Danny Waters is chief executive of Enterprise Finance
There are a lot of things you can say with confidence about the property market as it stands: that there are considerably more transactions than there were a year ago; that the Funding for Lending Scheme has definitely had an impact; and that London is a law unto itself.
There are some things that you can say with less confidence: that property, at the current growth rate, will remain affordable for the majority of people; that the property market isn’t getting ahead of the still struggling economy; and that prices won’t come under pressure when interest rates finally start to rise.
Now I’m no bear. I don’t think the market is in a bubble — yet anyway — but I do think that we need to be cautious. A strong property market is healthy for the economy, but this strength needs to be sustainable. And currently growth in certain segments of the market does not feel sustainable.
I’m especially cautious about the London property market, which has shot off a very long way into the distance. And while it probably has a little bit further to go yet, there’s no doubt that anyone buying there needs to be careful. London, right now, is not a place many people can afford to make mistakes.
I’m also fascinated by the real health of the property market outside London and the South East. It’s hard to know with any certainty what’s going on.
For example, in its September house price index, which highlighted annual growth of 5%, the Nationwide claimed that: “There are signs that the pickup is becoming increasingly broad-based. For the first time since 2007, all thirteen UK regions experienced annual house price growth in the third quarter of 2013.”
In its August house price index, by contrast, the Land Registry showed that average prices have only grown by 1.3% over the past year and that values are still falling in a number of regions around the UK, with the North East and Wales the hardest hit. That’s a stark contrast.
Based on actual completions rather than mortgage approvals, the Land Registry’s index is, of course, the more reliable one. In fact, it’s the only reliable one. So I suspect the market isn’t as strong as some property indices would have us believe.
Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe that the property market is on the road to recovery. I just think that for a number of regions it’s going to be a far more tentative recovery than for others. And that for some regions the recovery is really only just beginning.
Down south, there’s a lot discussion about the market overheating — but in some corners of the UK talk of a bubble will seem frankly absurd.