UK House Prices & Covid-19

moving boxes

We've seen an upturn in sentiment and prices over the past few months, primarily due to clarity on Brexit and the Conservative victory in the general election.

But will the Coronavirus pandemic see this recovery slowing down as the lockdown announced on March 23 takes effect and fewer people buy and sell homes?

The market this year so far
December's general election saw less of a 'dead cat bounce' and more of a 'Boris Bounce'. Supported by data from HM Revenue & Customs, which shows residential property transactions increased by 12.7% year-on-year in January, with a total of 102,810 sales.

So while many people wish they could turn the clock back to pre-Coronavirus, the figures are far from lousy.

The Government's statistics are borne out by Rightmove, who saw a 7 per cent increase in traffic to its site and the number of agreed sales rise by 12% in January. RICS also commented this week that house price inflation is gathering pace amid higher demand from buyers.

House prices in 2020
The best indicator of house prices is the Land Registry's UK House Price Index. Unfortunately, it is retrospective only reporting up to December 2019 but shows that overall prices rose 0.3% month-on-month and 2.2% year-on-year. January's index is due next week (w/c March 30 2020).

Will Covid-19 affect house prices?
Cut through the fear and panic (all markets hate uncertainty, remember?), and it's too early to say accurately how the outbreak will affect the market. Suffice to say; it is likely to mirror the rest of the economy in the short term and stall while we all go into Boris' initial three-week lockdown.

As all but frontline health staff and other keyworkers, self-isolate logic suggests fewer properties will come to market. It also means no buyers (should be) viewing and bidding on homes. In short, we will be staying put for longer - but this just echos the stasis we witnessed through the three years of Brexit uncertainty.

Fewer sales could see house price growth slow down, but it's highly unlikely we'll witness a crash in prices. Again – as with Brexit – the market will pick up again after an initial period of uncertainty. Those looking to move imminently may face a battle simply because of a lack of homes on the market.

With estate agents also shutting up shop, the traditionally strong Spring market is not going to materialise. Those embracing proptech solutions such as 360-degree virtual viewings won't fair much better unless they already have a back catalogue to show. Besides, nearly all buyers are going to want to 'kick the tyres' in person. Those agents who rely on third-party service providers such as Viewber, are no better off, having seen all appointments cancelled until further notice. But this too shall pass.

Coronavirus and mortgages
The good news is that it's a great time to get a mortgage or to remortgage with rates at historic lows as the Bank of England's decision to cut the UK's base rate to a historic low of 0.1%.

Those on the cheapest percentages won't see much/any change, but borrowers on tracker deals will benefit. Even those with small (ten per cent or less) deposits may find a better rate. But don't get too silly - there's not going to be a return to 100 per cent mortgages - not with so much uncertainty out there.

Couple these low rates to the Government's announcement that homeowners hit by the Coronavirus may benefit from mortgage repayment holidays of up to three months. Proposals from lenders so far include deferring interest payments, extending the term of the mortgage or moving to interest-only basis for a short time.

It seems most likely that, if everyone keeps calm and carries on, that the current unprecedented circumstances are more of a pause than the start a full-on crash for house prices in the UK.

Stay safe and well and see you on the other side.

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