House prices have long been an obsession with the UK media and much of the public; when they rise, homeowners feel rich, when they fall, consumer confidence dives. Following the financial crisis and subsequent recession, there has been a great deal of attention focused on the overall health of the housing market.
But the UK faces a particular problem of a sharp and growing divide in regional house prices. First time buyers in London face having to find high deposits and even then, many are unable to access mortgages. Meanwhile those in the regions can access more affordable housing, but may be reluctant to enter the market when prices are stagnant. What are the implications of this divide for the housing market and for the broader economy?
The housing market demonstrates characteristics which are typical of those for goods that are both consumable and involve capital growth; when prices rise housing is seen as a good ‘investment’ and demand increases, this in turn leads to higher prices. Conversely when values drop, demand falls and the market slumps. Markets like this are described as being prone to price bubbles.
Looking at UK house prices as a whole can, however, mask large variations across the economy; variations which can cause problems for jobseekers, for employers and for the government. Recently one of the UK’s largest mortgage lenders predicted continuing regional variance in house prices. Halifax’s figures looked at the price of housing across a number of UK towns and showed that changes seen during 2012 ranged from a 14.8 per cent rise to an 18.4 per cent fall. The biggest rise seen during the year was in Southend on Sea, in Essex, while the greatest fall was in Craigavon, in Northern Ireland. Of the ten towns with the biggest rises, eight were found in London or the south east, with Durham being the only northern town showing growth. Of the ten towns that the Halifax identified with the biggest falls, four are in Scotland, three are in the north west, one is in the north of England and one is in Northern Ireland.
Martin Ellis, housing economist at the Halifax, said:
We expect continuing broad stability in house prices nationally in 2013. The generalised north/south divide in house price performance seen during 2012 is likely to continue next year. House prices are expected to be strongest in London and the south east as this part of the country performs best in economic terms.
These disparities present a particular problem in a recession. While London and the south east show signs of economic growth, with relatively low unemployment and high levels of inward investment, many regions outside London see house prices falling further as unemployment grows. There are some exceptions – the arrival of the BBC in Salford has resulted in a sharp increase in prices there – but, in general, confidence is low outside the south east.
The articles below consider regional differences in the housing market.
House prices creep up over 2012 The Guardian, Patrick Collinson (29/1/13)
Which regions of the UK will show the biggest house price rises in the next 5 years? This is Money, Rachel Rickard Straus (17/1/13)
Figures reveal scale of regional house price divide Inside Housing, Tom Lloyd (2/1/13)
Property market gets a budget boost, so are things looking up? This is Money, Simon Lambert (21/3/13)
Help to Buy scheme could drive up house prices, says OBR The Guardian, Josephine Moulds and Jennifer Rankin (26/3/13)
London house prices outstrip 2007 peak with a 2.8% increase The Guardian, Hilary Osborne (28/3/13)
Housing market in southeast is worth £2tn Financial Times, James Pickford and Ed Hammond (1/2/13)
House prices show annual increase Evening Standard (28/3/13)
- Thinking about the market for owner-occupied housing, what are the factors that will determine demand? How might these explain variations in demand across different regions of the UK?
- How does the supply of housing vary across the UK?
- What would you predict about regional variations in rents?
- What is the impact of high house prices in London on first time buyers? Does this matter?
- What are the implications for the labour market of sharp variations in house prices across regions?
- Why might the Chancellor want to put in place policies to boost the housing market?
- Who gains from high house prices? Who loses? You might want to think about this in term of the life-cycle.