The latest data from the Land Registry suggests that house prices fell by 0.3% in August to £162,347 – leaving them 2.6% lower than one year ago. It was the third fall in the past four months, but with such minor fluctuations each month, it means that house prices have hardly changed at all since the end of 2010. House price stagnation is mainly due to the rationing of mortgage funds imposed by the nation’s banks and building societies, which has been in force since the banking crisis reached its height in 2008. Although there has been more demand for mortgages in the third quarter of the year, lenders are continuing to find it difficult to raise the funds in the financial markets.
However, the slight downward movement of house prices definitely does not apply in London. With a high demand for property from wealthy foreign buyers attracted by the cheap pound, they went up by 0.5% in August and are now 2.1% higher than 12 months ago, coming in at an average value of £348,686. This relatively isolated prosperity is tending to skew the national average somewhat, because in the same period, house prices fell by 7.8% in the north east and by 5.5% in Wales.
Although it is generally accepted by industry commentators that house prices are ‘too expensive’, property value is being kept artificially high by a number of factors. A growth in population since the turn of the century has driven up the number of households by 1.5 million to 26 million, putting property, whether owned or rented, in much greater demand. This, coupled with a lack of home building (only 134,000 were built in 2010), has kept house prices high and allowed landlords to hike up their rents (they now average over £700 a month in England and Wales).
Lack of sales in the market can also be put down to another reason; the vast difference between asking and selling prices. The estate agent website Rightmove said that asking prices had risen by 1.5% in September, to an average of over £233,000 – a huge gap of 44% to the actual selling price. This means that many sales are falling through because buyers and sellers cannot agree on a mutually agreeable price.