Demand from new buyers weakened

Michael Lloyd

October 11, 2018

Demand from new buyers nationally has weakened slightly for the second successive month, the September 2018 RICS UK Residential Market Survey has found.

Respondents continue to cite the mixture of affordability constraints, a lack of stock, economic uncertainty and interest rate rises to be holding back activity.

Simon Rubinsohn, RICS chief economist, said: “There are a number of themes running through the comments of respondents this month but uncertainty relating to Brexit negotiations is at the very top of the list followed by references to the confidential remarks made by the Bank of England Governor to the cabinet.

“All of this is not surprisingly taking its toll on the sales market with the key activity indicator in the survey flat or slightly negative in all parts of the country apart from Northern Ireland and Wales.

“That said, the recent announcement from the Prime Minister that the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap will be abolished is a bold move which over the time could help address some of the very real challenges facing those looking to buy or rent property.

“There is no silver bullet that will immediately resolve this problem but encouraging new entrants to deliver affordable homes is certainly part of the answer.”

Looking at new buyer demand, headline enquiries slipped again during September, with the net balance falling to -11%, (-9% in August). Having remained relatively stable over the four months prior, recent results appear to be pointing to a renewed decline in new buyer enquiries.

At the same time, the volume of new sales instructions coming to the market also deteriorated for a second month running. Unsurprisingly, this leaves average stock levels on estate agents’ books close to record low levels, with limited choice likely one factor hampering demand.

In another sign of a housing market struggling for momentum, the time taken to complete a sale (from initial listing) has increased to approximately 19 weeks.

This represents the longest duration since the series was introduced back in February 2017. In terms of sales volumes, the newly agreed sales net balance remained slightly negative across the UK as a whole, moving to -9% from -13% in the previous report.

Craig McKinlay, new business director, Kensington Mortgages, said: “The UK housing market is suffering from a bottleneck effect.

“When we look at the big picture, a lack of supply coming onto market is slowing down the housing chain – discouraging homeowners from downsizing and in turn, preventing suitable properties being freed up for first time buyers or second steppers.

“With the Autumn Budget a few weeks away, it would be great to see the government offer incentives for older homeowners to downsize, for example an exemption from stamp duty.”

Regionally, the sales trend is flat to slightly negative in virtually all parts of the country. Northern Ireland and Wales were the only areas reported to have seen a rise in sales during September. Even so, this growth was relatively modest.

Looking ahead, at the national level, near term sales expectations slipped for a fourth consecutive report, and further out, over the next 12 months, sales expectations have now also turned negative on a UK-wide basis.

Those across Northern Ireland remain most optimistic with regards to the sales outlook, while, those in the South East are now the most cautious.

House prices remained more or less unchanged at the national level in September, as the headline price net balance inched down to -2%, compared with a reading of +1% in August. This is the fifth month where respondents, nationally, have reported little change in house prices.

In the national lettings market, tenant demand rose for the fourth successive month (on a non-seasonally adjusted basis).

Set against this, instructions to let remain in decline, with the survey’s series for landlord listings having been stuck in negative territory since October 2016.

Rental projections for the year ahead point to growth of just over 2%, with this rate anticipated to accelerate, averaging around 3.5% per annum, over the next five years.

In London, tenant demand has staged a sustained recovery over recent months, increasingly outstripping supply.

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