What is in store for property?

What is in store for property?

As we approached the EU referendum, former chancellor George Osborne warned that, if the nation voted to leave, in two years house prices would be 10-18 per cent lower than was being forecast at the time. At best they would show little, if any, net growth. 

At worst they would fall by a little under 9 per cent; household finances would be squeezed and costs of mortgage debt would rise.

Despite the nation’s unwavering obsession with house prices, Prime Minister Theresa May was handed the unenviable task of trying to piece together a Brexit shaped jigsaw, by virtue of a vote that left David Cameron, the former prime minister, contemplating his future in a £25,000 shepherds hut with wool insulation and a wood-burning stove to keep him warm.

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Two years passed and, while price growth slowed, data from Nationwide Building Society suggested the average UK house price was 5 per cent above where it was at the time of the Mr Osborne’s pronouncements. 

Wage growth remained robust, employment high and the average rate for a five-year fixed mortgage was 50 basis points below where it was in June 2016.

However it was becoming clear that Mrs May was going to have to put together her jigsaw without a picture to work from. Sentiment, more than economics, was going to dictate national house price movements, at least until a deal could be agreed with the EU and – more importantly – passed through parliament.

As a deal became increasingly difficult to deliver and the odds for a no-deal Brexit shortened, potential home-buyers became more cautious.

Despite a competitive mortgage environment and a continuation of decent employment and earning numbers, new buyer enquiries fell month-on-month according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors as uncertainty over the future of household finances grew. 

Where has that left us?

At the end of the first quarter of 2019, annual house price growth across the UK stood at a meagre 0.4 per cent; a fall of 2 per cent in real terms. 

Transactions, too, are down, though perhaps not nearly as much as expected.  

In the year to the end of February they stood at 1.2m; only 26,000 down on a year previous and 95,000 down on those in the year to June 2016, (when they had been artificially boosted by a rush of investors before the pre-announced stamp duty surcharge).

In both cases they show some trends that have less to do with Brexit than the headline numbers.

At about the same time as the EU referendum, the mainstream London market hit up against the buffers of mortgage regulation. 

The market had become confined to more affluent households, borrowing close to the limits that the mandatory stress testing of affordability would permit. 

The scale of the financial commitment of buying in London has left that market most exposed to a change in sentiment and so the capital has endured modest price falls. 

That has had a reverse ripple effect in the commuter zone. But elsewhere, where the post-credit crunch recovery was more drawn out, the market has been a more normal footing.