Downturn is a chance for a reset – but will the politicians take it?Posted: February 27, 2023 Filed under: Affordable housing, Housing market Leave a comment
Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.
Housing market downturns are often dominated by debates about their consequences – whether they be falling house prices and negative equity, arrears and repossessions or builders going bust – and what to do about them.
But an important new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation argues that we should be thinking less about house prices and the immediate response to the downturn and more about the housing system as a whole and the long-term opportunities for a reboot.
We are already in a downturn even if the shape of it remains unclear. Toby Lloyd, Rose Grayston and Neal Hudson consider different scenarios ranging from back to normal (rising prices) to an outright crash but think market stagnation is the most likely outcome.
That may sound mild when seen in terms of house prices alone but the consequences would be dire: home ownership would remain inaccessible, driving up private rents and making it even more of a struggle for low-income households to keep a roof over their heads.
Arguably we are already seeing stagnation in housebuildling as the big developers slow down development and the industry as a whole warns that completions could fall to less than half their pre-pandemic peak while blaming government regulations.
The conventional response would be to support supply and boost demand but that would be very much like a rehash of what happened after 2010, when various forms of Help to Buy did increase housebuilding but also produced a boom in housebuilders’ profits, share prices and bonsues without much quid pro quo.
For all the efforts to boost the home ownership chances of first-time buyers, the private rented sector continued to grow. And millions of people in housing need were the losers as austerity put the squeeze on social rent and forced housing associations into affordable rent and market sales.Read the rest of this entry »
Kwarteng’s plan causes growing painsPosted: September 23, 2022 Filed under: Budget, Cost of living, Housing market, Stamp duty | Tags: Conservative Party, Kwasi Kwarteng Leave a comment
Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.
So, after 10 years of redistribution and socialism under David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, now we know what a proper Conservative government looks like.
The biggest package of tax cuts seen in 50 years will cost a cool £45bn and overwhelmingly benefit the highest earners: someone on £1m a year will be around £55,000 better off next year.
The benefits get progressively smaller the less you earn: someone on £20,000 a year will gain just £218 while someone on £200,000 will gain £4,333.
And there is nothing so far for the very poorest: no more help for renters and no boost to Universal Credit.
Instead around 120,000 claimants face having their benefits cut unless they find more part-time hours from January.
There may be some announcements still to come in an actual Budget to follow this Growth Plan, including vital decisions on whether to unfreeze Local Housing Allowance and the benefit cap, but the contrast could hardly be more stark.Read the rest of this entry »
The £3 trillion questionPosted: December 10, 2021 Filed under: Housing market, Inequality, Tax | Tags: Resolution Foundation Leave a comment
Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.
It has so many zeros in it that it’s worth writing it out in full: £3,000,000,000,000.
That’s the increase in the housing wealth of British households since 2000, according to new analysis from the Resolution Foundation. Perhaps even more remarkably, as the graph below shows, around half of that has been (un)earned since 2012, in the wake of a Global Financial Crisis that seemed set to bring the whole market crashing down.
The distribution of all that housing wealth has been startlingly unequal. Londoners gained almost four times as much (£76,000) as those in the North East (£21,000) and the over-65s eight times as much as 30-34 year olds and more than three times as much as 35-39 year olds.
Where the least wealthy third of households gained less than £1,000 per adult, the wealthiest 10 per cent chalked up an average gain of £174,000.
Needless to say, the gains for anyone who has remained a social tenant or a private renter are zero and zero – and less than zero for leaseholders unlucky enough to be stuck in unmortgageable and unsaleable flats.Read the rest of this entry »
Why are house prices rising around the world?Posted: August 20, 2021 Filed under: Coronavirus, Germany, Housing market, Inequality, Netherlands, USA Leave a comment
Originally written as a column for insidehousing.co.uk
News that house prices are rising at their fastest rate since 2004 highlights both the perverse effects of the pandemic and long-term problems with affordability.
Average prices across the UK rose by 13.2 per cent in the year to June according to the official UK House Price Index with Wales and the North of England leading the way.
While a low level of transactions suggests a need for some caution in interpretation, the same pattern has emerged in other house price surveys of double digit inflation led by regions outside London and the South East.
That confounds expectations at the start of the pandemic of recession about a declining market. The stamp duty holiday announced last Summer looks like an expensive mistake that has just helped fuel house price inflation.
In normal circumstances a bust might well follow the boom but continued support for the market will come from the estimated £180 billion in savings that households have built up during the pandemic and the wealth gap between housing haves and have-nots seems set to widen still further.
