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Halifax house price index feels implausible set against other economic indicators

06 December 2019
Real Estate Sector
Lee Pickett, Real Estate Partner at global legal services business DWF, comments on the latest Halifax House Price Index for November.
"At this time of year it's often hard to find much that's new to say about the property market but the latest data from the Halifax appears to have given us much to talk about thanks to the surprising and somewhat large month-on-month increase in its latest house price index. The problem however is that rather than focus on house prices, some may question whether the index has resolved its methodology issues. 

"The 1% rise in house prices recorded by Halifax in the month is significantly at odds with analysts' estimates of a 0.7% decline in the month and also significantly at odds with the data released by Nationwide a week ago, which recorded a 0.5% rise in house prices. And at 2.1%, the annual rise in the Halifax index is three times that of Nationwide's 0.8% annual growth figure. Whilst the Halifax House Price Index has been more positive on the housing market this year September's methodology tweak was supposed to bring it closer to other house price indices. That doesn't appear to be the case this month.

"The latest housing market survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) would also contradict the argument that there is more activity amongst buyers and sellers and rather suggests the property market is still stagnating at worst or that, at best, activity remains relatively subdued.

"It is also an interesting perspective to suggest the current price war between mortgage lenders that has seen two and five-year-fixed-rate mortgages fall to record, or near record, lows in recent months has boosted activity in the housing market in the space of a mere four weeks, when Bank of England data for October recorded a 1.8% fall in mortgage approvals for house purchases. If that argument is true then activity will have seen a very significant rebound in November, which given the trend this year doesn't feel particularly plausible.

"What is more plausible is that buyers and sellers are in a holding pattern and will remain there for at least a few more months unless, or until, the political and economic situation becomes easier to navigate. The latest economic data released earlier this week points to a continuing overall slowdown and potential a negative fourth quarter. Unless consumer spending comes to the rescue, it may be well into next year before we see a genuine pick-up in housing market activity

"Elsewhere it has been well known, for some considerable time now, that the owners of homes valued above £1m are struggling to find buyers. That has led to a certain amount of discounting in some areas, which will have had a knock on effect on house prices overall. That has been felt most acutely in London, which has seen the most discounting particularly on multi-million pound or 'super prime' properties, whereas the rest of the country has seen modest house price gains. Some might view this as a welcome correction of what has been a traditional imbalance.

"But the reality is that the property market is stalling, while homeowners and house hunters alike hold their collective breath, and wait for calmer economic conditions before acting. Given the current economic conditions and political uncertainty few homeowners will be putting their property up for sale willingly, most will be doing so out of necessity. They may yet struggle to find a buyer in the current market, even with bargain basement mortgages rates."

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