The latest UK house price index reveals that annual house price growth in the UK slowed to just 1.2 per cent in May. This is the lowest rate of growth since January 2013. This is being driven, in part, by the London market where annual house price inflation rates have now been negative for 15 consecutive months. In May the annual rate of house price inflation in London fell to -4.4 per cent, it lowest since August 2009 as the financial crisis was unfolding. However, closer inspection of the figures show that while many other parts of the country continue to experience positive rates of annual house price inflation, once general inflation is accounted for, there is widespread evidence of widespread real house price deflation.
The average UK house price in May 2019 was £229,000. As Chart 1 shows, this masks considerable differences across the UK. In England the average price was £246,000 (an annual increase of 1.0 per cent), in Scotland it was £153,000 (an increase of 2.8 per cent), in Wales £159,000 (an increase of 3.0 per cent) and in Northern Ireland it was £137,000 (an increase of 2.1 per cent). (Click here to download a PowerPoint copy of the chart.)
The London market distorts considerably the English house price figures. In London the average house price in May 2019 was £457,000 (an annual decrease of 4.4 per cent). House prices were lowest in the North East region of England at £128,000. The North East was the only other English region alongside London to witness a negative rate of annual house price inflation, with house prices falling in the year to May 2019 by 0.7 per cent.
Chart 2 allows us to see more readily the rates of house price growth. It plots the annual rates of house price inflation across London, the UK and its nations. What is readily apparent is the volatility of house price growth. This is evidence of frequent imbalances between the flows of property on to the market to sell (instructions to sell) and the number of people looking to buy (instructions to buy). An increase in instructions to buy relative to those to sell puts upwards pressure on prices whereas an increase in the relative number of instructions to sell puts downward pressure on prices. (Click here to download a PowerPoint copy of the chart.)
Despite the volatility in house prices, the longer-term trend in house prices is positive. The average annual rate of growth in house prices between January 1970 and May 2019 in the UK is 9.1 per cent. For England the figure is 9.4 per cent, for Wales 8.8 per cent, for Scotland 8.5 per cent and for Northern Ireland 8.3 per cent. In London the average rate of growth is 10.4 per cent per annum.
As Chart 3 illustrates, the longer-term growth in actual house prices cannot be fully explained by the growth in consumer prices. It shows house price values as if consumer prices, as measured by the Retail Prices Index (RPI), were fixed at their January 1987 levels. We see real increases in house prices or, expressed differently, in house prices relative to consumer prices. In real terms, UK house prices were 3.6 times higher in May 2019 compared to January 1970. For England the figure is 4.1 times, for Wales 3.1 times, for Scotland 2.9 times and for Northern Ireland 2.1 times. In London inflation-adjusted house prices were 5.7 times higher. (Click here to download a PowerPoint copy of the chart.)
The volatility in house prices continues to be evident when adjusted for changes in consumer prices. The UK’s annual rate of real house price inflation was as high as 40 per in January 1973, yet, on the other hand, in June 1975 inflation-adjusted house prices were 16 per cent lower than a year earlier. Over the period from January 1970 to May 2019, the average annual rate of real house price inflation was 3.2 per cent. Hence house prices have, on average, grown at an annual rate of consumer price inflation plus 3.2 per cent.
Chart 4 shows annual rates of real house price inflation since 2008 and, hence, from around the time the financial crisis began to unfold. The period is characterised by acute volatility and with real house prices across the UK falling at an annual rate of 16 per cent in 2009 and by as much 29 per cent in Northern Ireland. (Click here to download a PowerPoint copy of the chart.)
The UK saw a rebound in nominal and real house price growth in the period from 2013, driven by a strong surge in prices in London and the South East, and supported by government initiatives such as Help to Buy designed to help people afford to buy property. But house price growth then began to ease from early/mid 2016. Some of the easing may be partly due to any excessive fizz ebbing from the market, especially in London, and the impact on the demand for buy-to-let investments resulting from reductions in tax relief on interest payments on buy-to-let mortgages.
However, the housing market is notoriously sensitive to uncertainty, which is not surprising when you think of the size of the investment people are making when they enter the market. The uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the UK’s future trading relationships will have been a drag on demand and hence on house prices.
Chart 4 shows that by May 2019 all the UK nations were experiencing negative rates of real house price inflation, despite still experiencing positive rates of nominal house price inflation. In Wales the real annual house price inflation rate was -0.1 per cent, in Scotland -0.2 per cent, in Northern Ireland -0.9 per cent and in England -2.0 per cent. Meanwhile in London, where annual house price deflation has been evident for 15 consecutive months, real house prices in May 2019 were falling at an annual rate of 7.2 per cent.
Going forward the OBR’s Fiscal Risks Report predicts that, in the event of a no-deal, no-transition exit of the UK from the European Union, nominal UK house prices would fall by almost 10 per cent between the start of 2019 and mid-2021. This forecast is driven by the assumption that the UK would enter a year-long recession from the final quarter of 2019. It argues that property transactions and prices ‘move disproportionately’ during recessions. (See John’s blog The costs of a no-deal Brexit for a fuller discussion of the economics of a no-deal Brexit). The danger therefore is that the housing market becomes characterised by both nominal and real house price falls.
- Explain the difference between a rise in the rate of house price inflation a rise in the level of house prices.
- Explain the difference between nominal and real house prices.
- If nominal house prices rise can real house price fall? Explain your answer.
- What do you understand by the terms instructions to buy and instructions to sell?
- What factors are likely to affect the levels of instructions to buy and instructions to sell?
- How does the balance between instructions to buy and instructions to sell affect house prices?
- How can we differentiate between different housing markets? Illustrate your answer with examples.
