhere on this site, it is perhaps even the case that the wonderful British weather ‘played a hand’ by discouraging some households from looking to buy and adding to our estate agents’ lists of instructions to buy.
UK housing recovery running out of steam CITY A.M., Jessica Mead (5/3/10)
UK house prices ‘lose momentum’, say Nationwide BBC News (26/2/10)
UK house prices see first fall since June, says Halifax BBC News (4/3/10)
Fears grow of double dip for UK housing market The Independent, Sean O’Grady (5/3/10)
Halifax House Price Data Lloyds Banking Group
House Prices: Data Download Nationwide Building Society
- What do economists mean by the income elasticity of demand? How income elastic do you think owner-occupied housing demand is likely to be?
- How important do you think current house prices are likely to be in affecting the number of instructions to buy and instructions to sell in the current period?
- How important do you think expectations of future house prices are in affecting the number of instructions to buy and sell in the current period?
- What role might financial institutions, like banks and building societies, play in affecting UK house price growth in 2010? How might their influence compare with that in the period 2008/9?
- Rather than economic growth affecting house prices, is it possible that house price growth could affect economic growth?