An initial rush, a steady pace, a stumble and then a surge toward the finishing line.
This narrative could aptly describe a typical long-distance athletics race and, in particular, Mo Farah’s 10,000 metre 2016 Olympic victory in Rio. Tension, sweat and breathlessness mixed with trepidation, potential disaster and, ultimately, the euphoria of success in front of an audience of billions.
Well, whilst the world itself might not quite all be watching, the UK property market mirrors the analogy above in so far as what is likely to be the outcome at the end of 2021.
I’m not one for specific prophecies in actual percentage terms where rises and falls in house prices are concerned. I leave this to those that get them wrong each and every year, those other ‘experts’ that then change their ‘forecasts’ a good few times subsequently as the data unfolds and reveals how very wrong they were on track to be.
But what I do articulate is the general trend that we are likely to see unfold in front of us. In successive years I have been rather right in calling the market accurately in advance and especially as just about the only person or institution that did so pre-Covid. In April 2020 I repeatedly said that house prices would not fall, despite the pandemic, when everyone else (and I mean everyone) said that they would. I even took bets on this outcome and from many that I have not heard much from since, unsurprisingly. This, with the exception of my friend Paul Shamplina who has so far taken his defeat like a grown-up and will soon deign to hand over £200 to the charity of my choice.
Anyhow, acknowledging my octopus like ability to see the future, what about the year ahead?
The usual suspects are seeing glasses half-empty all over the shop, as usual.
- The Halifax says that house prices will drop by a rather wide 2% to 5%
- Savills and Knight Frank both reckon zero growth
- Ernst & Young predict a cheery 5% fall in UK property values
- A 6.3% drop in Q1 alone is the frankly insane expectation of someone called Reallymoving
And here’s why they are all wrong. Again.
First, you have to remove the veil of doom that so typifies the mainstream media – Goodall, O’Brien, Peston, Kuenssberg and, especially, Morgan. Those harbingers of the negative, obsessed with gotcha opportunities to preen about on their social media channels – seemingly existing only to scare the bejesus out of us all with tales of unstoppable mutating strains from Johannesburg, ‘useless’ vaccines and permanent lockdowns. They live merely to impress their editors and producers with clicks no matter what the actual reality behind their stories – bad news sells best (I should know).
So, setting aside the hysterical, we are faced with a reality and here’s where the glass gets filled up somewhat.
Prices will continue to rise during February and March. The stamp duty holiday will ensure this and, if Rishi does indeed extend the relief by six weeks this will further sure-up values for longer. But when, ultimately, the tax is fully reinstated there will be a stumble in price growth and in transactions – quite obviously. But this will be very short-lived for the following reasons:
- Buyers will always be buyers, sentimentally. We Brits just can’t help ourselves but rush to the housing ladder perpetually. It’s cultural
- Borrowed money is cheap and will get cheaper. The 0.1% Bank rate could easily go negative. This means that a variable mortgage cost of 2.25% per annum will drop well below 2%, as will fixed rate products. Which factor has fuelled house price growth more than any other in recent decades? Cheaper debt. Lower rates mean more borrowing – and higher prices from the resulting demand
- Not as scary as the BBC etc would have us believe. Yes, we’ll see a spike, but we currently have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world at just 5%. It will increase a tad but a rapidly recovering economy will drag it down again swiftly as we eat, drink, buy and travel again
- A rapidly recovering economy? Yes, there’s £100bn in unspent consumer cash sitting there waiting to be deployed by consumers. In ‘VE Day spirit’ they will splash it from the moment we exit this final lockdown. You’ll be able to see the sighs of relief in the economic numbers from summer onwards
- A shot in the arm – the success of the vaccination programme is nothing short of miraculous and at the time of writing we’d inoculated nearly 25% of the UK population with all vulnerable groups set to be jabbed by the end of April. These shots mean a boost for sentiment, positivity and, again, spending – not just antibodies
- New housing supply has been stifled. The utopia of 300,000 homes built each year now even further away given that new homes completed to September 2020 were 18% lower than the same period the prior year thanks to the pandemic. What does lower supply mean? All other things being equal, rising prices
- There will be more stimulus from government. They haven’t come this far to then throw away their efforts to support society and businesses at the finish line. Perhaps not in the form of stamp duty, but the Treasury will continue to artificially inseminate where needed and this will indirectly boost the property market
It would be easy to nod along to the doomsayers in our industry and in the media and believe that we’re on the precipice of a housing crash. After all, even broken clocks are right on occasion. But not this time. There’s too much going for our housing market. And estate agents, mortgage brokers and even conveyancers are set to continue to do well from its buoyancy for the foreseeable. Let us just hope that whilst estate agents feather the nests of said property lawyers with lashings of deals, that some of them might even be grateful enough to pick up the phone to us every now and again, eh?
We should all yawn in the face of the pessimists, those that even given the certainty of a lottery win would no-doubt whine that they have got to go out and buy the ticket. The peddlers of self-fulfilling prophecies and gloom. Sad soothsaying sorrow mongers.
Fortunately for everyone else, the pessimists are about to get more depressed given that they are to be proven wrong again by a year that for us property folk, will be a business triumph. Just wait and see.
Incidentally, if you disagree with my sentiments on the 2021 housing market, I’m still taking bets. Just make cheques payable to Great Ormond Street Hospital 😉