Will house prices rise or fall this year?
Buying or selling a home can feel like an endless merry-go-round for anyone caught up in a tortuous house move.
In one £1.5m property in East Sussex, the fairground nature of many property transactions has been taken literally. The converted Victorian bathhouse is filled with funfair nostalgia.
The home, which features a retro bowling alley, a basketball arcade game and a coconut shy above the sink, went on the market in 2019.
It is not just the features which were unusual. The very fact it was listed for sale was uncommon too. Listings in the UK housing market last year were down 8% on the previous year, according to property portal Rightmove.
The dominant feature of the market in the last 12 months has been caution. Many potential sellers decided to stay put amid political and economic uncertainty, amid the Brexit debate and general election.
A carnival-themed home may feel like the appropriate metaphor for the goings-on in Westminster last year. While this put off sellers, demand among potential buyers remained relatively stable.
Low interest rates meant mortgages were relatively cheap for anyone finding a home within their budget. First-time buyer numbers were also surprisingly healthy. Debt, divorce, schools and new jobs still prompted people to move.
That led to prices rising on average across the country, if only by a little, rather than wholesale property price drops. The Nationwide Building Society says, on average, UK house prices went up by 1.4% over the year. The falls were mostly seen in and around London - the market most affected by Brexit uncertainty.
Other areas of the country saw prices rise faster than wages and the cost of living. Mortgage lender the Halifax suggests that Billingham in County Durham saw the biggest average price rise, up 12.3% in October 2019 compared with the same month a year earlier. Ilkeston saw a 9.1% rise over the same period. The next eight on the list - Sale, Wilmslow, Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Chorley, Bootle and Southport - are all in the North West of England and saw price rises of 6% or more.
These figures are based on the Halifax's mortgage data, so do not give a full picture but do reflect the North-South divide in price movements seen last year, as prices in London dropped.
It was a similar picture among tenants, Manchester and Liverpool were the most searched areas among renters after Bristol, according to Rightmove.
What will happen in 2020?
The result of the general election has brought a level of political certainty and a clear route, in the short-term at least, for the Brexit process.
Many experts suggest this could play out in the housing market with a release of some pent-up demand among buyers and sellers. People who put off making one of the biggest financial decisions of their lives may now feel more confident in making that step.
While that may inject some activity in the housing market in the first few months of the year, most commentators do not expect it to last. Before long, they say, the uncertainty and debate over the UK's future relationship with the EU could mean more caution in the sector.
As a result, they are mostly predicting that house prices will rise by 2% from the start to the end of 2020.
Experts' 2020 UK house price predictions
- Richard Donnell, property portal Zoopla: 2% rise in prices
- Andrew Montlake, mortgage broker Coreco: 2% to 3% rise
- Henry Pryor, housing market commentator: 2% fall
- Miles Shipside, property portal Rightmove: 2% rise
- Andrew Burrell, Capital Economics: 1.5% rise
- Simon Rubinsohn, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors: 2% rise
- Russell Galley, mortgage lender the Halifax: 1% to 3% rise
These predictions are for a UK average, but the housing market must always be considered on a local level. House prices can be affected by anything from schools to new developments and transport links, sometimes recording different rates of change from street to street.
Richard Donnell, director of research and insight at Zoopla, suggests that the more "affordable" cities for property, such as Glasgow, Belfast and Liverpool, could witness the biggest rises in prices in 2020, up by about 4%. The least affordable - London - could see prices rise by about 2%, he says.
Bank of Mum and Dad
Affordability, as in any year, is crucial to demand, particularly from first-time buyers. The eyes of the experts consulted for this article are firmly on the new government and its housing policies.
Miles Shipside, of Rightmove, says these policies need to focus on those first-time buyers, many of whom are struggling to save a deposit and may not want to buy a new-build home through the government's Help to Buy assistance scheme.
"It will be interesting to see whether we really do get a programme to actually build truly affordable homes," says Andrew Montlake, from mortgage broker Coreco.
Andrew Burrell, from analysts Capital Economics, suggests housing is not at the top of the government's priorities.
"With no new policy initiatives expected, it is difficult to see any lift-off for the market," he says.
The Conservatives' significant majority may have brought some short-term clarity to the timetable of the UK's departure from the EU, but every commentator expects more complexity to come.
"It is quite possible that Brexit will cast a shadow over the economy as we move closer to the end of the year and trade arrangements need to be concluded," says Simon Rubinsohn, from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
The return of uncertainty may prompt some people to simply lock themselves away from the European debate.
So, they may have been tempted by another, rather unusual, property that was put on the market in 2019.
The London penthouse with views over the River Thames and Canary Wharf was put up for sale for £2m.
The views outside are one key feature, but a cave-themed cinema room also catches the eye.
Caves and carnivals may have marked 2019 both in unusual properties and as a metaphor for UK politics but, ultimately, house prices were little changed.
There may be more darkness than light in EU negotiations and some pinball politics to contend with again in 2020. For the experts, that means buyers and sellers could play it safe and house prices could well hold steady again.
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