There is evidence of the same pattern emerging in housing markets around the world: annual house price growth across the 38 richest nations has more than doubled during the pandemic to hit 9.4 per cent, according to the OECD.Read the rest of this entry »
Guarantees, cladding and the housing marketPosted: April 20, 2021 Filed under: Fire safety, Housing market, Mortgages, Stamp duty Leave a comment
Originally published on April 20 on www.insidehousing.co.uk.
The housing market is at a frenzied record high as house prices rise by more than 2 per cent in a single month.
Just the moment then for the government to step in with a scheme to guarantee 95 per cent mortgages for anyone who thinks they have to climb the ladder before it disappears out of reach.
The house prices in question are only asking prices as recorded by Rightmove but the £6,733 average increase between March and April reflects a rush to beat the end of the stamp duty holiday and demand for more space from people who have done well during the pandemic.
It’s now 13 months since the start of the pandemic and, to pick another measure, house prices are up by around £16,000 or more than 7 per cent since then, according to the Nationwide.
Prices initially fell amid the economic uncertainty but surged again on the back of the stamp duty holiday introduced by chancellor Rishi Sunak last July and then extended in March.
The overwhelming beneficiaries are people who already own homes who have been able to sell them for higher prices that now wipe out the stamp duty savings for most buyers. For all the rhetoric about helping people on to the housing ladder, few first-time buyers saved much in stamp duty and all now face having to spend considerably more in total.
The mortgage guarantee scheme, essentially a rehash of one part of Help to Buy, should help them by addressing a genuine problem with the supply of high loan-to-value mortgages.
However, lenders are cautious. The Financial Times reported on Saturday that the largest banks are refusing to lend on new builds under the scheme and that they may also charge higher rates and apply stricter affordability criteria.
From their point of view that makes sense to guard against falling prices, especially when they factor in the new-build premium that adds around 10 per cent to the cost of a new home. .
And the benefits look dubious for first-time buyers too. Based on the Nationwide index, a 95 per cent loan on home at the current average price would be £220,000 – more than the total price was when the stamp duty holiday was first announced.
None of this makes any sense and yet, in an under-supplied and under-taxed housing market fuelled by credit and low interest rates, somehow it does.
As memories fade of the housing market crash of the early 1990s and the downturn after the financial crisis, the logical next step would be a relaxation in affordability checks on mortgages to allow loans at larger income multiples, ignoring the lessons of the 2000s and the economic headwinds that could lie ahead as furlough ends.
But all of this is happening at the same time as the entire market for recently built flats remains mired in the continuing fall-out from the fire safety crisis.
Inside Housing reported on Friday on cases of leaseholders buying flats on the basis of External Wall System (EWS) form declaring that their cladding was safe only for new inspections to decide that it must be removed.
One buyer purchased a £350,000 flat rated A1 and safe in February only for the EWS to be downgraded to B2 just 34 days later. That made her flat worthless and left her facing costs for waking watch and cladding remediation.
If the EWS rating can be changed at the drop of a hat like this, why would anyone risk buying a recently built flat?
The government has grudgingly and in stages committed a total of £5.1 billion to fixing the cladding crisis so far and it has announced some welcome reforms to leasehold.
But leaseholders in buildings below 18m are only eligible for loans and help does not apply to other fire safety problems, leaving a significant chunk of the housing market in limbo.
The fact that at the same time the government has spent £5.4 billion on the stamp duty holiday says it all about where its priorities really lie.
We need to talk about tax reformPosted: November 12, 2020 Filed under: Housing market, Tax 1 Comment
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on November 12.
When the pandemic is eventually over, one of the big political questions will be how the government will go about recouping the huge sums pumped into keeping the economy going.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the Conservative conference that he believes it is his ‘sacred duty’ to balance the books. Even before the costs of the second wave, a document leaked from the Treasury in May suggested that tax rises or spending cuts equivalent to £25-£30 billion would be needed.
However, Mr Sunak is boxed in by manifesto promises not to increase income tax, VAT and national insurance and not to scrap the triple lock on pensions.
Cutting public spending will not be easy either. If anything the pressure will be the other way as the government looks to implement its levelling up agenda.
That applies even to the depressingly familiar remedy of cutting benefits, with calls for temporary increases in universal credit and local housing allowance to be made permanent set to grow as unemployment rises.
However, housing could still be a key battleground when it comes to tax and areas not covered by those manifesto promises. So far, it’s been another cost to the Treasury, with the £3.8 billon earmarked for the stamp duty holiday, but sooner or later attention will turn to the other side of the ledger.Read the rest of this entry »