Like much else, the UK property market is in a state of suspended animation as the lockdown persists.
Sales simply can’t proceed right now, following Government orders that buyers delay their purchases and activity such as surveys cease. The effect has been immediate, with the number of homes listed for sale down 90% compared to before the pandemic, according to figures from property website View My Chain, quoted in The Times last week.
None of this is a surprise. The bigger question is whether this sudden shock to property purchases triggers a longer-term change of sentiment, and a prolonged slump in property prices.
The expense and complexity of property purchases means that any price falls now may well take longer to reverse than those of other assets. Those worrying about their job security now are likely to hunker down and put off big spending decisions.
If that’s the annual summer holiday, say, it’s reasonable to expect that the demand will return quickly once economic fears ease and people can get back to work. It may take longer for home buyers to feel confident enough to proceed if they can otherwise hold off, because buying property while the economy is still weak means the house you buy could well fall in value for a period. That’s a big disincentive to buy.
Research from Deutsche Bank suggests that UK average house prices could fall by 20% as a result of Coronavirus, based on historical comparisons of previous downturns. The range of outcomes put forward by researchers was for a best-case of 9% falls, and a worst case of around 23%.
For most people, changing house prices are a zero-sum game. We all like the idea that our home is consistently ticking up in value, but a higher sale price is also likely to mean a higher buy price for your next home, so the benefit is somewhat illusory. If property wealth is handed down to the next generation, the likelihood is that younger people will have to use gains they’ve inherited to meet the higher prices they then face.
If you can avoid negative equity - where the value of equity in your home falls below the size of your mortgage balance - then lower house prices should not be feared.
The real damage from lower house prices comes to those who have bought residential property as an investment, where capital gains are pure upside.
The regime for landlords has been getting tougher, with scheduled tax increases coming into force this month that mean rates of income tax on rents are likely to increase for higher and additional rate tax payers. The Capital Gains regime on residential property has also been tightened.
Coronavirus has brought another hazard for landlords, as many cash-strapped tenants require forbearance on their rent and perhaps even rent reductions. Landlords will face granting these or else face having to find new tenants, which comes with cost and extra risk.
Important information: Investors should note that the views expressed may no longer be current and may have already been acted upon. Reference to specific securities should not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell these securities and is included for the purposes of illustration only. This information is not a personal recommendation for any particular investment. If you are unsure about the suitability of an investment you should speak to an authorised financial adviser.The value of investments and the income from them, can go down as well as up, so you may get back less than you invest.