Although housing market activity has been growing modestly since the start of the year, first time buyers are now driving the market in a huge shift, according to the latest market commentary from UK Finance, for September 2017.
Overall housing market activity resembles what we saw just over two years ago, in 2015, the organisation reports.
The rise of the first time buyer
However, the mix of activity has shifted, with first time buyers driving the market, rather than cash and buy-to-let. The level of property transactions seen of late, of just over 100,000 a month since the turn of the year, is not expected to change much in the short-term, as the leading indicator of activity – house purchase approvals – has now returned to where it was at the beginning of the year.
First Time Buyers Driving the Housing Market in Huge Shift
The Bank of England’s (BoE) Agents’ survey suggests that part of the strength in first time buyer activity is down to demand for new build homes using the Help to Buy equity loan scheme. There are also several other Government schemes aimed predominantly at first time buyers, such as the Help to Buy ISA, which are no doubt helping to boost their numbers.
Benefitting much less from Government schemes, home movers have largely been treading water over the last few years. The shortage of homes on the market for sale has also meant that some would-be movers are struggling to find suitable homes, and so do not put their properties up for sale.
In the buy-to-let sector, Government interventions, coupled with regulation, have led to a flat market, with around 6,000 property purchases a month since April 2016, after the Stamp Duty surcharge on additional homes came into force.
As well as a change in the type of activity, there is some evidence to show that the regional mix has also shifted, away from London, the South East and East Anglia, towards the north of England, Wales and Scotland.
The common characteristic in this divergence is that regions that have typically been less affordable have shown signs of weaker activity, while regions that are relatively more affordable have been more buoyant. The latest Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and BoE surveys also reflected this shift.
At a regional level, the difference in affordability (as measured by the typical income multiple for homeowners) between the most and least affordable regions has diverged since 2013, with the gap doubling over this period.
This trend may reverse, and we may see some rebalancing, if the shift in activity is sustained. It’s also the case that sentiment and price expectations in regions where affordability is stretched have weakened or are negative.
On the remortgage side, strong competition and low funding costs have meant a growing number of homeowners are taking advantage of the near record low mortgage rates. UK Finance expects more homeowners to refinance in the coming months, as prospects of the first interest rate rise in over ten years gain new impetus.
Buy-to-let remortgage activity has been growing until very recently, but the number of loans made over the past 12 months has been lower compared with the previous 12 months. Tax changes that come into effect in April this year are likely to restrict the ability or willingness of landlords to re-leverage their portfolios.
Lending in August
Despite the shift in housing market activity, by buyer type and region, total mortgage lending has been stable, estimated to be £24.2 billion in August. Adjusting for seasonal factors, this figure would be £21.4 billion, which is in the same ballpark as monthly lending over the course of 2017.
While we won’t have the breakdown of August lending for some time yet, the drivers of lending are likely to be first time buyers and homeowners remortgaging, as has been the case for July. The picture in July is also similar to that of April, May and June, so a continuation doesn’t seem too unreasonable.
Looking ahead, UK Finance expects more of the same, though it anticipates that the pace of growth will slow somewhat, dampened by a potentially more challenging economic outlook.
From 30th September 2017, portfolio landlords – those with four or more buy-to-let properties – will be subject to more specialist underwriting standards when applying for a new buy-to-let mortgage. This includes looking at the landlord’s experience in the buy-to-let sector, the cashflow associated with all of their existing properties, and inspection of their business plans.
UK Finance does not expect this to cause a surge in activity before the change, followed by a lull in buy-to-let purchases.