Much Ado About Housing

For quite some time now Monday mornings have usually meant catching up on the barrage of doom and glom of the weekend's press about property prices and mortgage rates. This week though, has presented a very different Monday - in both a strangely positive and yet a very "angry up the blood" type day....

For quite some time now Monday mornings have usually meant catching up on the barrage of doom and gloom of the weekend's press about property prices and mortgage rates. This week though, has presented a very different Monday - in both a strangely positive and yet a very "angry up the blood" type day.

It starts with new statistics being released from a few different sources. Firstly the Land Registry:

Region Monthly change
(since November 2010)
Annual change
(since December 2009)
Average price
(December 2010)




GBP 342,325




GBP 120,870

East Midlands



GBP 127,314

West Midlands



GBP 134,347

South East



GBP 208,799

North East



GBP 108,056

England and Wales



GBP 163,814




GBP 175,099

Yorkshire & The Humber



GBP 124,168

North West



GBP 117,217

South West



GBP 173,803

Despite continual doom-mongery by the press, UK house prices on the whole were up 1.5% YOY. When broken down by region though, the picture is very different, ranging from 3.3% drops to 6.2% gains - quite a substantial spread when you look at it.

When all pulled into context, the 6.2% rise in London is far more (on a pound-for-pound level) than the 2.7% increase in the South East.

The Halifax has "revealed" that house prices are up 91% over the past decade.

Quite what the motive is behind their statement is a little unclear, but as usual, it all revolves around "average" prices and "choice" comparison figures for good reading.

Another "hot tip" published is that experts are predicting that residential property is now tipped as a prime target for investment. Sounds great, and to a point I would agree, but then the report goes on to say almost half of the experts surveyed predict a fall in house prices, and about 12% surveyed believe there will be a drop of 6-10% in prices.

The Daily Mail has suggested that now might well be the time to become a buy to let landlord. Whilst I think we all know they are not the first people to suggest this, I doubt the public are buying this idea any more than they are buying houses at the moment.

Web giant Google has announced it is withdrawing the ability to search for property from Google Maps, citing low usage and suggesting that the property portal industry is doing a better job of it all anyway.

What does all this mean?

With respect to the Land Registry statistics, they of course can only really report the figures they have, it's then down to the press to hash them about and create stories as they see fit to sell newspapers. At a glance, the Land Registry numbers clearly show that averages can vary wildly and - looking at the current ones - are not clear enough upon which to base investment decision without further research.

House prices being up 91% in 10 years? I don't know that this is much of a surprise to anyone really, house prices have always performed well over the years - particularly when taken over a decade of time. Run the same figures again over a 3 year period and you would see a very different picture.

Residential property the next big thing? I would sincerely like to hope so however, in the real world, UK house prices for the most part will drop a little further this year - some areas much more than others, whilst London and the more affluent parts of the South East will continue to thrive - balancing out next year's numbers.

As for becoming a Buy to Let landlord? Well, at your own risk in my opinion. Why? As much as there are some favourable deals out there for mortgages, the economic stability in the UK is still questionable at present. For cash buyers, sure, it's worth doing if you have a decent plan laid out to manage everything, or are using a reputable lettings management company. Borrowing money to get into Buy to Let? Has no-one learnt from this yet? With so many landlords up to their necks in negative equity one would hope so.

Google withdrawing its property search facility is an interesting one. Although Google is known for pushing boundaries and trying things out, its withdrawal from this arena suggests that even they (with all the data they have submitted to them) can't make it a viable user tool when it comes to property hunting.

All in all, there is a lot to be said for focused information when it comes to property. Whether you are buying your first house, your 27th Buy to Let flat, or just simply trying to find out if your house has gone up in value since you bought it, specific information is paramount. Averages from here there and everywhere just don't cut it and can lead to poor decision making.

For example: An average car might cost say 10,000 pounds - if we listen to the press, it would imply that one's Bugatti Veyron is vastly overpriced, and "should be bought inline with average pricing" Granted, this is a somewhat extravagant example I know but it goes to show the ridiculousness of the press and their statistics at times.

Pedantic it might be - but the press aren't always right, and generalise far more than is arguably necessary. Contrary to the belief of the media, it is possible to buy property, either as an investment or to live in - without having to live in fear that the world will end next week. Patience, research and due diligence over hype and speculation will win every time.


- Tuesday 01 February 2011

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