The latest UK house price index continues to show an easing in the rate of house price inflation. In the year to January 2019 the average UK house price rose by 1.7 per cent, the lowest rate since June 2013 when it was 1.5 per cent. This is significantly below the recent peak in house price inflation when in May 2016 house prices were growing at 8.2 per cent year-on-year. In this blog we consider how recent patterns in UK house prices compare with those over the past 50 years and also how the growth of house prices compares to that in consumer prices.
The UK and its nations
The average UK house price in January 2019 was £228,000. As Chart 1 shows, this masks considerable differences across the UK. In England the average price was £245,000 (an annual increase of 1.5 per cent), while in Scotland it was £149,000 (an increase of 1.3 per cent), Wales £160,000 (an increase of 4.6 per cent) and £137,000 in Northern Ireland (an increase of 5.5 per cent). (Click here to download a PowerPoint copy of the chart.)
Within England there too are considerable differences in house prices, with London massively distorting the English average. In January 2019 the average house price in inner London was recorded at £568,000, a fall of 1.9 per cent on January 2018. In Outer London the average price was £426,000, a fall of 0.2 per cent. Across London as a whole the average price was £472,000, a fall of 1.6 per cent. House prices were lowest in the North East at £125,000, having experienced an annual increase of 0.9 per cent.
The Midlands can be used as a reference point for English house prices outside of the capital. In January 2019 the average house price in the West Midlands was £195,000 while in the East Midlands it was £193,000. While the annual rate of house price inflation in London is now negative, the annual rate of increase in the Midlands was the highest in England. In the West Midlands the annual increase was 4 per cent while in the East Midlands it was 4.4 per cent. These rates of increase are currently on par with those across Wales.
Long-term UK house price trends
Chart 2 shows the average house price for the UK since 1969 alongside the annual rate of house price inflation, i.e. the annual percentage change in the level of house prices. The average UK house price in January 1969 was £3,750. By January 2019, as we have seen, it had risen to around £228,000. This is an increase of nearly 6,000 per cent. Over this period, the average annual rate of house price inflation was 9 per cent. However, if we measure it to the end of 2007 it was 11 per cent. (Click here to download a PowerPoint copy of the chart.)
The significant effect of the financial crisis on UK house prices is evident from Charts 1 and 2. In February 2009 house prices nationally were 16 per cent lower than a year earlier. Furthermore, it was not until August 2014 that the average UK house rose above the level of September 2007. Indeed, some parts of the UK, such as Northern Ireland and the North East of England, remain below their pre-financial crisis level even today.
Nominal and real UK house prices
But how do house price patterns compare to those in consumer prices? In other words, what has happened to inflation-adjusted or real house prices? One index of general prices is the Retail Prices Index (RPI). This index measures the cost of a representative basket of consumer goods and services. Since January 1969 the RPI has increased by nearly 1,600 per cent. While substantial in its own right, it does mean that house prices have increased considerably more rapidly than consumer prices.
If we eliminate the increase in consumer prices from the actual (nominal) house price figures what is left is the increase in house prices relative to consumer prices. To do this we estimate house prices as if consumer prices had remained at their January 1987 level. This creates a series of average UK house prices at constant January 1987 consumer prices.
Chart 3 shows the average nominal and real UK house price since 1969. It shows that in real terms the average UK house price increased by around 266 per cent between January 1969 and January 2019. Therefore, the average real UK house price was 3.7 times more expensive in 2019 compared with 1969. This is important because it means that general price inflation cannot explain all the long-term growth seen in average house prices. (Click here to download a PowerPoint copy of the chart.)
Real UK house price cycles
Chart 4 shows that annual rates of nominal and real house price inflation. As we saw earlier, the average nominal house price inflation rate since 1969 has been 9 per cent. The average real rate of increase in house prices has been 3.1 per cent per annum. In other words, house prices have on average each each year increased by the annual rate of RPI inflation plus 3.1 percentage points. (Click here to download a PowerPoint copy of the chart.)
Chart 4 shows how, in addition to the long-term relative increase in house prices, there are also cycles in the relative price of houses. This is evidence of a volatility in house prices that cannot be explained by general prices. This volatility reflects frequent imbalances between the demand and supply of housing, i.e. between instructions to buy and sell property. Increasing levels of housing demand (instructions to buy) relative to housing supply (instructions to supply) will put upward pressure on house prices and vice versa.
In January 2019 the annual real house price inflation across the UK was -0.9 per cent. While the rate was slightly lower in Scotland at -1.2 per cent, the biggest drag on UK house price inflation was the London market where the real house price inflation rate was -4.0 per cent. In contrast, January saw annual real house price inflation rates of 2 per cent in Wales, 2.3 per cent in Northern Ireland and 1.8 per cent in the East Midlands.
Inflation-adjusted inflation rates in London have been negative consistently since June 2017. From their July 2016 peak, following the result of the referendum on UK membership of the EU, to January 2019 inflation-adjusted house prices fell by 7.6 per cent. This reflects, in part, the fact that the London housing market, like that of other European capitals, is a more international market than other parts of the country. Therefore, the current patterns in UK house prices are rather distinctive in that the easing is being led by London and southern England.
- What is meant by the annual rate of house price inflation?
- How is a rise in the rate of house price inflation different from a rise in the level of house prices?
- What factors are likely to determine housing demand (instructions to buy)?
- What factors are likely to affect housing supply (instructions to sell)?
- Explain the difference between nominal and real house prices.
- What does a decrease in real house prices mean? Can this occur even if actual house prices have risen?
- How might we explain the recent differences between house price inflation rates in London relative to other parts of the UK, like the Midlands and Wales?
- Why were house prices so affected by the financial crisis?
- Assume that you asked to measure the affordability of housing. What data might you collect?
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?