House prices are already crashing

House prices aren't 'flat', as many housing bulls would have you believe - they're already crashing. And they're going to keep on crashing.

The latest Halifax numbers showed prices falling by 0.1% in November and 2.1% in the last three months. The annual rate of price falls is now 0.7%. It is, says Martin Ellis, housing economist at the Halifax, "consistent with a relatively flat overall trend in house prices".

But let's not forget as all too many people want us to that "flat" actually means "falling" at the moment. With RPI inflation well over 4%, your house is losing value in real terms every day. Indeed, if you take inflation into account which you obviously should UK house prices are already down 20% plus on their 2007 levels.

The bulls might think house prices aren't going to crash, but on many measures they already have. And it isn't over yet.

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Ellis allows that a larger supply of houses on the market coupled with a falling number of buyers has led to the recent price falls, but he notes that as "homeowners are becoming more reluctant to put their houses on the market" further falls are unlikely.

There is a problem with this argument.

Sure, there might be fewer willing sellers around than there were; and a lot of the people who do have their houses on the market aren't really motivated sellers, and so won't ever cut their prices to the levels today's buyers will pay. But the market isn't just about willing sellers, it is about unwilling sellers too. And with unemployment quite likely to rise into next year, and with the inflation numbers suggesting that interest rates won't be able to stay ultra low for as long as the heavily-indebted might hope, their numbers may soon start to rise.

The market is also about buyers. And with mortgage approvals at historical lows and bank funding worries hitting mortgage availability, they remain very thin on the ground. Add it all up, and it sounds less like "flat" and more like "crash" to us.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.