UK house prices rise unexpectedly for third month in a row, by 0.8%

UK house prices rose unexpectedly for a third month in a row in March in a sign of “resilience” in the market according to the latest report from Halifax.

The lender said the average price rose by 0.8% month on month, to £287,880, which followed rises of 0.2% and 1.2% in January and February.

The increase defied economists’ expectations of a 0.3% fall.

Over the past 12 months house price growth has eased to 1.6%, its slowest rate since October 2019, Halifax said on Thursday, but prices rose in every region of the UK during March.

Economists have been waiting to see the extent of the slowdown in the British housing market amid high inflation and rising interest rates by central banks in response.

Kim Kinnaird, director of Halifax Mortgages, said the market had been helped by the easing in borrowing costs since the “sudden spike” in November and December. That increase was caused by the chaos following the disastrous mini-budget of Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng, but rates fell back after they were replaced as prime minister and chancellor respectively.

Kinnaird said that “overall these latest figures continue to suggest relative stability in the housing market at the start of 2023”.

She said there had been a “partial recovery in activity and transactions, especially when compared to the significant drops seen at the end of last year, with latest Bank of England data showing mortgage approvals rising for the first time in six months”.

Similar data from Nationwide, the UK’s largest building society, last week suggested that house prices fell at their fastest rate since the global financial crisis in 2009. However, despite the pressures on potential buyers, average prices have remained near the record levels of last year, albeit after a small dip. The transactions tracked by Halifax are £30,000 larger on average than those tracked by Nationwide.

Martin Beck, chief economic adviser to the EY Item Club, a forecaster, said he still expected prices to “drift down this year” to more affordable levels, but added that there were some reasons why prices could be holding up.

“A rise in mortgage approvals in February and better survey data on transactions of late suggests that weakness in housing market activity may have bottomed out,” he said. “The economy is showing increased signs of health, aided by falling energy prices, with job creation continuing at a solid pace and consumer confidence recovering.”

UK consumer prices index inflation rose in February to 10.4%, near the 41-year-high level of 11.1% hit in October. However, it is expected to slow in the coming months as energy prices decelerate. That could give households more financial headroom.

At the same time, Kinnaird noted that mortgage costs are unlikely to get significantly cheaper in the short-term. The Bank of England last month raised interest rates for an 11th consecutive time, to 4.25%, and investors expect further rate increases to come.

Although some members of its monetary policy committee are already thinking about when rates should fall back, the Bank’s chief economist, Huw Pill, this week said the policymakers needed to keep rates high enough for long enough to ensure that inflation falls back towards its 2% target.

Source: The Guardian, Jasper Jolly, 6th April 2023