What do the house price indices mean?

The mainstream press and the home-owning public are hunting for signs of life in the housing market. Every property index is monitored. But what do these indices actually measure and how reliable are they?

Rightmove’s index. This is based on sellers’ initial asking prices. As such, it captures the very latest data. But the trouble is it is really only a measure of how optimistic the latest sellers are feeling – subsequent asking price reductions are not recorded – rather than a guide to transaction prices.

Latest: Asking prices in October rose 2.8%, to an average of £230,184.

Bank of England mortgage approvals. Every month the Bank reports on the number of mortgage approvals and the amount of mortgage lending. It doesn’t report on sale prices but nonetheless the data is a good forward indicator. A drop in the number of mortgages being approved is the first sign of a slump in the property market.

Latest: Lenders granted 56,215 loans for house purchase in September, the highest level in 18 months.

Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Every month RICS asks its members for their views on the market. The survey doesn’t measure prices, just whether members thought prices rose or fell in the previous three months. This index is usually amongst the first to show any change in the market.

Latest: 22% of the seasonally adjusted net balance of surveyors reported rising rather than falling prices over the three months to September. That’s the highest net balance since May 2007.

Halifax and Nationwide house prices. These are two of the most widely followed numbers and among the oldest of the indices. Each is based on the lender’s own mortgage approvals, and excludes cash sales. Halifax has a larger customer base, and therefore sample size, than Nationwide. Both indices are ‘seasonally-adjusted’, meaning that they capture the fact that the market slower in winter and busier in spring.

Latest: Halifax recorded a 1.6% rise in house prices in September to an average of £163,533. Nationwide’s index showed a 2% rise in October to £162,038 on average.

HM Land Registry. The government records every property sale in England and Wales, including cash sales. It is based on the price actually paid, so it is the most accurate index. However the length of time taken for sales to complete means this is the last index to be published, so it is little use for forecasting.

Latest: House prices rose 0.9% to an average of £158,377 in September.

  • Blimey

    Trouble with House Price Indices is that they virtually all have a vested interested in keeping the housing market ‘positive’, therefore their views, predictions and data have to be viewed as ‘loose’ and essential PR Spin.

    For Example: Right Move is owned and run by Estate Agents, it’s business model is based on many Estate Agents paying to advertise, which would fall apart if the market is crashing?!?!

    The data can be skewed quite easily. For Example, in London, F*xtons are one of the main contributors to the data sample. F*xtons specialise in overvaluing property to secure instructions, therefore their input into the data sample includes many over valued property which will only cause a small but highly reportable uplift in property values.

    Manipulating data is just that simple.