Not one, not two, but three. It appears good news on the UK housing market is not like buses. You hang around waiting for ages, and instead of two coming along at once – which is what they say is happens in the world of public transport – with the housing market, three come along instead.
First off there was Rightmove. In April it recorded a 2.1 per cent rise in asking prices, taking average asking prices to £244,706. That is just a whisker, or £1,500 to be more precise, short of a new all-time high. Rightmove reckons that over the next month prices will rise higher still, and in the process will break through the all-time high level. In other words, house prices – or at least asking prices – are back, the downturn is over.
The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) provides the second piece of bullishness. It turns out that in the first two months of this year no less than 16,000 loans were advanced to first time buyers. That happens to be the highest level for a two month period in five years.
Finally, the Ernst and Young Item Club has forecast that that 2013 is likely to see housing transactions shoot up as one million families move home, from 800,000 seen in recent years. The Item Club said: “The UK housing market is now seeing a win-win of rising disposable incomes and increasing affordability factors whose impact will be multiplied by the Chancellor’s ‘Help to Buy’ scheme. With £3.5bn of government funds paying 20 per cent of the purchase price, the scheme can underpin 100,000 mortgages worth £200,000 each.”
Okay, it may be worth putting this in context. According to Nationwide data, UK house prices peaked in Q3 2007 with an average price of £184,131. In Q1 2012 the average price was £163,056. So asking prices may be on the verge of passing an all-time high, but selling prices are a long way off yet.
According to CML data, gross mortgage lending was £362,758 in 2007. In January and February it was worth a total of £21,880. Multiply that out by six and you get £131,000, which is way down on the levels of six years ago. Okay, the first two months of the year may be slightly quieter than, say, during the spring, but you get the picture. What is clear is that while mortgage lending may be rising, it is still way down on the levels seen during the boom.
But in the UK, we are slightly property obsessed. If house prices rise, consumers feel richer, regardless of what happens to their disposable income. When Brits feel richer because the value of their home has risen, they tend to spend more.
Signs that the UK housing market is in recovery mode may be good news for UK plc and may well lead to rising GDP. Look at it this way, falling house prices in 2007 were an early sign that the UK economy had hit the buffers.
The ‘FT’ on Saturday quoted Merryn Somerset Webb, famous as an arch property bear, saying she was considering buy-to-let investment: “On the basis that there is some yield and the government has clearly decided house prices are never to fall.”
There are two core reasons why UK house prices appear to be turning. Firstly it is the British psyche. The UK home owning public, and indeed would-be home owners are always susceptible to the notion that house prices are set to rise. Their blind faith in house prices become self-fulfilling. Secondly, the UK government is determined to avoid further falls in house prices, regardless of whether fundamentals suggest they should occur.
Such a policy may re-endear George Osborne to the UK electorate. But whether it is really good for UK plc in the long run is doubtful.
© Investment & Business News 2013