The strength of the housing market is often a key indicator of the strength of the economy. But, the opposite is also true: a weak economy often filters through to create a weak housing market. With the current weak economy, a boost in confidence is needed and signs suggest that the housing market is beginning to recover.
While the picture of the housing market today is nothing like the pre-crisis view, things are beginning to look up. For a couple of years now, house price inflation in the UK has been very close, if not equal to zero. However, data from Nationwide Building Society suggests that in May, house prices rose by 0.4% and the once stagnant year-on-year change in house prices rose to 1.1% (see chart below: click here for a PowerPoint of the chart). This is the fastest it has grown since the end of 2011.
Commentators have suggested that this latest data is an indication that ‘the market is gaining momentum’. A further confirmation of this rejuvenated market came with the data that property sales were 5% up each month this year, than the average monthly level for 2012. Despite this improvement, they still remain well below the pre-crisis levels.
Which factors have contributed to this tentative recovery? Most households require a mortgage to purchase a house and, given the central role that the housing market played in the financial crisis with companies engaging in excessive lending as a means of expanding their mortgage books, the availability of mortgages fell. The number of mortgage approvals is likely to feed through to affect the number of house sales and these have improved in the first few months of 2013. Interest rates offered by lenders have also fallen, making mortgages more affordable, thus boosting demand. Furthermore, government assistance is available to help individuals put a deposit down on a house, by offering them an equity loan. Further measures are due to come into effect in January 2014, with the aim of providing a further boost to the housing market. The chief economist at Nationwide, Robert Gardner said:
Widespread expectations that the economy will continue to recover gradually in the quarters ahead, that interest rates will remain low, and the ongoing impact of policy measures aimed at supporting the availability and lowering the cost of credit all provide reasons for optimism that activity will continue to gain momentum in the quarters ahead.
Despite the optimism, the situation is different across the UK, with some areas benefiting more than others. London and the South-East are driving this 0.4% rise, whereas other areas may be in need of further assistance to keep pace (see The UK housing market: good in parts).
Although these latest data may be a sign of things to come, it is also possible that things could go the opposite way. Incomes remain low; employment data are hardly encouraging; and the spectre of inflation is always there. Perhaps most importantly, consumer confidence remains fragile and until that gains momentum, uncertainty will continue to plague the UK marketplace. The following articles consider this issue.
UK house prices again up in May, says Nationwide The Guardian, Hilary Osborne (30/5/13)
Housing market could boost retail industry, Kingfisher says The Telegraph, Graham Ruddick (30/5/13)
UK house prices see modest rise, says Nationwide BBC News (30/5/13)
Hugh’s Review: House prices in spotlight BBC News, Hugh Pym with Yolande Barnes of Savills and Matthew Pointon of Capital Economics (31/5/13)
House prices are racing ahead as stimulus for the market kicks in Independent, Russell Lynch (31/5/13)
’Pick up’ in house prices recorded in sign of market confidence, says Nationwide Independent, Vicky Shaw (30/5/13)
House prices at highest level for nearly two years as confidence in UK economy grows and mortgages get cheaper This is Money, Matt West (30/5/13)
Stamp duty is ‘choking’ housing market as it rises seven times faster than inflation over last 15 years Mail Online, Tara Brady (28/5/13)
Nationwide launches Help to Buy mortgages The Telegraph, William Clarke (29/5/13)
UK home prices rise most in 18 months, Nationwide says Bloomberg, Jennifer Ryan (30/5/13)
House price data
Links to house price data The Economics Network
Statistical data set – Property transactions Department of Communities and Local Government
Nationwide house price index Nationwide Building Society
Halifax House Price Index Lloyds Banking Group
Lending to individuals – November 2012 Bank of England
- How is the equilibrium determined in the housing market? Using a demand and supply diagram, illustrate the equilibrium. Make sure you think about the shapes of the curves you’re drawing.
- Which factors affect the demand for and supply of housing?
- Why are there regional variations in house prices?
