We are in a housing bubble, claims economics professor

house lit up
Image caption All that glisters is not gold - house prices could fall, says Prof Mitchell

Most regions of the UK are already in a house-price bubble, according to an economics professor from Warwick University.

Prof James Mitchell said house prices were overvalued when compared with incomes, raising the risk of a fall at some stage in the future.

Of 13 regions in the UK, he said 10 were currently overvalued.

However, most other economists believe property prices are still affordable, given very low mortgage rates.

"The results raise the risk, although not the certainty, that house prices will fall," said Prof Mitchell, although he said it was difficult to say when that would be.

"But a bubble it appears to be and we should all - householders, business people and policymakers alike - be alert to this risk."

Prof Mitchell, the head of economic modelling and forecasting at Warwick Business School, used house price and incomes data from the UK's largest mortgage lender, the Halifax.

He was previously a senior research fellow with the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) for 12 years.

He defines a bubble "as a time when prices exceed fundamentals, or when price exceeds value".

'Breaking point'

According to his research, London is the most overvalued region.

Scoring those regions on the likelihood of a bubble, he said there was a 93% probability that London is "in the grip of a house-price bubble".

Wales is the next most overvalued region, with an 83% chance of a bubble, followed by north-west England with 80%. The UK as a whole scores 77%.

Prof Mitchell said Scotland and Northern Ireland were unlikely to enter a bubble phase, and the chances for eastern England were "evens".

He was particularly gloomy about the point at which interest rates rise.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) currently expects that to happen in 2015.

Prof Mitchell said at that point there would be a risk that household and bank finances would be "stretched to breaking point".

"This raises the spectre of falling house prices, negative equity, bad assets on banks' balance sheets and a return to the so-called great recession we have been so slowly emerging from," he said.

'Warp speed'

Earlier this week the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, warned about the potential for a housing bubble in the UK, during a speech in New York.

"There is a history in the housing market of moving from stall speed to warp speed," Mr Carney said. "We want to avoid that."

However most economists believe the UK is still some way from being in a housing bubble.

The amount of money being lent, and the number of housing transactions, are still way below the levels seen in 2007-08.

According to the Halifax, the Nationwide, and the Land Registry, prices too are well below the record.

Low mortgage rates also continue to make property relatively affordable.

Many believe that households will be able to handle a gradual rise in interest rates.

"We think there are good grounds to be optimistic that the vast majority of households will cope with a slow but certain transition to more normal interest rates," said Bob Pannell, the chief economist for the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML), this week.

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