UK house prices are incredibly volatile. This helps to explain the fascination that many of us have with the British housing market. According to the latest ONS house Price Index, the average UK house price in August 2013 was 3.8 per cent higher than 12 months earlier. The rates varied across the home nations: 4.1 per cent in England, 1.1 per cent in Northern Ireland, 1 per cent in Wales and -0.7 per cent in Scotland. Here we take a look at international house price inflation rates. Is the British housing market as unique as we think it is?
Let’s begin at home (excuse the pun). If we take the period from 1970 Q1 to 2013 Q2, the average annual rate of house price inflation across the UK is 9.7 per cent. The average rate in England is 9.8 per cent, as it is in Wales too, while in Scotland it is 9.0 per cent and in Northern Ireland it is 8.8 per cent. While the long-term averages of the UK nations are rather more similar than perhaps we might expect, what is quite interesting is the differences that emerge in more recent times. If we take the period from July 2008 to August 2013, the average annual rate of house price inflation in the UK is -0.2 per cent, in England it is 0.1 per cent, in both Wales and Scotland it is -1.0 per cent, while in Northern Ireland it is -11 per cent.
The recent English average is heavily distorted by London and to a lesser extent the rest of the South East. In London and the South East the average annual house price inflation rates since July 2008 have been 2.6 per cent and 0.2 per cent respectively. In all the other English regions the average rate has been negative. In my own region of the East Midlands the average rate has been -1.2 per cent – this is exactly the UK average if both London and the South East are removed from the figures.
Now let’s go international. Chart 1 shows annual house price inflation rates for the UK and six other countries since 1997. Interestingly, it shows that house price volatility is a common feature of housing markets. It is not a uniquely British thing. It also shows that the USA is notable for its relatively robust house price inflation rates of late. In the first half of 2013 annual house price inflation has been running at 7 per cent in America, compared with 2 to 3 per cent here in the UK. In contrast, the Netherlands has seen near-double digit rates of house price deflation over the past year, albeit with a rebound in the third quarter of this year. (Click here to download 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 touch 23 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. Let’s now consider the extent to which house prices rise over the longer term. In doing so, we consider 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 2 shows real house prices since 1996 Q1. (Click here to download a PowerPoint of the chart.) It shows that up to 2013 Q2, real house prices in the UK have risen by a factor of 2.24, i.e. they are two and a quarter times higher. This is a little less than in Sweden where prices are 2.5 times higher.
Chart 2 shows that 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 2013 Q2 are only 1.16 times higher than in 1996 Q1. In the US actual house prices, when viewed over the past 17 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. However the rate of growth 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 – and not least by policy-makers.
House Price Indices: Data Tables Office for National Statistics
First time buyers in race to beat house price rises Telegraph, Nicole Blackmore (8/11/13)
House prices soar by £13,000: Values rise at fastest rate for 3 years Express, Sarah O’Grady (7/11/13)
House prices: ‘south-east set to outpace London’ for first time in a decade Guardian, Jennifer Rankin (6/11/13)
UK house prices hit record level, says ONS BBC News, (15/10/13)
UK house prices rise at fastest pace in three years in October – Nationwide Reuter (31/11/13)
Jonathan Portes: UK house prices a ‘force of evil’ BBC News, (5/11/13)
- 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?