Published: 23 January 2017 | Author: Mohammad Jamei
But little is said about movers, arguably the biggest casualty of low housing market turnover.
In the past, we would go through a cycle of trading up, which allowed the generation that came after us to occupy those homes. We moved often and had a liquid housing market, with around 1.6 million transactions a year in the early 2000s.
The financial crisis brought about an abrupt end to this. We now see an average of 1.2 million transactions annually, with prospects of a meaningful recovery in the number of transactions looking increasingly slim. Our own forecasts expect transaction numbers to fall this year and next.
The number of first-time buyers fell by a similar order of magnitude to that of movers during the crisis. But, since then, the two groups have performed very differently. While the number of first-time buyers has increased by 63% since its post-crisis low, mover numbers have only gone up by 17%.
The chart below shows the four components that make up transactions, indexed at the start of 2007 to make comparisons easier.
Chart 1: Indexed activity levels (2007Q1 = 100)
Two groups of purchasers that haven’t been discussed up until now are cash buyers and buy-to-let landlords. Cash transactions experienced a less pronounced fall in activity after the crisis, and are the only group that has recovered to a level higher than its pre-crisis peak. Buy-to-let purchases saw a sharper downturn, but have bounced back since, though they look set to contract over the next few years.
Out of the four, movers have been the worst performers.
It’s widely accepted that to fix the housing market in the UK, we need a holistic approach. But, while the government has introduced schemes that predominantly help first-time buyers (Help to Buy equity loan and Help to Buy mortgage guarantee), movers have largely been left to fend for themselves.
Help for movers?
You might say that first-time buyers have it much harder, and so need more help. This may be true in part but, at any point in time, the vast majority of properties coming on the market for sale are from existing home-owners, not newly built properties. If this cohort of people can’t move, they don’t put properties on the market, which means they hold up everyone behind them.
This undersupply of properties for sale also pushes up prices, as a growing number of would-be buyers bid for a small pool of available properties.
Then there’s the economist’s point that low turnover reinforces inefficient use of the housing stock. But it has the very real consequence that people end up living in homes which aren’t necessarily suited for them, either because they are too small (growing families who can’t trade up), or too big (those who wish to downsize and retire). This also means less stamp duty revenue for the government.
So, how do we solve this?
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there is no easy fix.
Even if we manage to build 250,000 new homes a year for the next decade, more than 90% of the housing stock that would exist in 2026 has already been built. So, we need to encourage better use of the current stock of houses.
There’s also the option that government could intervene and help those stuck in the middle, as it has done to help first-time buyers. Helping movers could also have the added benefit of making more properties available for first-time buyers.
But perhaps most importantly, we should first recognise that there is an issue here that needs to be addressed and discussed more widely.