Monday 18 December 2017

Call for price cap as UK fears expanding property bubble

The Bank of England should consider limiting yearly house price inflation to 5pc said the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
The Bank of England should consider limiting yearly house price inflation to 5pc said the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors

Vicky Shaw

A 5pc cap should be placed on annual house price growth amid fears that the UK is heading for a "bubble".

The Bank of England should consider limiting yearly house price inflation to 5pc in order to take the "froth" out of any future booms and put a stop to any "dangerous build up in household debt", said the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics).

The body argued that sending out a clear message that the Bank's Financial Policy Committee, which underpins stability, will not tolerate house price rises above a certain limit would restrict any over-the-top price expectations from sellers and discourage buyers from taking on too much debt due to fear of missing out on a house price boom.

Rics suggested the Bank could put the brakes on house price growth by, for example, imposing a ceiling on the amounts of money banks are allowed to lend.

It could put caps on the term of a mortgage, the amount people can borrow in relation to their deposit or the sum they can borrow in relation to their income, Rics argued.

Fears have been raised that a recent surge in housing market activity will result in borrowers over-stretching themselves. Recent figures from Halifax showed that house prices are 5.4pc higher than last summer and Rics has said that 40pc of surveyors have been seeing house prices rise rather than fall, the highest proportion in almost seven years.

Asking prices in London are up by 10pc year-on-year, according to recent figures from property search website Rightmove.

New Bank of England governor Mark Carney recently said the Bank is ''acutely aware'' of the potential threats and said action will be taken to clamp down on mortgage lending if needed.

Rics said similar schemes have previously been used in places such as Canada, where Mr Carney was previously Bank of Canada governor.

Rics senior economist Joshua Miller, who compiled the research, said: "The Bank of England now has the ability to take the froth out of future housing market booms, without having to resort to interest rate increases. Capping price growth at, say, 5pc is one way of doing this.

"This cap would send a clear and simple statement to the public and the banking sector, managing expectations as to how much future house prices are going to rise. We believe firmly anchored house price expectations would limit excessive risk taking and, as a result, limit an unsustainable rise in debt."

Lenders, estate agents and property websites have been reporting signs of confidence flooding back into the housing market in recent months following the launch of Government schemes such as Funding for Lending, NewBuy and Help to Buy, which have widened the availability of loans and fuelled a price war among mortgage providers.

Figures released by the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority earlier this week showed that the typical rate on a new mortgage dropped to a record low of 3.47pc in the second quarter of this year.

Funding for Lending has given lenders access to cheap finance in order to help borrowers, while NewBuy and Help to Buy are specifically aimed at giving people with deposits as low as 5pc a helping hand to buy a property.

Rics has said that the number of homes on the market is not enough to keep up with the "sheer weight of demand", which is also putting an upward pressure on prices.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) recently said that talk of a housing boom was "premature".

In its regular "news and views" release, it said that while the housing and mortgage markets are showing "some initial signs of recovery this summer", current house sales are still at lower levels than they were when the UK was recovering from a downturn in the early 1990s. It pointed out that transactions are still running at around two-thirds of pre-crisis levels.

Toughened mortgage lending rules will come into force in April next year, to ensure home owners can only take out mortgages they can afford to pay back.

Financial expert Ros Altmann suggested that more incentives for house-building to increase the supply of homes would also reduce the upward pressure on prices.

She said: "Currently, there is a resurgence of 95pc loan-to-value mortgages, which are exposing borrowers to significant risks when the housing bubble bursts.

"Stricter criteria for responsible lending would help to curb some of the excess.

"Having just endured such a major crisis that resulted from over-exuberant lending and borrowing and rising property prices, we must not make the same mistakes again."

Campbell Robb, of housing charity Shelter, said: "Our current housing market is not fit for purpose and schemes such as Help to Buy (taxpayer underwritten mortgages) only serve to make things worse by pumping more money into a constrained market.

"Our research shows that it simply won't help the people that need it. Almost eight in ten of families in England who are on a low to middle income (up to £40,000) could not afford a family home with a 95pc Help to Buy mortgage.

"Rics are right to call on the Government to get a grip on runaway house prices. With every rise in house prices, even more young people and families find themselves priced out of a home of their own, and trapped in an unstable private rented property.

"The Government needs to focus on actually helping ordinary families by building quality affordable homes available to them on shared ownership or to rent."

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