The Mood is More Positive for UK Property in 2023

The mood music surrounding the housing market appears to have become less dramatic with news from Nationwide that there could be a relatively soft landing.

The mortgage lender is predicting property prices will drop less than predicted in 2023 and very minimal after what it calls a “remarkably resilient” 2022. 

Robert Gardner, chief economist, says: “Between January and August, the average UK house price increased by almost £20,000, from £255,556 to £273,751. This performance was even more surprising since housing affordability was already stretched in several important respects. Deposit requirements had become increasingly onerous because of house prices outstripping earnings by a wide margin in recent years”. 

“But the financial market turbulence which followed the mini-Budget at the end of September represented a major shock to the housing market. The number of mortgage applications slumped towards the lows seen at the start of the pandemic as a spike in long-term interest rates quickly fed through to mortgage rates and fundamentally changed the affordability dynamic for prospective buyers.”

Now, however, the market has fully recovered from the mini-Budget shocks and Gardner thinks other factors are now slowing the market. 

“The recent weakness may, in part, reflect an early start to the usual seasonal slowdown, with potential buyers opting to wait until the New Year to see how mortgage rates evolve before looking to transact. But it will be hard for the market to regain much momentum with economic headwinds set to strengthen, as real earnings fall further, the Bank of England moves interest rates higher, and with the labour market widely projected to weaken as the economy shrinks,” he says.

“The risks are skewed to the downside, but there is still a good chance that we can achieve a relatively soft-landing next year with activity stabilising modestly below pre-pandemic levels and house prices edging lower, perhaps by around five percent.

“The Bank of England is likely to raise interest rates a little further, although in recent years most borrowers have opted for fixed-rate mortgages which are linked to longer-term interest rates that may have already peaked. If so, this will help provide some support to affordability as will solidly gain in nominal earnings growth and modestly lower house prices.

“While the labour market is expected to soften, most expect the deterioration to be modest. Many forecasters, including us, expect the unemployment rate to rise to around five percent in the years ahead – this would represent a significant rise from the current rate of 3.7 percent, but would still be low by historic standards”.

“Moreover, household balance sheets remain in good shape with significant protection from higher borrowing costs, at least for a period, with around 85 percent of mortgage balances on fixed interest rates.”

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