Be Wary of House Market Journalism

Anyone with an interest in the house market in Scotland must find some of the recent published articles confusing.  One headline claimed “Scotland bucks the trend as house prices hit new highs”.  Yet this article had been preceded only a week before by a property “expert” claiming prices and the housing market would be depressed for up to five years!  Both cannot be right – so what is the layman to make of all this? Well the first thing to note is that there is no single Scottish house market.  The market for a city centre flat in Aberdeen will have few characteristics in common with the market for a property in rural Skye for example.  This means aggregation of prices obtained and other data can be a bit meaningless.  Consequently, recently when reading of house price rises readers on close examination of the data may well find one or a few areas with brisk markets responsible for the overall rise. At Caesar and Howie, we tend to feel there is much too much emphasis by journalists on prices alone when describing market trends.  The underlying assumption seems to be that rising prices are good and static prices are bad.  We do not share that view – fast rising prices tend not to benefit anyone, purchases are more difficult and if prices rise too fast there usually follows a painful correction.  Many householders are experiencing that now.  On balance we feel that static or very modestly rising prices over longer terms makes the market more stable for everyone.  Hopefully, the recent house price correction will be the start of a more predictable next decade than the last one has been. Again the emphasis on prices seems almost to make secondary the real issue for buyers – which is – “can I find and buy accommodation suitable for me and my family.”  By that yardstick it might be said that the market was good now in that there are lots of properties of all types on the market.  Sadly, supply is only half of the story and ready buyers are just not out there in the same numbers.  The reason for that is quite clearly the lack of available mortgage funds.  When bank officials say banks are “ready and willing to lend” people should take that with a pinch of salt.  The truth is all lenders have tightened their criteria so much that potentially sound borrowers are simply frozen out of the market.  This is particularly true for first time buyers.  Without first time buyers this market will not function properly because the age old pattern of buying say a small flat to start with, then steadily trading up through the years cannot work properly.  If a first time buyer cannot sell the whole process is brought to a halt or slowed significantly.  That is where we are now and until that changes talk about a market revival is simply not sensible. Having said that, there still is a market out there of sorts and for those who can get the funds there are bargains to be had.  Despite all the current gloom, recessions never last forever, and the long term trend in house prices is still likely to be upwards as demographic changes and population increases put pressure on housing stock.  Scotland simply does not have the oversupply in property that for example is noticeable in Ireland.  Consequently a buyer with funds and taking the long view of prices might be able to make a very wise purchase now.