Housing market: forecasts up, yet outlook less positive

by: Philip Bokeloh

  • Persistently falling mortgage rates drive housing market higher
  • More relaxed lending criteria and lower transaction tax to boost housing market in 2021
  • But economic backlash will take its toll in due course
  • Price and purchase forecasts revised slightly up
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The latest housing market data are as positive as ever. Transaction volumes continue to rise and in August prices even recorded their biggest increase (8.2%) in the past one and a half years. The main reason for this buoyancy is the sustained fall in mortgage rates. Risk premiums in the financial markets ran up in April, but then fell back thanks to government support and major central bank interventions. As lenders can raise funding cheaply, mortgage rates continue to decline.

The lower mortgage rates are making homes more affordable. And the current increase in incomes is adding to this effect. The collective labour arrangements made in the pre-corona era and the government’s furlough schemes are currently propping up incomes. But the most recent collective labour deals are already less positive and the government will gradually phase out the support measures, so the beneficial impact from these sources will fade. If unemployment starts to rise, many households will suffer loss of income. In this case housing will become less, rather than more, affordable, particularly when interest rates bottom out and no longer contribute to greater affordability.

However, it may be a while before this deterioration in affordability actually materialises. If financial markets remain on an even keel, mortgage rates could still fall a little further. In addition, lending criteria will be relaxed next year: the cost threshold for the National Mortgage Guarantee (NHG) will be raised, double-income households will be allowed to borrow more, and study debt will be less burdensome when taking out a mortgage. In addition, the transfer tax for buyers up to 35 will be lowered. All these factors will support the housing market, as will the persistent supply constraints and the greater importance of a pleasant house for home workers. There is no hard evidence for the latter assertion, but search analysis suggests that prospective buyers are showing more interest in properties with an extra room and outdoor area.

Against this backdrop, we have raised our forecasts. Though the housing market is cooling more slowly than expected, a turndown remains plausible in the longer term. The first indication of this would be a fall in the transaction volume, followed by growing price pressure. Whereas we initially assumed a 5% decline in purchase volume this year, we now foresee a stabilisation. For next year we are sticking to our forecast of -10%. The price level will rise 7ΒΌ% (was 6%) this year and stabilise (was -2%) next year.