As 2023 came to a close, the UK housing market was already seeing a return in demand and improving property prices, and a number of factors are set to positively influence the sector in the coming year.
The most recent house price indices have shown a more positive end to 2023 than many had initially forecast, with Halifax reporting a 1.7% annual rise for December across the UK housing market as a whole. Other indices, including those from Nationwide and Rightmove, showed only modest falls of less than 2% overall.
Region-by-region, pricing varied widely, with some parts of the country remaining in growth throughout most if not all of the year, while others declined at a faster pace.
Yet, as mortgage rates continue to show improvement, the sector is already seeing the benefits in the form of a boost in buyer demand, according to the latest comments from Tom Bill, head of UK residential research at leading property agency Knight Frank, and this pattern is expected to continue in the coming year.
With the UK housing market already being “well-placed to build on its strong finish to last year”, Bill notes that just as many economists have revised their forecasts for 2024, Knight Frank is set to do the same shortly in light of the more positive data being recorded.
UK housing market boosted by falling rates
Interest rates and the mortgage market can have a direct impact on the performance of the UK housing market, impacting buyer appetite, affordability, transaction numbers and pricing. The past 12 months have been made more difficult for borrowers taking out new loans or remortgaging due to climbing rates.
This has also led to a spike in the number of cash buyers, too, who are sometimes able to secure a discount on property due to being a more favoured buyer type than one with a mortgage or a chain.
However, as Bill points out, falling inflation levels in the latest announcements mean that it is highly likely that interest rates have already peaked in the summer of 2023, and speculation is now rife around how many rate cuts we could see in 2024 as the Bank of England begins to ease its grip.
As a result, sub-4% mortgages are becoming easier to come by, even across the buy-to-let mortgage space, which is the boost the UK housing market has been waiting for. The hope is that lenders will cut rates further as the year progresses, spurring on activity in the sector.
Simon Gammon, head of Knight Frank Finance, said: “What is encouraging for the property market is that these cuts are across the board, for all loan-to-values and mortgage types.
“The best rates are currently around 4% but I would expect to see more products starting with a 3 fairly soon. Lenders are trying to stimulate the market after a poor 2023 so the margins will be tight. For context though, we don’t expect considerably lower rates anytime soon.”
Politics will play a part
The year ahead will be a big one for the political landscape, with the next UK general election expected to be held in the latter part of 2024. Ahead of this, we will hear the Chancellor’s spring budget on 6th March, around which there are already multiple rumours as to what cards will be pulled to boost the party’s campaign.
In terms of the UK housing market, Bill notes that the budget speech could be filled with “pre-election giveaways”, with speculation surrounding possible tax cuts – including potential cuts or changes to stamp duty land tax (SDLT) – and measures to held first-time buyers.
Either way, housing is a huge point of contention at the moment and is expected to feature much more heavily in March than it has done in previous recent budget speeches. Putting it into the spotlight could help boost confidence in the market, depending on what is revealed.
Nathan Emerson, CEO of Propertymark, said: “Propertymark are keen to see housing play a pivotal role within the coming Spring Budget, beyond all else, a robust housing plan is the underpinning of every community across the entire UK. It is vital momentum remains switched on to ensuring the supply of quality homes always matches demand.”