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House price growth robust in February, says the Halifax

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UK house prices continue to rise at a "robust pace", the Halifax has said - a position echoed by the latest figures from a rival lender.

The Halifax, part of Lloyds Banking Group, said property values were up 9.7% in February compared with a year ago, but down slightly on January.

The Nationwide Building Society said house price growth remained "steady".

Demand outstripping the number of homes on the market is pushing up house prices, surveys suggest.

Affordability

The Halifax said that house prices in the three months to the end of February were up 3% compared with the previous three months.

The annual rate of change of 9.7% was unchanged, with the average home valued at £209,495. The Halifax added that property prices were down 1.4% in February compared with January.

"Prices continue to rise at a robust pace driven by a significant imbalance between supply and demand. Whilst this position is likely to continue over the coming months, there are some tentative signs that the supply situation may be beginning to improve," said Martin Ellis, Halifax housing economist.

"Further ahead, increasing affordability issues, as house price increases continue to exceed wage growth, are likely to curb housing demand and cause price growth to ease."

Stamp duty change

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Separately, the latest report from the Nationwide said that house prices rose 0.3% in February from the month before.

That was the same month-on-month rate as in January, but was sharply slower than December's increase of 0.8%.

However, the annual growth rate picked up to 4.8%, compared with the figure of 4.4% the previous month.

The average price of a property is now £196,930, the Nationwide said.

The building society also said that the number of mortgages approved went up sharply in January to nearly 75,000.

This compared with about 71,000 approvals in December and was the highest number for two years.

"However, much of the increase is likely to be related to the impending increase in stamp duty on second homes, which is due to take effect in April," said the Nationwide's chief economist, Robert Gardner.

"This is likely to have brought forward a significant number of purchases, which in turn will probably result in a fall back in approvals during the spring [and] summer."

Changes to the system, announced by Chancellor George Osborne in the Autumn Statement, mean that buy-to-let landlords and owners of second homes in England and Wales will have to pay a 3% surcharge on each stamp duty band.

Key vote

Commenting on the figures, the chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, Howard Archer, said an overview of the various housing surveys indicated that prices would rise by 6% in 2016, "amid reasonably healthy buyer interest".

However, he warned that the UK's referendum on EU membership on 23 June posed a "potential major downside risk to housing market activity and prices".

He added: "A vote for Brexit would be liable to see a marked hit to UK economic activity over the rest of this year and in 2017 amid heightened uncertainties, which would likely weigh down heavily on the housing market."


House price surveys explained

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Various surveys record UK house prices on a monthly basis, but they all have slightly different methodology.

The house price index by the Nationwide Building Society is the quickest to be released. It uses an average value for properties after considering components such as location and size. The survey is based on its own mortgage lending which represents about 13% of the market.

A survey by the Halifax, now part of Lloyds Banking Group, is published a few days later. Lloyds is the biggest mortgage lender in the UK with 20% of the market and, like the Nationwide, uses its own home loan data.

Figures from the Land Registry are widely considered to be the most robust but are published much later than the lenders' data. It calculates the price change for properties that have sold multiple times since 1995. This survey only covers England and Wales.

A survey is of house prices in Scotland is published by the Registers of Scotland, using a simple average of house prices. The Land and Property Services assisted by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency produces a quarterly house price index in Northern Ireland.

The official UK statistical authority - the Office for National Statistics - is another well-regarded survey, used for reference by government. It offers a UK-wide regional breakdown. It draws on data from the regulated mortgage survey by the Council of Mortgage Lenders, so excludes cash buyers of property.

Housing market sentiment is reflected in the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) survey of some of its members.

Various other surveys include a Hometrack review of house prices in UK cities, and a Rightmove survey of asking prices.

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