Tony Hazell 

Property price dips are no bad thing

Tony Hazell

Tony Hazell

A growing number of pundits are predicting corrections and falls in the housing market.

They have leapt on reports by the likes of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which spoke of stagnant demand with declining sales and new instructions. 

Nationwide reported month-on-month prices were down by 0.2 per cent, but only after “seasonal adjustments”. This was the third consecutive monthly fall, but it came in a period with four bank holidays in six weeks.

Land Registry and Halifax figures also imply a gentle spring fall – though all three have them higher than at this time last year.

So, is there anything to worry about other than talking ourselves into a house price recession? I suspect much will depend on whether you believe the bottom up or top down theory.

Hamptons International tells us that the number of European buyers for prime central London property fell from 28 per cent of the market before the decision to leave the EU to 8 per cent in the first three months of this year. But there has been a surge in buyers from the Middle East and a return of Russian interest.

However, central London has increasingly become a market insulated from the rest of the country. The selling price of a mansion in Mayfair means very little to the average homeowner in Grantham or Goole. Nor are overseas buyers likely to affect the profits of Ipswich Building Society.

More important is what is happening in the outer reaches of London and the rest of the country. Halifax tells us confidence has stabilised after a heavy post-Brexit vote fall and supply is limited.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders reported last month that first-time buyers borrowed 12 per cent more year-on-year, suggesting they are finding it easier to get into the market.

For first-timers and anyone planning to trade up, the occasional gentle fall in house prices is no bad thing.

It is only those at the top of the housing pyramid who are really affected – and there is little incentive for them to trade down if their most precious asset is rapidly increasing in value.

So I am afraid I can not get too concerned about the housing market, except on one point – the increasingly number of very high loan-to-value deals. 

It was this combined with rising mortgage rates and unemployment that sparked the repossession crisis of the early 1990s. Lending to people who could not afford to repay was the root of the 2008 banking crisis.

Let us hope the banks and building societies are doing their sums this time. 

Pensioner taxpayers

I noticed some puzzlement among newspapers and “experts” recently that the number of pensioners paying tax has jumped substantially over the past 20 years.