New report sets out how sensitive the UK housing market is to the economy

Image There are almost 30 million residential properties in the UK with the market linked to income, wealth and availability of income which makes is sensitive to the overall economic climate, according to a new report.

The overview from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that as of 2014 there were 28.1 million properties and as the population continues to grow housing is set to remain an important topic.

Since 1980, there has been considerable fluctuation in the UK housing market. Overall, there has been growing demand and relatively limited supply growth. House prices have been increasing, and first time buyers are finding it more difficult to get on the property ladder while home ownership among younger age groups generally has declined.

The report points out that on average house prices have increased by 7% per year since 1980 and the year with the greatest annual increase in house prices was 25.6% recorded in 1988 while by 2015, the average price (mix adjusted) of a property in the UK stood at £279,000.

There were seven years between 1980 and 2013 where, on average, UK house prices fell, the majority of which occurred during the recession of the early 1990s. The biggest drop, however, was 7.6% in 2009.

The economic downturn in 2008 had a considerable impact on the UK housing market. The decline in house prices was accompanied by reduced mortgage availability and stricter lending criteria.

The analysis also shows that the number of property sales in the UK almost halved from a peak of 1.67 million in 2006 to 0.85 million in 2009 but since then the number of sales has partially recovered, increasing to 1.23 million in 2015.

According to the report rising house prices could partially explain the decline in the number of first time buyers taking out a mortgage, although other economic factors will play a role.

From the 1980s until the early 2000s there were typically between 400,000 and 600,000 loans to first time buyers each year. However, in 2003 there was a 31% decline and then in 2008 there was a further 47% decrease, the largest in the series, as the economic downturn affected the housing market.

In recent years the number of first time buyers has been recovering, although numbers fell in 2015 and the levels remain below those seen before 2003 and the reduction in the numbers of first time buyers has subsequently had an impact on the age of home owners. In 1991, 67% of the 25 to 34 age group were home owners. By the financial year ending 2014, this had declined to 36%.

There were also reductions in home ownership over the same period for the 16 to 24 age group from 36% to 9% and for the 35 to 44 age group from 78% to 59%. By contrast, home ownership has increased among older age groups.

Another changing aspect of the housing market is the percentage of purchase price being paid as a deposit. For first time buyers the average deposit as a percentage of purchase price more than doubled between 1988 and the peak of the economic downturn in 2009, reaching almost 28% of the price of the house. A likely factor was that buyers with smaller deposits became less likely to be approved for a mortgage, pushing up the average value of those deposits that were paid.

Since then, deposits for first time buyers have fallen as a percentage of purchase price, although the 2015 figure of 21% is still much higher than it was through the late 1980s, the 1990s and early 2000s.

For existing owner occupiers the level of deposit being paid has been more stable, but also peaked during the economic downturn in 2009. Since then the level has fallen from 39% to 35%, which is similar to the level in the late 1980s. The difference in percentage deposit paid by first time buyers and existing owners has therefore narrowed over time.

The number of households in the UK, and therefore demand for housing, has increased, partly as a result of increasing population together with decreasing average household size. There were 27 million households in the UK in 2015. Of these, 29% consisted of only one person while in 1981 some 20% of the 20.2 million households were single occupancy.

Supply has also risen, with an increase of 31% in the total dwelling stock between 1980 and 2014.

The report also explains how the growth of home ownership throughout the 1980s and 1990s can be partly attributed to the introduction of Right to Buy, a policy in the UK which provides secure tenants of councils and some housing associations the legal right to purchase the home they are living in at a large discount. By 1991, more than one million council houses in England had been sold to their tenants as a result.

The rate of Right to Buy sales fell during the 1990s, and in recent years the number of owner occupancies has also slightly declined. Accompanying this decline is the continued growth of private sector renting, which more than doubled between 1980 and 2014.

The overall level of house building in the UK has declined since 1980, with 152,440 houses built in the financial year ending 2015, a fall of nearly 40% from the 251,820 built in the financial year ending 1980.

From the financial year ending 2003, the number of build completions saw a short term increase, peaking in the financial year ending 2007. Afterwards, the number of houses built dropped at the time of the economic downturn, although since the financial year ending 2013 build completions have again increased.

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BDC 305 Jun 2023