As the volume of sales slows to a trickle it is often suggested that house price indices might be reflecting the frenzy of activity that is taking place in Central London and in parts of the South East rather than the reality of a rather tougher market elsewhere. Bankers blowing their bonuses in Belgravia is somewhat different from bin men trying to borrow to buy in Bradford.
To find out exactly what is happening we need to be certain about what is selling and what where. Lenders like the Halifax and Nationwide give us a clue each month about the health of the market but to be certain we need the detail beneath the Land Registry data since recorded sales in each region will demonstrate just what influence the South East has on the property markets.
As estate agents and nosey neighbours know, the Land Registry has been publishing details of individual sales for many years providing information to help lubricate the market and each month they provide the most revealing index on the housing market in England and Wales. Calnea, the data wizards who produce the index on behalf of HM Land Registry allow us to see average prices, trends and sales volumes – in some considerable detail in part. However, when it comes to sales volumes they only publish the numbers for sales in London and in England and Wales.
For the first time in this form, with the consent of the Land Registry, Calnea has provided the sales volumes for all ten regions of England and Wales for each month back to 2003. Now we can see the volume of sales in the South West, take the pulse of the market in the North East and examine just how healthy the property market in East Anglia is. Are agents so busy in London and the South East that their efforts are all that is propping up the housing market numbers nationally or are London-centric journalists over-playing the reported recovery in the market by not venturing out of the M25?
The surprising answer perhaps is that the housing market across the country is actually as busy in Liverpool as it is in Luton and whilst sales volumes in the South East are about half what they were in 2007/8 the same is true in Newcastle. Prices and their trends upwards and down do vary markedly across the country but estate agents are selling proportionally just as few as they used to – everywhere.
Transactions in London and the South East account for 29% of all sales on average and in the most recent numbers kindly provided to me exclusively by the Land Registry which include the numbers for December we can see that this proportion was just one percent higher.
East Anglian agents typically account for 11% of all sales but were slightly busier in December contributing 13% of the total. Out of 64,000 sales so far recorded in December, 4% or 2,393 properties were sold in the North East. This is 1% less than usual.
The number of homes selling every day is now 2,161 across the whole of the UK, up from 1,742 in January last year but way below the highs of 5,000 a day in 2007. Prices according to both the Land Registry and the Halifax fell nationally last month although they are up over the year, but as we can see for the first time from the volume of sales across all 10 regions, it appears that wherever you are, there is a modest market in which to buy and sell.
The surprise for many is that there isn’t a north/south divide when it comes to the housing market – except in the direction of values. Prices according to the Land Registry were up 10% annually in January in London but they fell 3.4% in the North East.