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?
House prices are in the news again, but that should come as no surprise because they are such a favourite topic of the British! Three different organisations – the Halifax Bank, the Nationwide Building Society and Rightmove – have all reported that house prices fell in November. The Halifax reported a 0.1% fall, the Nationwide a 0.3% fall and Rightmove a 3.2% fall. The Halifax and Nationwide base their figures on house price information supplied by prospective mortgage applicants while Rightmove report the average asking price of those putting their property on to the market. We should not worry too much about the variations in the magnitude of the reported price falls because the downward trend in house prices is now pretty well established. The Halifax, for instance, has reported five monthly falls since April and they estimate that the average house price over the three months to November is 0.7% lower than a year ago. While the other two organisations are still reporting annual house price inflation rates in positive territory, these rates too are edging closer and closer to negative territory.
The recent falls in house prices come after a rebound in prices in the second half of 2009 which carried on into the early months of this year. The Nationwide had annual house price inflation rates peaking in the spring at around the 10% mark. This appears to have reflected an increase in housing demand and can be seen in the Bank of England mortgage approval numbers for house purchase which recovered from as low as 26,702 in November 2008 to 59,215 in November 2009. By April, Rightmove was reporting that property supply was beginning to outstrip demand and in their May report they noted that suppliers were coming on to the market more quickly than at any time since June 2008. It is argued that supply increased further through late May and into June when the new coalition government suspended house information packs (HIPs). HIPs were a set of documents, including a property information questionnaire, which a seller needed to provide before a property could be marketed.
Rightmove reported in their November press release that the number of new sellers coming to the market each week between 10 October and 6 November averaged 24,028. This was a fall of 9.1% on the previous 4-week period. But, we need to see this reduction in the context of housing demand and the mortgage approvals numbers again provide clues as to the strength of housing demand. The fall in approvals in October to just 47,185 approvals was the sixth consecutive monthly fall. This number of approvals, as Rightmove note, is about half the monthly number of additional properties coming on to the market. In other words, the flow of properties coming on to the market is contributing to a large stock of properties on the books of estate agents. While some existing suppliers have been taking their property off the market, Rightmove note that the current average number of unsold properties on estate agents’ books is only a little down on the historic high reported a couple of months back. This leaves sellers fighting over a limited number of prospective buyers.
In the short term, the extent of further downward pressure on house prices will depend on extent of the imbalance between demand and supply. If a large number of suppliers begin to remove their property from the market, perhaps on the hope that the market will improve later next year, this would help to address the imbalance. Equally, if first-time buyers were to return to the market in larger numbers then that too would help to alleviate downward pressure on prices. The latter, however, is unlikely given the tight credit conditions which are resulting in potential first-time buyers struggling to find the deposit needed to get on to the property ladder. It seems that while many wannabe buyers of property may have a willingness to purchase, their ability to purchase continues to be frustrated by their inability to find the necessary deposit.
House prices slip further in November Financial Times, Norma Cohen (9/12/10)
Bonus for first-time buyers as house prices plummet for the third month in a row Daily Mail (9/12/10)
House prices drop fort he third month, has the bubble burst? London Daily News (9/12/10)
House prices fall 0.1% but hopes rise Independent, Peter Cripps (9/12/10)
House prices drop amid mortgage ‘deep freeze’ Telegraph, Myra Butterworth (9/12/10)
Mortgage approval numbers are available from the Bank of England’s statistics publication, Monetary and Financial Statistics (Bankstats) (See Table A5.4.)
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
- Tracking house prices is like following a roller-coaster ride! See if you can re-tell the story of UK house prices over the past year using demand and supply diagrams.
- Why do you think UK house prices are so volatile? Can you point to any other market where prices are so volatile? If so, do they share any common features?
- How important are first-time buyers in affecting house prices? What factors do you think affect the number of prospective first-time buyers deciding to enter the housing market?
- Using a demand and supply diagram illustrate the effect on house prices of: (i) a tightening of financial institutions’ lending criteria; (ii) the expectation of forthcoming house price falls; and (iii) increasing economic confidence .
- Although UK house prices are volatile they do increase over the longer-term and by more than the average price of consumer goods and services. What might explain this?
- What do we mean by a demand-supply imbalance? Would you expect this imbalance to continue?
- The average house price is currently falling. But, different housing markets will have their own price patterns. What might explain any differences in house price patterns across different housing markets?