The British property market – in common with many other business sectors – is going through a real period of uncertainty at the moment. While it might be easy to blame such uncertainties on the inevitable economic ripples following the Brexit vote – and it’s true that the momentous referendum decision forms at least part of the equation – in reality there are a number of current and future factors which, in the short term, could see the housing market wobble. A number of commentators in recent weeks and months have indicated that the property market in at least some parts of the UK – and within London in particular – could be due for a sharp price correction in the near future.
Various analysts have warned that the ongoing economic policy of quantitative easing has contributed to a property bubble. Earlier this year Telegraph financial journalist John Ficenec asserted that quantitative easing – which he described as “the greatest money printing experiment in history” – has directly contributed to inflated house prices, and that it’s only a matter of time before the property market experiences the same price tumble that has already been seen in other assets (such as oil prices, which had plunged to dramatic lows at the time of Ficenic’s article).
Obviously, the overall political and economic picture has changed since the Brexit referendum, and indeed the past couple of weeks have seen indicators that the government’s Autumn Statement, due to be delivered next month, will see a deliberate policy shift away from quantitative easing. But regardless of how that may play out, many believe that the property bubble is real, and that it’s due to burst.
There are particular concerns for London’s housing market, where prices in many areas have been driven up by a level of demand – from both domestic homebuyers and overseas investors – which has spectacularly outstripped the available supply. A recent report by Swiss investment bank UBS put London second (behind Vancouver) in a list of global cities with property markets most at risk of a bubble. Prices at the high end of the capital’s property market have already shown signs of stagnation, and the UBS report warns that a number of economic indicators “point to the risk of a substantial price correction”.
Forthcoming buy-to-let tax changes may also trigger shifts in the market that will almost certainly see house prices affected. The new buy-to-let tax regime, due to be phased in between 2017 and 2020, means that tax relief on mortgage interest payments will only be given at the 20 per cent basic rate, even for higher rate (40 per cent) and additional rate (45 per cent) taxpayers. According to some commentators, that hit on buy-to-let profitability will see many property investors back out of the market, potentially dumping entire portfolios and leading to a sudden surplus of supply that, according to Landlord Mortgages owner Lee Grandin, “could well be the catalyst for a major price correction”.
While some consider such talk of a price crash exaggerated, there certainly seem to be signs that a correction is at least a possibility. It remains to be seen whether governmental policy changes under new PM Theresa May and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond will do anything to lessen – or increase – the likelihood of this occurring.