- Why is the housing market a good indicator of the strength of the economy?
- Why have house prices risen throughout 2013? Is the trend likely to continue?
- If the housing market does indeed gain momentum, how might this affect the rest of the economy? Which sectors in particular are likely to benefit?
- Explain why the government’s intervention in the housing market could be seen to have a multiplier effect?
- Concerns have been raised that the government’s schemes to help the housing market may create a house price bubble. Why might this be the case?
The housing market is crucial in any economy, as it provides so many jobs in related industries. It is frequently a good signal of how buoyant the economy is. With recession in the UK, mortgage rationing continuing and many homeowners having to find 20% deposits to buy a house, many would expect the housing market to be showing signs of trouble.
And to some extent this is the case. Studies on house prices have clearly shown how unpredictable this market is and prices remain 0.7% below what they were a year ago. However, in August house prices increased, recording their biggest rise in two and a half years, at 1.3%. For many, this rise was a surprise, but came as a welcome relief following the declines in previous months. Despite this rise, analysts have suggested that this trend is unlikely to continue throughout the rest of the year, as the demand for houses remains weak. Robert Gardner, the Chief Economist at Nationwide said:
“Given the difficult economic backdrop, the extent of the rebound in August is a little surprising. However, we should never read too much into one month’s data, especially since monthly price changes have been impacted by a number of one-off factors this year, such as the ending of the stamp duty holiday for first time buyers’.
So, what is behind this upward trend? Nationwide’s Chief Economist says that it could be explained by a resilient labour market, where employment has risen in recent months, despite the recession. The labour market undoubtedly has a big effect on the housing market, as mortgages do take up so a large percentage of take-home pay.
However, another key factor that affects house prices is the availability of mortgages. The Bank of England and Treasury launched the Funding for Lending Scheme at the beginning of August in a bid to make mortgages cheaper and more easily available. However, analysts suggest that the scheme is yet to have an effect. Furthermore, until deposit requirements are eased, that first step on the property ladder will remain elusive for many people. Mortgage approvals did increase slightly in July, but still remain a major barrier for the housing market to really boom.
The following articles consider this ‘surprising’ rise in house prices and the factors behind it.
House prices in ‘surprising’ jump, Nationwide says BBC News (31/8/12)
UK house prices record surprise increase Financial Times, Tanya Powley (31/8/12)
Surprise house price rise in August not indicative of market, says Nationwide The Telegraph, Emma Wall (31/8/12)
House prices in surprise rebound Independent, Vicky Shaw (31/8/12)
House prices continue to hold The Economic Voice, Jeff Taylor (31/8/12)
Mortgage approvals still subdued, Bank of England says BBC News (30/8/12)
Banks are pulling back from property – expect prices to fall Money Week, Matthew Partridge (31/8/12)
UK house prices up, as London continues surge Share Cast, Michael Miller (29/8/12)
Lending to Individuals Bank of England 2012
House Price Index Land Registry 2012
UK house prices (links) Economics Network
- Use a supply and demand diagram to analyse recent trends in the housing market.
- Why is the Bank of England’s lending scheme not having the expected impact on the housing market?
- To what extent do you think the state of the housing market depends on mortgage rationing? Which other factors are likely to affect the housing market?
- In the article from the Economic Voice, the author says that house prices holding as they are is a surprise, because of relatively high inflation and the fact that wages are not keeping pace. Explain the economic thinking behind this view.
- The Chief Economist at Nationwide has said that the future of the housing market depends heavily on what happens to the labour market. Why is this the case?
- Why have mortgages been rationed and minimum deposit requirements been increased?
- Why is the housing market so important for the economy?
Despite better economic growth in the first quarter of 2011, confidence remains low and according to Halifax, this has contributed to a decline in house prices from March to April by 1.4% to give their lowest average price since July 2009. Halifax has blamed this steady decline on a lack of confidence and the uncertain economic climate. However, despite this latest decline, Halifax have suggested that the trend may be coming to an end. Martin Ellis, from Halifax had this to say:
“Signs of a modest tightening in housing market conditions, a relatively low burden of servicing mortgage debt and an increase in the number of people in employment are all likely to be providing support for house prices, curbing the pace of decline. There are signs that house sales are stabilising, albeit at a level lower than the historical average.”
