House prices come charging back to bullish, but not for the 'frugal' Scots

SCOTLAND could trail the rest of the UK for up to three years as the housing bubble starts expanding again south of the Border, experts said yesterday.

They warned that "bullish" predictions of a 6 per cent rise in house prices for the UK were unlikely in Scotland as disposable income remained low and consumers were more "frugal".

Figures out today said the UK will see house prices grow by more than 6 per cent this year and by 20 per cent in the next three years.

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Forecasts from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) are based on an improved mortgage lending outlook, while still below the boom of pre-credit crunch days. But Scots property experts said the predictions were too optimistic and it could take 18 months to three years for Scotland to catch up.

The Consumer and Housing Prospects Report said mortgage approvals would reach about 72,000 per month by the end of 2010 from today's level of 60,000 per month in the UK.

By 2013, this figure would reach 90,000 per month, said the CEBR, still below the 118,000 per month seen in 2002. It also suggested that interest rates would remain on hold at 0.5 per cent until mid- to late-2011.

Benjamin Williamson, one of the report's authors and an economist at CEBR, said: "The fact that house prices have already risen by almost 10 per cent since the bottom of the cycle has surprised most commentators.

"However, with the rate of mortgage lending more than doubling over this period, a shortage of new properties on the market, low interest rates and unemployment not rising nearly as fast as expected, it is easy to see how prices have moved so quickly.

"This combination of factors will continue to push prices up during 2010, albeit at a more modest rate than we have seen over the last six months."

No specific figures were available for Scotland from CEBR, and Mark Hordern, spokesman for Glasgow Solicitors Property Centre (GSPC), disputed the report's optimism. He forecast there would be little change in Scotland for house prices, and at best a rise of 1 per cent.

He said: "I'm surprised the CEBR is being so bullish on house prices. While we have not seen falls in house prices that many forecast, there's not much incentive to push them up. House prices really track disposable income and historically they have risen less quickly in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. Scotland's reputation for being frugal is illustrated well by housing prices.

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"There is a new culture of caution and people will be more circumspect about the size of mortgages. I don't know how long that will last.

"For us, the number of transactions is more important than price. That number collapsed by 50 per cent last year. House prices just indicate the economy is doing better and give homeowners security they need to make other purchases. House prices tend to lag other parts of the UK by 18 months to three years."

Kennedy Foster, policy consultant in Scotland for the Council of Mortgage Lenders, agreed and said that while some new homes were being built, the availability of homes to buy was still low.

He said: "Our view is that mortgage availability will remain tight, if perhaps a bit more relaxed than last year. Growth will be limited around availability of supply."

In January, Lloyds Banking Group argued that house prices would remain flat this year, despite a steady recovery. And it said the prospects of a return to 95 per cent or 100 per cent mortgages being widely available were slim. The number of available mortgage types has dropped from 30,000 in 2007 to 2,500.

Mr Hordern said the average rise in house prices over the decade in real terms was a low 2 per cent each year, because of the modest rise of 1.8 per cent in disposable income. But according to figures from Bank of Scotland last week, the total effect on property prices in Scotland was a jump of 94 per cent in the past ten years.

Small towns recorded the greatest rises in Scotland, with Inverurie in Aberdeenshire topping the table with a rise of 152 per cent, from 84,269 to 212,736.

The shortage of new housebuilding would mean there a continuing supply problem to push up prices again in 2012 and 2013.

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Ben Read, managing economist at CEBR, added: "The key reason behind the upward revision to our forecasts is that mortgage approvals have recovered more quickly than we had expected."