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'Squeezed middle' depresses house prices

Friday 23rd September 2011
The pace of house price declines eased in September, although prices are perceived to have fallen every month since July 2010, according to the latest Knight Frank/Markit House Price Sentiment Index.

It showed that 21% believed the value of their property had fallen since August, while 10% felt it had risen. This took the overall HPSI to 44.7, up from 41.5 in August and just above the 44.5 seen in July. Any figure under 50 indicates that prices are declining.
Lower prices were reported in all regions, with the sharpest declines in the East Midlands (38.8) and the North East (41.3) and Yorkshire (41.3). The regions showing the most resilience were London (49.6) and the East of England (47.5).
The sharpest change in the index was in Wales, where it rose to 45.6, up from 36.7 in August. However the September data echoed the more positive 45.3 reading seen in July.
Grainne Gilmore, head of UK residential research at Knight Frank, said: "The pick-up in sentiment, especially in the future HPSI, coincides with stronger signals from the Bank of England that interest rates are set to remain at ultra-low levels for a year or more.

"This is likely to have boosted confidence, especially among homeowners who have variable rate mortgages and buyers with deposits who can clinch new mortgage deals at historically low rates.
"The divide between the experience of high earning households and those on more modest incomes is also reflected the split in the property market between prime property, specifically in London, and the rest of the mainstream UK market. Prime property prices in London have 'de-coupled' from the rest of the mainstream UK market, rising by 35% since the post-credit crunch slump.
"There is also quite pronounced evidence of the 'squeezed middle' - a phenomenon which has been frequently referred to as a side-effect of recent economic developments and tax changes. It is notable that households which have incomes around the national average salary of £26,000 a year are the only group which expect the price of their property to decline over the next 12 months, perhaps partly reflecting the increasing financial challenges they face.
"While the bounce back in future HPSI is unlikely to signal a sudden upturn in house prices, it indicates that prices are likely to stay stable, "bumping along the bottom" in line with the monthly volatility we have seen in recently. But if the trend in the future HPSI is maintained in months to come, it could signal an underpinning of confidence in the market, which will in turn help support prices.
"The geographical differences across the UK are clearly illustrated in the data. The North/South divide is pronounced, and it is perhaps not surprising that households in the midlands and some northern English regions, which are set to be among the hardest hit by the public sector spending cuts are gloomier about the outlook for house prices."

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Mike Jones

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