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House price growth is at its weakest level since February 2013, rising by just 0.5 per cent in December, according to Nationwide building society. Jeremy Leaf, principal of Jeremy Leaf & Co, told The Daily Telegraph that Nationwide’s numbers were a ‘wake-up call’ for the housing market, noting that after steady progress, prices had experienced a ‘nasty bump’.
Meanwhile, the number of mortgage approvals fell to a seven-month low as Brexit concerns rattled the housing market, according to the Bank of England. Jeremy Leaf told City AM: ‘The mortgage approval figures, though a little historic, do nevertheless demonstrate some continuing resilience in the market, even at a time of huge political turmoil. However, we remain stuck in a price-sensitive, needs-driven environment, especially at this time of year, showing again a larger correction is unlikely while prices are supported by very low mortgage and unemployment rates, as well as improving affordability and stock shortages.’
Even though house price growth is more muted, it is still difficult for first-time buyers to get on the ladder, according to the Halifax. The lender added that house prices rose by 2.2 per cent in December, compared with a weak November. Jeremy Leaf told BBC News: ‘When taken with the recent fall in transactions, it is clear that the increase has more to do with a shortage of stock rather than a bounce back in the market generally.’
A growing number of first-time buyers are shrugging off uncertainty surrounding Brexit and getting on the property ladder, according to UK Finance, which reported that 36,200 new first-time buyer mortgages completed in November. Jeremy Leaf told This is Money: ‘First-time buyers are dipping their toes in the water, encouraged by improving affordability, reduced competition for smaller properties from tax and regulation-hit buy-to-let investors, some attractive mortgage deals and more stable employment prospects. There is much talk about Brexit but we find that it remains a largely London/southeast preoccupation among homebuyers.’
The big question is: what will happen to property prices this year? Jeremy Leaf told The Sun that they had seen more viewings than expected so far this year and stronger house price valuations. ‘We recorded better-than-expected viewings and valuations in early January, despite the Brexit uncertainty. On the one hand, the risk of uncertainty for the property market increases after yesterday’s vote [on Brexit] but on the other, it helps to concentrate minds on all sides as the threat of a ‘no deal’ rises, which was reflected in Sterling’s strengthening immediately after the result was announced.’