Despite looming Brexit, house prices in the UK increased by 2.8% in the 12 months to February 2019, taking the average price to £236,800, the latest lender index shows.

Month on month prices were up 5.9% and quarter on quarter they were up by 1.8%, suggesting a stronger than expected start to the year with Brexit less than a month away, according to the Halifax figures.

Russell Galley, Halifax managing director, pointed out that house prices have grown on an annual, quarterly and monthly basis for the first time since October 2018. He believes that it is the shortage of supply that is supporting growth.

He also pointed out, however, that while annual house price growth at 2.8% is within Halifax’s expectations, it is fairly subdued compared to 2015 and 2016, when the average growth rate was 8.3%.

Russell Galley added:

‘People are still facing challenges in raising a deposit which means we continue to expect subdued price growth for the time being. However, the number of sales in January was right on the five-year average and, at over 100,000 for the fifth consecutive month, the overall resilience of the market is still evident.’

According to Dilpreet Bhagrath, mortgage expert at Trussle, while the figures look positive, it is not so good that home owners seem reluctant to move, with many adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach to see how any Brexit deal might affect the market.

Dilpreet Bhagrath said:

‘Buyers, particularly those looking to get on the ladder for the first time, shouldn’t be put off by rising prices. There are still good offers to be had in some areas of the country. Potential buyers who are concerned about the economic impact of Brexit should also be considering their own current and future circumstances when it comes to mortgaging. Opting for a fixed-rate mortgage may give provide more stability as they’ll know how much their payments are each month.’

But whatever happens with Brexit will be the test for the housing market, according to Sam Mitchell, chief executive officer of online estate agents Housesimple.

Sam Mitchell said:

‘Even with an acceptable exit deal in place, house prices are likely to face some heavy turbulence. But it’s nothing the property market can’t take in its stride.

‘We can’t say with any degree of certainty how buyers and sellers are going to respond over the coming weeks, especially if a no-deal becomes the most likely outcome. There’s some evidence to suggest that sellers and buyers have already decided to wait, particularly in and around London.’

He also pointed out that sales activity in the North West of England and Yorkshire alone is strong and there could still be a post Brexit bounce.

Sam Mitchell explained:

‘Far too much has been made of stalling price growth in the capital and the part Brexit has played, when in fact London was already showing signs of running out of steam well before politicians started squabbling around the Brexit table. The danger is that stuttering house price growth in London sets the tone for the whole country.

‘And the strength of regional property markets in the north, buoyed by strong first-time buyer and investor numbers, is an encouraging sign that the performance of the UK’s housing market is not determined by what’s happening within the M25.’


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The planning permission process in the UK needs to be urgently reformed and speeded up and the Government needs to work more closely with local authorities to help boost the number of new homes being built, it is suggested.

Responding to a hard-hitting report from the National Audit Office that criticised the planning system, saying it cannot meet needs, groups representing builders say that more action is needed to meet the target of 300,000 new homes a year.

The National Federation of Builders (NFB), pointed out that meeting the target would mean building 820 new home every day and currently that is not realistic.

The group points out that the ‘flawed’ method of assessing local housing need should be updated and the Government should ensure local plans are robust and allocate deliverable sites.

They are also calling or further reform of the process of planning permission and say that the Government needs to work directly with local authorities and help developers access finance after they secure planning permission.

Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB:

‘We cannot build 820 new homes every day unless we are realistic about demand. Decades of failure are no excuse. We need action, not reviews. The Government must learn from Homes England’s experiences.’

According to Rico Wojtulewicz, head of housing and planning policy at the House Builders Association (HBA), real reform is needed. He said that so far ‘reform’ has amounted to ‘tinkering’.

Rico Wojtulewicz said:

‘Even if we correctly assess demand, unless we allocate deliverable sites and grant permissions, shovels won’t get into the ground. We have tinkered for years, it’s time for the Government to get real and actually reform the entire planning process.’

Others point out it is not just numbers, that it is also where homes are needed and what kind of homes. According to Nick Sanderson, chief executive of the Audley Group, the whole focus is wrong.

Nick Sanderson said:

‘It’s too focused on building more and more houses. Yes, we need more housing supply. But we can do that by ending house blocking. By freeing up family homes that already exist we can prevent the property market grinding to a complete standstill, and people houses to live in.

