Bank of England must limit house price booms, says Rics

Duncan Kennedy meets a first-time buyer and a seller, who have very different views on the idea

The Bank of England should use its powers to limit house price increases to 5% a year to "take the froth out" of price booms, a surveyors' group says.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) said that a 5% annual rise should trigger caps on how much people could borrow relative to their incomes or the value of the property.

It is not suggesting that sellers should face a limit on how much they could charge for their homes.

The Bank said it was being vigilant.

Activity in the UK housing market has picked up in recent months after a few years of inactivity during the financial crisis.

There has been considerable debate during the week about the future of the UK housing market and the potential for government schemes to create an artificial price bubble.

Some forecasters are suggesting increases in house prices could break through the 5% barrier this year, owing to increasing demand from first-time buyers at a time when the number of homes for sale remains low.

'Firmly anchored expectations'

Joshua Miller, senior economist at Rics, said that it was important to stop any debt-fuelled house price advance.

"The Bank of England now has the ability to take the froth out of future housing market booms, without having to resort to interest rate increases. Capping price growth at, say, 5% is one way of doing this," he said.

"This cap would send a clear and simple statement to the public and the banking sector, managing expectations as to how much future house prices are going to rise. We believe firmly anchored house price expectations would limit excessive risk taking and, as a result, limit an unsustainable rise in debt."

The Bank's governor, Mark Carney, told MPs on Thursday that the Bank was vigilant on house prices but that parts of the country had not seen any recovery in the housing market.

In previous speeches, he has said that he has a toolkit in place to keep a lid on any potentially damaging boom.

This includes asking, but not telling, banks to limit how much they can lend to individuals and making them set aside more capital if they want to carry on providing mortgages.

'Build more homes'

Simon Rubinsohn, chief economist at Rics, told the BBC that the cap was more of a "speed bump" for the housing market "so people wanting to enter the market are aware of some of the risks".

Estate agent jobs boost

Official employment figures released on Wednesday showed that the house-selling sector has been creating jobs in recent months.

The number of people employed in "real estate activities" rose by 9.9% in the three months to June, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. This was a faster percentage rise than any other sector.

Some of this employment would have been a revival of jobs lost during the financial crisis, when the UK property market was flat.

Overall, the number of people unemployed in the UK between May and July fell 24,000 in the period to 2.487 million.

He said that the 5% level could be debated and there needed to be a regional dimension to reflect housing market activity in different parts of the UK.

Rics members, including estate agents, wanted a stable market, rather than a volatile one, he said, adding that he did not believe there was a house price bubble at present.

In its report, Rics pointed to the example of Canada - the former home of Mr Carney - where the central bank took action to limit mortgage availability.

However, Sir Howard Davies, former deputy governor of the Bank, said that a cap would not work.

"The problem is that we are not building enough homes," he said.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics, published on Friday, showed that demand for new public and private housing helped push up construction orders.

Any limit on house price rises would be resisted from those who remain in negative equity in some parts of the country. It would also be unpopular among first-time buyers if there was a restriction of mortgage lending.

Price changes

Mark Carney says "more intensive supervision of mortgage lending" could help to control house prices

Recent house price surveys show increases in prices, but this was compared with some drops a year ago.

The Halifax survey said that prices had risen by 5.4% in the year to August, while the Nationwide said house prices in August were rising at an annual rate of 3.5%.

The Nationwide compares prices in one month with the same month a year ago. However, the Halifax compares a three-month period with the three-month period in the previous year.

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UK house prices

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On the Halifax's measure, the average price of a house also went through the £170,000 mark for the first time in five years.

However, the figures are still well below the peak of the market in August 2007, when the average price was almost £200,000.

This is a UK average figure, driven by London and the South East of England. Some parts of the country have seen little house price growth or, in some areas, price falls.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that, excluding London and the South East of England, UK house prices increased by 1% in the 12 months to June.

Earlier this week, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) said that the UK was not in a house price boom.

"We do not imagine that Bank officials are losing sleep about current developments in the housing market," it said.

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