By Chiraag Patel, Senior Credit Specialist at
Nedbank Private Wealth
Soaring energy prices and crippling inflation are fuelling fears of a recession. As the Bank of England responds by raising interest rates, what impact will this have on the UK’s residential property market?
March 2023 saw the consumer prices index, the UK’s preferred measure of inflation, drop to 10.4% down from 10.7% in November, still close the 40-year high set in July.
The Bank of England continues to respond with aggressive monetary tightening – hiking the base rate of interest from 4% to 4.25% in March – the highest level for 15 years. This marks the central bank’s eleventh increase since December 2021, as it attempts to get a grip on spiralling inflation. Any increase in the Bank of England’s base rate quickly feeds through to increased loan and mortgage rates, so the cost of borrowing rises.
This situation was exacerbated last year by the new UK government’s unfunded mini-budget, which sent financial markets into turmoil at the end of September 2022. A rapid rise in gilt yields prompted mayhem in mortgage markets as lenders rapidly withdrew products in response to the soaring cost of funding them. The Bank of England stepped in to stabilise gilt markets, but the political and economic aftershocks are still playing out and the volatility and uncertainty are not good for the housing market.
The more affluent house buyers have certainly not been deterred by rising interest rates. In November 2022, property group, Savills released its five-year forecast for the UK’s prime housing markets, which reflected strong levels of activity, despite the backdrop of international and domestic uncertainty. The firm expects prime central London prices to rise by 13.5% over the next five years to 2027 as international buyers are expected to return, particularly if sterling continues its downward trend which makes UK property more appealing.
Although annual average house prices in the UK had continued to increase up to June 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics, there are signs they are slowing. The outlook for both interest rates and real incomes remains negative. The GfK consumer sentiment indicator, a snapshot of how UK consumers feel about the economic outlook over the next 12 months, was already at a record low of -44 in August last year.
While rising interest rates, falling consumer confidence and the cost of living are all serious risk indicators, why is their impact on the housing market still muted?
The fact is there are other aspects of the housing market that give grounds for more optimism.
Interest rates are still low
Interest rates, while rising fast, are still relatively low. Between 1971 and 2022, interest rates have averaged 7.15% – from an all-time high of 17% in November 1979, when Margaret Thatcher’s government was battling inflation, to a record low of 0.10% in March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Housing supply remains constrained
As we mentioned earlier, demand continues to exceed supply and unless the government has plans for a massive house building programme, this is unlikely to change anytime soon.
Cash buyers and fixed rate mortgages
About a third of homes are bought with cash, and around three quarters of borrowers are protected in the short term by a fixed-rate mortgage. With more than 90% of new borrowers choosing this option, a sizeable majority of borrowers will not feel the effects of the base rate rises until they need to renew their current deal.
More stringent borrowing criteria
As always, the lower end of the market will be most vulnerable to rising interest rates. Although mass repossessions are less likely since lenders introduced more stringent affordability tests in the wake of the global financial crisis, and the current labour market remains tight. Unemployment levels are at an almost 50-year low, at 3.7% for November 2022 to January 2023.
The high end of the market remains buoyant
Not everyone is struggling to get by and as the Savills forecasts show, the market in prime locations is expected to remain buoyant, particularly for properties above £5 million. This section of the market is less reliant on borrowing, so less likely to be impacted by further interest rate rises.
We are likely to see a fall in transactions in the wider market, though, as buyers hold back in the face of rapidly rising mortgage rates and escalating energy costs, which could serve to dampen overall demand.
Predicting the future of UK property prices is notoriously difficult because for nearly two decades governments have frequently intervened to boost prices when growth has stalled. However, with soaring energy prices, a cost-of-living crisis and its own political problems to contend with, will this government have the capacity to support homeowners as well?
Opinions vary on how the current economic disruption will play out in the UK property market but, as with any investment, it always pays to take a long-term view.
Nedbank Private Wealth Limited is licensed by the Financial Conduct Authority to provide regulated mortgages in the UK. If your client fails to keep up loan repayments, the home or the assets used to secure the loan may be at risk.
Nedbank Private Wealth, a registered trade name of Nedbank Private Wealth Limited, is licensed by the Isle of Man Financial Services Authority. Registered office: St Mary’s Court 20 Hill Street Douglas Isle of Man.