Housing Markets Grim in U.S., U.K.

Bad news seems to beget more bad news. According to a new report by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, housing demand in the United States and in the United Kingdom is falling short of both expectations and hopes.

September 21, 2011
By Nicholas Ziegler, News Editor

Bad news seems to beget more bad news. According to a new report by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, housing demand in the United States and in the United Kingdom are falling short of both expectations and hopes.

“Plummeting consumer confidence in the US is weakening an already fragile housing market,” RICS wrote in its most recent report. “This is best illustrated with mortgage applications: declining by 9% in August to the lowest level seen since August 1995, despite mortgage rates being at historic lows.” As Commercial Property Executive has reported in its Economy Watch series, the National Association of Realtors saw 1.3 percent drop in its pending home-sales index in July as compared to June. While RICS had a slightly different number for the month’s decline – 4 percent, not 1.3 percent – the direction was the same. With home units sitting an annualized rate of 4.7 million units and home sales 35 percent below their pre-recession peak, “the prospects of a recovery for the housing sector seem ever more distant.”

Construction, too, is taking a hit. Today’s Economy Watch notes that housing starts dropped in August to an annualized rate of 571,000 units, which represents a 5 percent month-over-month contraction, while RICS data shows that, at the end of July, housing starts remained at an annualized rate of 604,000 units and, “considering the long run average over the past 50 years has been 1.4 million, current levels are severely depressed and we do not envisage much improvement.”

Problems aren’t limited to just the United States, however. The Rightmove Index, which measures asking prices for residential property in the United Kingdom, has generally shown a great deal of resilience, falling only 4 percent in the last four years. But, following drops in July and August, current indications lean toward a continued decline, leading vendors to “adopt a greater degree of realism when putting their property on the market.” Potential homebuyers, while worried about the availability of mortgage finance, are more concerned with the state of the economy in general. Nearly 40 percent of respondents also highlighted fears of further housing-price declines, calling into question the idea of investing on a losing bet.

There are some bright spots in the global housing market, however. The report notes that Hong Kong’s unemployment rate has fallen to 3.4 percent, a three-year low, and that retail sales in July increased by an incredible 20 percent. The strong employment numbers should prop up the housing market, which has seen home valuations grow by 22 percent in the last year, according to the Hong Kong Rating and Valuation Department.

Sweden, too, is currently experiencing average home prices 10 percent above their pre-recession peak – a performance strong enough for the Riksbank, or the Swedish National Bank, to hike interest rates by 175 basis points since last July to 2 percent.