I’ve never been one for overreaction when there is a release of numbers. I firmly believe in trying to steer a steady course. Staying calm isn’t always easy; the spring statistics were certainly discouraging. A Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors report found that demand from buyers, and new instructions from sellers, were at their lowest since 2013. The report described how the UK market being affected by the poor weather, fears about the Brexit negotiations, and even bitter infighting among estate agents to get properties on their books.
The forecast did not look good; the weather and the industry were pointing to a stormy future.
A balanced view
Warren Buffet is one of the most successful investors of all time. Among his many great comments about investing I felt this was appropriate:
“Forecasts may tell you a great deal about the forecaster; they tell you nothing about the future.”
We are living through volatile times. I think it’s vital that, as an industry, we keep the panic button at arm’s length when things get tough and the champagne on ice at the first sign of good news. If we all accept volatility in the near future and beyond, then we can stop the herd mentality that can precipitate a crash or a boom. As certain as night follows day, there will be a sage somewhere predicting an extreme event just around the corner and for this reason we need to take a balanced view.
Volatile markets demand careful analysis to see whether what we read in the news does actually indicate a fundamental shift in patterns of behaviour. I think there are many good reasons to be cautiously positive about the future as there are niches which are showing growth potential. For example, the first time buyers segment has seen some green shoots springing up as it responds to the summer warmth.
In May, The National Landlord Association claimed that a significant number of homes suitable for first time buyers could ‘flood’ the market in the coming year. They estimated that approximately 380,000 landlords planned to offload a property. The report also showed that 45% of landlords who intend to sell property in the coming year plan to sell individual flats and apartments, with a third looking to sell terraced homes. These, as we know, are typically affordable options for those taking their first steps on the property ladder. Clearly, not great news for the Buy to Let sector but an opportunity for the first time buyers.
Research from Santander Mortgages highlighted that average rental prices are now higher than average mortgage repayments in every region of the UK. According to Santander, the average rent in the UK is now just over £900 per household. Compare this to monthly mortgage repayments of £723 for the average first time buyer and it’s clear that buying can cost less. The saving equates to £189 a month, or £2,268 a year for the typical first-time buyer.
At this point, I’m not opening the champagne. However, I am suggesting that despite the spring headlines we are seeing encouraging data from certain parts of the industry. While there may be more properties available, and home ownership is less expensive than renting, significant barriers to ownership still remain in the high cost of deposits or the ability to access mortgage finance.
This is where the industry needs to be creative and look for new solutions to help.
Let’s focus on innovation
In my view, we should stop worrying about what the forecasters have to say. We should stop reacting to emotive headlines. We should focus on innovation to adapt to the needs and demands of a new generation trying to manage in a period of great economic volatility.
At Saffron Building Society, our focus is on ways we can help customers. For example, we have a policy of accepting gifted deposits on all of our mortgages as a way of breaking down the barriers for first time buyers. This policy is designed to help parents and grandparents give their relations a boost to get on to the ladder.
We are also exploring new ways to price our products and have invested in our core systems to enable more flexibility. We think flexibility to build bespoke products is going to be an important feature in the future.
Warren Buffett once said:
“Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”
If the industry thinks long term and innovates, avoiding knee-jerk reactions to the news, we can be more confident that we’ll be able to weather volatile conditions and avoid being caught with our trunks down.