‘House builders and government alike are ignoring where the greatest potential in the market sits: the over 55s. Two in five UK homes are under occupied, in the main due to lack of quality accommodation for older people to move into.

‘If we truly want to kick start movement in the market we need to end the in-fighting and indecision, stop plastering over the cracks and invest in quality housing options for the older generation.’


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It will be trialled later this year, Housing Minister Heather Wheeler told the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) annual conference. The aim is to develop a standard reservation agreement and officials are working with the industry led Home Buying and Selling Group and there could be compensation for those who lose money as a result of failed sale.

Wheeler pointed out that research from the Department for Business shows that 70% of buyers and 66% of sellers thought their sale wouldn’t go through to completion, even after the offer was accepted.


‘Too many people are walking on a tightrope from the moment they put in that offer. Things can happen over 19 weeks that can genuinely scupper a move and I wouldn’t want to force anyone to move if they don’t want to.

‘But I also don’t want people pulling out without consequences, just because they’ve now decided they don’t like the avocado bathroom suite. When this happens, it can take a whole chain down.

‘We want to increase people’s commitment by ensuring that they’ve got some skin in the game. While an agreement can’t compensate the emotional stress of a failed transaction, people should be able to recover their costs.’

She also pointed out that Government research shows that 50% of buyers and 70% of sellers would have been prepared to enter into a legal agreement, if they had known it existed.


‘We’re commissioning behavioural insight research to help us design an agreement that’s supported by consumers and industry alike, and we’ll be running a field trial later this year.’

She also talked about other ways that the buying and selling process can be speeded up. She revealed that after writing to local authorities last year to set out expectations that they will turn around property searches within 10 working days, now more than 80% of local authorities are hitting this target with the quickest doing so in under a day.


‘We still have a way to go to speed things up, especially where leaseholds are concerned. Having a leasehold property in the chain can add at least an extra week, due to difficulties getting information from freeholders and managing agents.

‘As it stands, there aren’t any guidelines around the provision of this information, leaving leaseholders at the mercy of freeholders, who can charge whatever they like and take as long as they like.

‘We’re changing this, setting out a timetable and fees for providing this information.

This will also include a fee to update this information, as I know conveyancers begin to get nervous when data starts getting old.’

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 Gross mortgage lending across the residential market in the UK was 4.7% higher in December 2018 than in the same month in the previous year, new figures show.

It reached £21.1 billion in December and during 2018 as a whole it was £267.5 billion, some 3.8% higher than in 2017, according to the date from industry group UK Finance.

However, lending from the High Street banks has fallen, with the number of mortgages approved 2.4% lower in December than the same month the previous year.

A breakdown of the figures shows that approvals for home purchase were 5.3% higher, remortgage approvals were 5.8% lower and approvals for other secured borrowing were 18.9% lower.

Eric Leenders, managing director of personal finance at UK Finance, said:

‘Mortgage lending grew in December compared to the previous year, with borrowers defying seasonal trends and purchasing a property throughout the festive period.’

The fall in mortgage approvals was widely expected, particularly given the time of year and with the addition of political uncertainty still hanging over the market, according to Alastair McKee, managing director of One77 Mortgages.

Alastair McKee said:

‘Previous to this drop, we’ve seen mortgage approvals start to build over consecutive months at the back end of 2018 which is a clear indicator of growing buyer momentum.’

He also pointed out that the overall positive increase in market activity has been noticed at ground level with a strong uplift in buyer enquiries and commitment to products across the board, which has been lacking in previous months.

McKee added:

‘However, while this initial spark may be enough to start the engines, it can’t fuel the UK property powerhouse in the long term unless it converts to completed sales. With many sellers refraining from the reality of current market conditions in terms of asking price, it could be a few months yet until any notable indicators of market stability filter through.’

Mike Scott, chief property analyst at online estate agent Yopa, believes that the figures signal that the housing market could get off to a good start in 2019, citing the 5.3% rise in mortgage approvals as ‘a significant increase’.

Mike Scott said:

‘This should mean that the housing market gets off to a strong start in 2019 as those mortgage approvals progress and turn into actual house purchases.’

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