Right at the beginning of this year, we predicted that the UK housing market would be shackled by political and economic uncertainty.
Looking back, the uncertainty we have been dealing with has been greater than we ever expected.
Amid all the Brexit brokering and backstabbing, we have seen the number of buyer enquiries with estate agents fall in 20 months out of the past 22, according to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors survey. Many buyers have simply been sitting on their hands, choosing to hold back on buying a home until the outlook is clearer.
Potential sellers have bunkered down too, with many choosing to extend or renovate in favour of taking on the potential risk of moving to a different property.
It is no wonder then that transaction levels are 8 per cent lower now than in the year before the referendum vote.
Buyer numbers hit hard
First-time buyers buck this trend: their numbers have grown 11 per cent since June 2016, boosted by support from Help to Buy and the bank of mum and dad. But cash transactions have fallen 12 per cent, as these more discretionary buyers sit and wait for greater certainty.
Mortgaged home mover activity has also fallen; mortgage lending regulation has made trading up the ladder much harder.
Buy-to-let investors have been worst hit – their numbers have halved since before the referendum, reflecting a tougher tax regime and stricter lending rules.
With transaction activity slowing, it is perhaps surprising that house prices have continued to grow: 1.9 per cent in the year to November, according to Nationwide. However, if one compares that growth with inflation – 2.2 per cent over the same period – the picture becomes clearer. House prices at a national level look to be marking time.
But the story varies across the country. In Yorkshire and Humberside, for instance, values grew by 5.8 per cent in the year to September. There, mortgage loan to income ratios sit at 3.2 and the average deposit is relatively modest, at £27,000.
Contrast this with London, where affordability is stretched to its absolute limit after registering price growth in excess of 70 per cent over the past 10 years. With an average deposit of £118,000 and loan to income ratios already at 4.0, it is no wonder prices were stagnant in the capital this year.
It is a similar story in the south of England, with price growth rippling out further to the Midlands and North.
The next few months will likely see some of the lowest housing transaction levels since the credit crunch as Brexit angst reaches a crescendo.
The market will have to rely on its three constant friends: death, debt, and divorce.
Looking further ahead, the outlook is mixed. On the one hand, the outcome of Brexit negotiations will provide some much needed certainty to an apprehensive market, whatever that outcome is.
On the other hand, interest rates are likely to rise from today’s historic lows, putting more pressure on affordability.