House prices are down for the third month in a row, and the annual rate of growth has now fallen for almost a solid year – 11 months in succession, according to the latest house price index from Your Move and Acadata.
It now stands at just 1%, down from 9% at its height in February 2016.
Many areas continue to prove resilient. Excluding London and the South East, prices in England and Wales remain 3% up on the same time last year, and only London is currently recording an annual fall in prices.
Overall, the average price in England and Wales at the end of April stood at £302,252, up from £299,374 a year ago.
While annual price growth continues to fall, the decline is slowing. Whether the same is true for transactions remains to be seen: estimated sales of 50,000 in April were down by a quarter on March, significantly greater than the usual 5% seasonal decline.
The report said some of this is likely due to the ‘Beast from the East’ at the end of February hitting house- hunting activity that would now be reaching fruition. However, muted activity is also underpinned by a real shortage of properties being put up for sale. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ New Instruction indicator for April continued to decline, and average stock levels on estate agents’ books remain close to all-time lows.
If the slowdown in the market persists keeping price growth low, it should at least help first time buyers struggling to get on the property ladder, Your Move said. As the report of the Intergenerational Commission published by the Resolution Foundation in May noted, four in 10 millennial families at age 30 now live in private rented accommodation, compared to just one in ten for the baby boomers when they were the same age.
Oliver Blake, Managing Director of Your Move and Reeds Rains estate agents said: “London remains the exception, rather than the rule when it comes to the strength of the market in the major cities of England & Wales, which remain strong. The market remains slow, though, when it comes to the number of transactions.”
Compared to London, the housing market in the rest of England and Wales looks robust. About three quarters of all unitary authorities (80 out of 108) have recorded a price rise over the last year. A number continue to record fairly strong growth, including the East Midlands and North East, both up 3.9% annually, and the North West, up 3.6%.
Most striking of all, though, is Wales, where prices have grown 4.8% annually. Cardiff and Swansea are up 9.7%, the Vale of Glamorgan 10.2%, Torfaen 10.4%, and Monmouthshire 11.3%: these are the top five annual price increases in the whole of England and Wales after the 13.6% price growth in North Somerset.
There’s a simple explanation for this stellar performance: forestalling. Wales introduced a new Land Transaction Tax in April, starting at a higher base, of £180,000, than stamp duty in England (£125,000) but at a higher rate, particularly for properties priced £400,000 to £925,000, with tax rates at 7.5% and 10%. Anticipating this, buyers have brought forward purchases of high value homes to avoid the new tax, just as they did ahead of the stamp duty hike in April 2016.
Consequently, six of the eight most expensive local authority areas in Wales set a new peak price in March, including Monmouthshire, the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff, as well as Powys and Newport, up 5.5% and 8.0% annually, respectively. Such high price growth in Wales is likely to prove short-lived.
Strength elsewhere is less obviously illusory, however. Major cities other than Cardiff have also set new peak prices in the month. They include Merseyside in the North West, up 3.9% annually; Tyne and Wear in the North East (5.4%); the West Midlands conurbation, which includes Birmingham, up 5.2%; and Derby in the East Midlands (2.4%).
Overall, 27 unitary authorities set a new peak average price in March, with seven of them in Wales. At the other end of the scale, Windsor and Maidenhead in the South East has seen the biggest annual fall in prices – down 9.2%. Perhaps tellingly, the area also has the highest average house prices outside London, at £542,285.