2021 has again seen property prices continue to increase with notable peaks in both June and September. The average price of a house in June, according to the Rightmove House Index reached a record £338,462, though at only £15 higher than the previous record set in July, it is potentially a sign that prices are now stabilising.
Though prices are already high, we still expect positive growth over the next 12 months, albeit at a slower rate than we have experienced over the last year. While the end of stamp duty incentives may dampen demand for a period, interest rates remain historically low and mortgage availability remains robust. And even with the lifting of lockdown restrictions, the desire for more space amongst homeowners looks set to continue as a result of the pandemic.
As a nation, we are obsessed with home ownership and house prices, as so many of us view a house as both a home and an investment. At Downing, we take our role as responsible investors very seriously and look to help support the UK's housing needs, so as many people as possible can achieve the dream of having a home and their own asset. To make this happen, we focus on making secured loans to property developers delivering residential-led schemes nationwide. Additionally, we also provide wholesale finance solutions to fund bridging lenders in order to provide greater support to SME developers through a different funding strategy.
The wider context
From a governmental standpoint, initiatives are typically focused on the demand side of the housing market. At Downing, we would like to see more government support that looks instead at the supply side as the disparity between supply and demand continues to push up house prices. Outlined in a recent Financial Times article here, Sid Bhushan, economist at Goldman Sachs, is quoted: “One under-appreciated reason for the price boom is that housing supply is very tight. Housing inventories remain near historic lows in the US, Canada and the UK, while shortages of building materials and labour have hampered construction, “exacerbating the housing shortage”.
With the number of properties on the market not replenishing those that are being sold and the number of people looking to buy a property being 20.5% higher than the average for 2020, new housing has got to be a priority. As senior lenders, we aim to play our part in helping SME developers build mass market housing which is less subject to pricing volatility. And with new houses increasingly in demand, we see this as an important social factor for the wider economy and betterment of society. We would like to engage with the government to reform policies around planning and housing delivery in the UK.
In the House of Commons library, it states that “Governments since 2015 have pursued both supply-side and demand-side measures. There has been, and continues to be, a desire to increase home ownership, particularly amongst first-time buyers... There is an expectation that most new building will be carried out by the private sector. To this end, much Government effort to stimulate house-building has been focused on planning measures to ‘make the system more open and accessible and tackle unnecessary delays.’ Broadly, developers with planning permission are expected to use it and local authorities are expected to have an up-to-date plan in place based on an objective assessment of housing need within the area.”
We welcome all initiatives that support increasing housing supply in the UK as more homes mean prices are likely to remain stable. As lenders, we want to see a stable housing market that encourages sustainable price growth year on year and is supported by economic fundamentals, such as healthy supply and demand and a robust employment market. A volatile market with steep house price increases over short time frames will eventually lead to a more severe fall in prices and/or an imbalance in the market, which I think we can all agree should be avoided.
Increasing the supply of housing is one of our primary objectives here at Downing, and our recent deals reflect how we are driving this. These include two transactions in Birmingham - a £12 million loan towards the construction of 80 new residential apartments in the Digbeth area and an £8 million loan to support the construction of six new commercial units alongside 37 residential apartments in the Jewellery Quarter.
It’s likely that the real impact of the pandemic on the property market has still not been felt. As government schemes unwind and the dynamic between home working and office working continues to evolve, any structural impact on housing demand remains unknown as does the impact on the wealth of households, incomes and interest rates. With the private sector and companies such as Downing being an important driver for stimulating the construction of new homes, it’s our hope that the government will announce new initiatives to support this without excessive red tape to hinder the process. This should help create a more stable housing market that benefits everyone in the future.