Cash replaced by mortgages as housing market holds up

A big change in the mix of buyers purchasing homes across UK cities is causing conflicting signals on the strength of the UK housing market. But there is no sign of any sudden weakening in market conditions as the Brexit debate takes centre stage.

This is the view from the latest Zoopla cities house price index, which shows that the number of cash buyers in the market is down, while mortgage applications are up. In 2013, 29% of purchases were made by cash buyers (a mix of homeowners and investors). Today, they make up just 1 in 4 buyers. Meanwhile, demand for new mortgages is at its highest since 2008, indicating there are still plenty of people out there who want to buy or sell their homes.

Zoopla thinks the London market may be bottoming out. The online agent reports signs of life returning to the capital as sellers start to take a more realistic attitude to pricing. There are also modest increases in market activity. Both demand and sales volumes indicate the market is picking up..

Leicester is the fastest growing location in the 20 city index, at +4.8% — this is the first time the city with the highest growth rate has dropped below 5% price inflation since 2012. While prices in southern cities are up to 56% higher than their 2007 peak, the reality is that values have stagnated, tracking sideways for much of the last 4 years and drifting lower more recently.  Some good news for buyers here then. Levels of sales will now depend on vendors continuing to price sensibly, which in turn will further drive demand.

Against this varied performance in price growth, UK Finance data shows that new mortgages for home purchase are at an 11-year high, with 723,000 new loans completed in the 12 months to July 2019. So despite weaker price growth and Brexit uncertainty, the underlying demand for housing from home-owners using a mortgage is holding up.

Zoopla thinks market trends are being dictated by the fundamentals of local economies and the affordability of housing across cities. A change in the macro economic environment remains the greatest risk but households aren’t changing their behaviours yet.