The Nationwide Building Society has revealed that house prices in the UK rose by 0.5% in July and, as a result, the annual rate of house price growth was little changed at 5.2%, compared with 5.1% in June.
Robert Gardner, the Nationwide’s chief economist, said: “This is the first month’s data following the EU referendum. However, it is important to note that, in constructing the index, we use data at the mortgage offer stage – this means any impact from the vote may not be fully evident in July’s figures, as there is a short lag between a buyer making the decision to purchase a property and applying for a mortgage.
“It will be tempting for commentators to assign any trends in the coming months to the impact of the referendum. Housing market transactions were always likely to soften over the summer after the surge in activity in March, as buyers brought forward purchases of second homes to avoid the stamp duty levy, which took effect in April. Determining how much of any fall-back in activity is the result of the tax changes and how much is due to the referendum will be difficult.
“In the near term, increased economic uncertainty may lead to weaker demand for homes. Leading indicators are consistent with softening ahead. Household confidence fell sharply in the wake of the referendum result, especially attitudes towards making major purchases, which in the past has correlated with mortgage activity, though less closely in recent years. In the run up to the vote the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) reported declines in new buyer enquiries and expectations of weaker price growth amongst surveyors, though these trends pre- date the vote and are likely to have been impacted by the recent tax changes as well as the referendum.
“How the labour market evolves will be crucial in determining the demand for homes in the quarters ahead. It is encouraging that conditions were robust in the run up to the vote, with the unemployment rate falling to a 10-year low in the three months to May. The decline in long term interest rates to new all-time lows in recent weeks should also help to keep borrowing costs low and provide some support for demand.
“Even if there is a fall back in demand as a result of economic uncertainty, the impact on house prices is not certain, as potential sellers may also hold off from placing their properties on the market. The stock of homes on estate agents’ books is already close to its lowest levels for 30 years, and surveyors have reported a decline in new instructions to sell alongside a fall in buyer enquiries. Moreover, housebuilders may react to the uncertainty by delaying construction, even though home building is already failing to keep up with the natural increase in the population.”