Marc Shoffman, Freelance Personal Finance Journalist and regular writer for This is Money and The Times
House prices are falling across the land, at least that is what the various indices tracking property values would have you believe.
Whether you follow the high profile monthly reports issued by Nationwide, Halifax, the Land Registry or LSL, there is one theme, average annual price growth has been slowing so far in 2018.
For example, the Nationwide House Price Index has had annual price growth at just over 2% in each of its monthly releases so far since
the beginning of 2017, whereas it was hitting around 4% to 5% during 2015 and 2016 and was at a peak of 11.8% in June 2014.
The slower activity is reflected by the boots on the ground. Estate agent trade body NAEA Propertymark has been reporting agency stock
at record lows, with members listing an average of 33 properties per branch in April.
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has also been highlighting falling instructions and transactions since last year
among its members. The outlook isn’t much better. Nationwide is predicting average house price growth of 1% this year, down from 2.6% in 2017 and the 4.5% boost in 2016 and 2015. The trouble is, no-one actually lives in an average property. It is very easy for the national data to be skewed by the most popular and typically higher priced areas of the UK, namely
“Some agents say the problems in the capital and the South East are purely at the high end and are dragging down the rest of the UK.”
London and the South East. There is also the issue that all the different indices have their own methodology so it is hard to get a
consistently accurate view of the whole market. There has been plenty to spook buyers, developers and investors in recent years, from general elections to the introduction of extra and higher stamp duty rates and of course the Brexit vote.
But HMRC figures show transactions actually only fell by 0.1% last year compared with 2016 at 1.22m. Much of the slowdown has been around
prime areas of London and the South East where the higher prices mean more would have been deterred by increasing stamp duty on properties above £1.5m that were introduced in 2014 as well as the extra 3% charge on second homes. But there is life outside the prime areas of London and the South.
Some agents say the problems in the capital and the South East are purely at the high end and are dragging down the rest of the UK. For example, the May House Price Index from LSL, which uses Land Registry data, put annual price growth at 1%, but it increases to 3% once
you remove London and the South East. In London, many of the outer boroughs are actually growing, registering a 0.1% annual increase in May, the estate agency brand says. This is reflected by surveyors. The monthly Residential Market Survey from RICS, which assesses the mood of surveyors, regularly shows that London and the South East are regularly seeing drops in sales and prices, but regions such as the North, the Midlands, Scotland and Wales have been more buoyant in recent months.
Similarly, property data supplier Hometrack provides a more regionally-focused index of the UK’s top 20 cities that paints a more positive picture. It shows areas such as Manchester and Edinburgh registered annual growth of 7.7% and 7.2% respectively as of April 2018, followed by 7.4% and 6.8% growth respectively in Leicester and Liverpool, while London returned just 0.8%.
When it comes to sales, Hometrack says there are areas where discounts to asking prices are narrowing, suggesting buyers are prepared to
Homes in Glasgow and Edinburgh are actually selling at premiums to asking price of 4% and 7% respectively, while Manchester and Birmingham have seen discounts fall from 4% at the end of 2016 to 2.6% in the first quarter of 2018.
There is also a market for higher end sales away from prime London. Property listings website Rightmove found homes worth £1million or more are now shifting faster than the national average in some regions compared with a year ago.
Cambridge is seeing million-pound homes shifting the fastest, at 45 days, compared with 90 across the UK for prime properties. The top five fastest selling million-pound locations are all outside of London, with Edinburgh and Harpenden taking 53 days each, followed by Bristol at 54 days.
There are plenty of reasons to be cheerful. The government’s stamp duty exemption – abolishing the first £300,000 of the property tax
on homes worth up to £500,000 for first-time buyers – is helping boost sales. HMRC said there had been 69,000 transactions using the relief
between when it was announced in November 2017 up to the end of March 2018.
Analysis of regions with most homes in this £300,000 price bracket by broker L&C Mortgages suggests Southampton, Norwich, Bristol and
Plymouth could all become sales hotspots for first-time buyers to make use of the stamp duty exemption. There are developments such as Crossrail or the Elizabeth Line, due for completion at the end of this year, which should give a boost to the Home Counties as commuters will be able to travel to and from London faster.
“The top five fastest selling million-pound locations are all outside of London, with Edinburgh and Harpenden taking 53 days each, followed by Bristol at 54 days.”
Similarly, the development of HS2 will make it quicker to travel between the capital to areas such as Birmingham and Manchester and Leeds,
which should boost prices in these regions. There is also the Help to Buy Equity Loan scheme, which is still running until at least 2020
and should help boost affordability and the development of builds.
That is not to say there aren’t issues that need resolving. Homeowners could do with help on stamp duty so they can trade up more easily to
release stock, while last-time buyers are in need of suitable retirement accommodation to move nto, which would then make more homes
available in the wider market and hopefully bring down prices.
But for now, it is worth remembering to read beyond just the headlines of house prices indices, and ask yourself, who lives in an average home anyway?