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House prices across the UK are holding up better than most experts had thought, with the latest data suggesting that, after wobbling at the end of last year, they have stabilised so far in 2023.
The average UK house price was £285,476 in February, according to Halifax’s most recent house price index — 2.1 per cent higher than this time last year. That annual rate of house price inflation has held steady for three months in a row.
Prices rose 1.1 per cent between January and February, whereas economists had expected prices to register a small decline of about 0.3 per cent.
“Recent reductions in mortgage rates, improving consumer confidence, and a continuing resilience in the labour market are arguably helping to stabilise prices following the falls seen in November and December,” Kim Kinnaird, director of Halifax Mortgages, said.
Halifax’s data goes against what was reported last week by Nationwide, which estimated that prices fell for the sixth consecutive month in February and were now 1.1 per cent below where they were at the start of 2022.
Halifax and Nationwide base their reports on their own mortgage approvals, meaning that cash buyers — a small but meaningful part of the market — are excluded. Nationwide excludes buy-to-let mortgages too.
Anthony Codling, a former property industry analyst in the City, said Halifax’s numbers were “bucking the recent trend”. He added: “This is not the script the house price bears have been following and suggests the housing market is not as bleak as they may think.”
House prices are now about 3 per cent below their August peak, Halifax said, but that is not as bad as some economists had feared back in the autumn.
Property prices surged during the pandemic amid the “race for space” as many people, having been confined to their homes for weeks on end, looked to move to a bigger house with more garden space and room for a home office.
However, demand fell suddenly and sharply towards the end of September as the increased uncertainty and spiralling mortgage rates brought on by the mini-budget sent consumer confidence tumbling.
On Halifax’s measure, house prices fell for four straight months between September and December. The annual rate of house price inflation, which had peaked at 12.5 per cent in the summer, had dropped to 2.1 per cent by the end of 2022.
“In cash terms, house prices . . . remain almost £9,000 above the average prices seen at the start of 2022 and are still above pre-pandemic levels, meaning most sellers will retain price gains made during the pandemic,” Kinnaird said.
She warned, however, that with house prices remaining higher than expected, “affordability will continue to feel challenging for many buyers”.
The property market in London is struggling the most, Halifax’s data showed. House prices in the capital are 0.9 per cent below where they were this time last year. By contrast, in Northern Ireland, prices are still 5.7 per cent higher compared with 12 months ago.
Halifax suggested that London was being affected by its large proportion of flats, values of which have declined by 0.3 per cent on average over the past year. Prices of terraced houses have broadly flatlined compared with this time last year, while detached houses are worth 1.5 per cent more.