Property prices remained steady in the UK in March

Annual house price growth in the UK remained steady at 2.1% in March 2018 but London is continuing to see a slowdown with prices down 1% year on year, the latest national index shows.

Month on month prices fell 0.2% to an average of £211,625 but growth is broadly stable with annual growth over 2018 expected to be around 1%, according to the latest monthly index report from lender the Nationwide.

Northern Ireland saw the strongest annual rate of growth, with a substantial 7.9% rise although prices in the region are still furthest below their pre-crisis levels, some 38% below their 2007 peak, while overall UK prices are 16% above.

Wales also recorded a pick-up in house price growth, with a 6.1% year on year increase, the highest since 2014. England recorded annual house price growth of 1.9%. Amongst the home nations, only Scotland saw weaker price growth than England, with prices up just 0.2% compared to the same period of last year.

For the fourth quarter in a row, regions in the North of England recorded stronger annual house price growth than those in the South. Robert Gardner, Nationwide’s chief economist, pointed out that over the past two years the Southern English regions have seen a steady deceleration in price growth, which is now running at its slowest pace since 2012.

By contrast, the Northern English regions have recorded a gradual acceleration and recorded their strongest growth rate since 2014 in the first three months of this year but these trends have so far made only small inroads in narrowing the North/South divide.

House prices in the North of England are, on average, still less than half of those prevailing in the South. A typical house in the North of England now costs £163,138, compared to £331,047 in the South.

‘On the surface, the relatively subdued pace of house price growth appears at odds with recent healthy rates of employment growth, a modest pick-up in wage growth and historically low borrowing costs,’ said Gardner.

‘However, consumer confidence has remained subdued, due to the ongoing squeeze on household finances as wage growth continues to lag behind increases in the cost of living. Looking ahead, much will depend on how broader economic conditions evolve, especially in the labour market, but also with respect to interest rates,’ he explained.

‘Subdued economic activity and the ongoing squeeze on household budgets is likely to continue to exert a modest drag on housing market activity and house price growth this year. But historically low unemployment and mortgage interest rates together with the lack of properties on the market is likely to provide some support for house prices. Overall, we expect house prices to be broadly flat, with a marginal gain of around 1% over the course of 2018,’ he added.

The steady market means that affordability is set to continue to be an issue for first time buyers, according to Jeff Knight, director of marketing at Foundation Home Loans. ‘Even with those benefiting from stamp duty cuts and low mortgage rates, the lack of supply remains the nagging problem,’ he said.

‘It’s imperative more is done to support not only those seeking a first or second home but also those seeking rented accommodation to tide them over. Minimal choice, poor standards and unaffordable prices risk many feeling alienated in the market and in time will impinge future activity,’ he added.

Sam Mitchell, chief executive officer of online estate agents HouseSimple, believes that the stamp duty freeze for most first time buyers could well see the North/South divide widen over the coming months.

‘The market for properties below £500,000 is going from strength to strength, with a lot of competition for entry level properties, particularly one and two beds. The top end of the market, properties at £1 million plus, is suffering from punitive stamp duty thresholds, and is unlikely to recover in the near term until the Brexit picture becomes a lot clearer,’ he said.

‘London is feeling it harder than most, with very few properties below the 0% stamp duty threshold and property supply constraints an ongoing concern. What this does mean for committed sellers is that it’s actually a very good time to get your property on the market, as there’s less competition with many people only selling out of necessity,’ he pointed out.

‘Demand is healthy, buyers have the appetite, and we’re conducting a lot of viewings, but they are extremely price sensitive and want to negotiate. The successful sellers right now are the ones who are willing to enter into a negotiation with buyers,’ he added.

There is unlikely to be substantial change until after Brexit, according to Russell Quirk, chief executive officer of Emoov. ‘Where house price growth is concerned, we seem to currently be in a state of property market limbo and this will no doubt last until our departure from the European Union is finalised, if not a little while longer,’ he said.

‘While we aren’t seeing the more positive upward growth trends UK home owners have come to expect of property values over the last few years, the good news is that we still haven’t seen the disastrous market crash that many have prophesied, and it is very unlikely that we will,’ he added.

Buyers also need to be aware of the prospect of an interest rate rise, possibly as early as May, according to Jonathan Hopper, managing director of Garrington Property Finders, but this comes at a time when pricing is more realistic.

‘Behind the scenes there has been a shift in the buyer/seller power dynamic. The experience of 2017, especially in prime areas, has forced sellers to radically adjust their price expectations, and the new properties that come onto the market tend to be much more sensibly priced,’ he explained.

‘This in turn is requiring buyers to adjust their approach. While last year a committed and well-informed buyer could ask for, and get, very sizeable discounts, newly listed homes tend to have the discounts priced in,’ he pointed out.

‘With average wages now rising, the combination of more sensible property prices and the final months of rock bottom mortgage deals should keep the flow of deals up, even if price growth will remain modest for much of the country in 2018,’ he added.