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Low interest rates could allow 'unsustainable' house price growth


Holding rates low for too long could build up problems in the UK's property market, warns Savills

The ONS and CML data hints at a busier Autumn selling season but will that lead to house price growth?
Leaving interest rates low for too long could allow problems to build up in the housing sector Photo: Alamy

Delaying interest rate rises for too long could allow house prices to grow at an unsustainable pace, Savills has warned.

Lucian Cook, director of residential research at the real estate company, said that "if rates remain too low for too long house prices could rise to a level that would become unsustainable if rates were subsequently to rise sharply”.

The timing of the first and subsequent interest rate rises since the crisis would be “critical to market sentiment”, he said, adding that if "interest rates rise slowly there is much more capacity for medium-term price growth”.

Separately, the Bank of England said on Thursday that households had started to cut their debts since the start of the financial crisis.

However, “the overall debt to income ratio appears to have stabilised at a relatively high level”, the Bank admitted.

“The proportion of households with mortgage debt between three and five times their income remains similar to that seen immediately prior to the crisis.”

Some of the Bank's critics believe it risks getting lost “behind the curve”, and will have to raise rates sharply once inflation eventually picks up, in an effort to get it under control.

It is feared that by this point mortgage holders could have amassed far greater debts, and would be left facing unmanageable mortgage payments once interest rates rose sharply in order to counteract above-target inflation.

Mark Carney, the Bank’s Governor, said on Thursday that Britons should prepare for interest rates to rise next year.

Speaking to Bloomberg Television, he said that he would prefer for the majority of the British people to think that rates were going up in 2016.

“Because that is reasonably prudent behavior, given the progress this economy is making,” he explained.

Mr Cook said that since the Bank cut its interest rates to 0.5pc more than six years ago, the ability to purchase a house had largely been constrained by the ability of would-be buyers to save for a deposit.

“However, as interest rates rise over the next five years, so the cost of servicing a mortgage will becoming an increasingly important factor in determining the prospects for the UK housing market,” he added.

Savills’ residential analysts predict that the average UK house price will be 17pc higher by the end of 2020, a rise that could see household budgets stretched if mortgage rates approached 5pc in the same period.

Mr Cook’s comments came as Halifax data revealed that average house prices rose 9.7pc to £205,240 in the quarter to October, compared with a year ago.

He said: “It is little wonder that the Bank of England has been so alive to the risk that a debt-driven housing market boom occurs before the brakes of affordability are applied to the market.”

Rules introduced over the past two years that have made mortgage approvals harder to obtain are “clear evidence that the Bank wants to avoid easy credit causing the housing market to overheat”, he continued.

While Savills expects slower price growth in London, of just 15.3pc from 2016 to 2020, Mr Cook said that “affordability is already more stretched” in the capital.

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