There are many factors that contribute towards house prices: the number of properties on the market, the number of buyers, the availability of mortgages and finance, interest rates and the future economic climate. How these factors change will have a crucial influence on the future house price trend. The following articles consider the causes and likely consequences of this latest housing market data.
House prices fall at fastest rate in 18 months Telegraph (9/5/11)
House prices ‘fell by 1.4% in April’ the Halifax says BBC News (9/5/11)
House prices post biggest fall in 1-1 ½ years Reuters, Fiona Shaikh (9/5/11)
House prices dive to a two-year low Independent, Nicky Burridge (9/5/11)
UK housing market remains weak Wall Street Journal, Jason Douglas (9/5/11)
U.K April house prices fall most in seven months, Halifax says Bloomberg, Svenja O’Donnell (9/5/11)
- What are the main causes behind this decline in house prices?
- The articles talk about the volatility of house prices over recent months. What is the explanation for this?
- If interest rates are increased by the MPC, is it more or less likely to cause house prices to decline further? Explain your answer.
- Why dies Martin Ellis, of Halifax, believe that the decline in house prices might reverse this year?
- How does the housing market affect the wider UK economy? Is these latest data likely to jeopardise the fragile recovery?
The housing market has been very volatile over the past year or so. House prices crashed, but then appeared to stabilise. Since then, however, different sources have given very different opinions and predictions about future movements. According to Nationwide Building Society, house prices have increased by an average of £53 a day during September, but others suggest that they remain stable and that they may fall again in 2010.
Not only are house prices important to those buying and selling, but the state of the housing market is also crucial for the recovery of the economy. For example, the construction industry has suffered over the past year and, as of the 2nd October 2009, unemployment in this sector stood at 17.1%. As more and more workers lose their jobs, their disposable income falls and hence demand in the economy is affected. With the possibility of an election debate between the party leaders, many will be waiting to see what their strategies are to revitalise a struggling economy.
House prices rise an average of £53 a day’ Daily Record, Clinton Manning (3/10/09)
Mortgage approvals dip in August BBC News (29/9/09)
Construction contracts at slowest pace for seven months Construction News, Nick Whitten (5/5/09)
House sales ‘stalled’ in August BBC News (22/9/09)
Housing market needs ‘feel-good’ factor to recover City Wire, Nicholas Paler (26/6/09)
Double whammy for first-timers as prices stabilise and loans dry up Scotsman, Jeff Salway (3/10/09)
Head-to-head view on house prices BBC News, Kevin Peachey (27/8/09)
UK construction industry still contracting, says Cips Guardian, Kathryn Hopkins (2/10/09)
House prices see ‘slight decline’ BBC News (28/9/09)
House prices ‘back to 2008 level’ BBC News (2/10/09)
Construction unemployment rises to 17.1% HomeTown Sources (2/10/09)
House prices up – but so are insolvencies Management Today (2/10/09)
Financial shadow cast by city apartments BBC News (8/10/09)
For house price data see:
Nationwide House Prices
Halifax House Price Index from the Lloyds Banking Group
Housing Market and House Prices from the Department of Communites and Local Government
- Why are recent movements in the housing market going to be a problem for first-time buyers?
- The ‘Stamp duty holiday’ will soon come to an end. What do you think will be the impact on the demand for and supply of houses and hence equilibrium prices over the next 6 months?
- One of the reasons why house prices have stabilised is a lack of supply. How does this affect equilibrium prices?
- Why is the economy so affected by changes in house prices? Think about what happens when construction workers lose their jobs and how this affects aggregate demand. Then consider how the macroeconomy will be affected.
- When demand for houses increases, why do prices increase so rapidly? Consider elasticity.