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Purplebricks’ biggest critic warns over housing market uncertainty


By Graham Norwood


The chief executive of a property information platform says now is a “dangerous time” to buy or sell homes because of the absence of any realistic price information.

Anthony Codling is CEO of Twindig, which describes itself as “an online property platform that combines practical tools and deep insight to help people make better decisions as they buy, sell, improve and live in their homes.”

He is perhaps better known as a former analyst at investment bank Jefferies, and the author of assessments of the sales record of Purplebricks specifically and online estate agents in general.

In his current role he has taken to LinkedIn to suggest that the lockdown of the housing market for much of the year, until recently, robs the consumer of accurate price information with which to make informed decisions on selling or buying.

He writes: “The Land Registry, which in my view is the source of truth for house prices, agrees, reporting on 20th May that ‘following the publication of the March index on 20 May, the UK House Price Index has been suspended until further notice’. If those with access to all the data are not confident in reporting house prices, how can individual homeowners be sure they are achieving the best price?”

Codling’s lengthy essay canters through the different house price indices, outlining that they are not based on house prices at all but - depending on which index is under the microscope - based instead on asking prices or mortgage offers, usually looking backwards at what has happened.

“It may well be good news that house prices have apparently increased over the last 12 months, but with more than 1 in 4 UK workers on furlough today and question marks over how many of those will return to their jobs is the past a reliable predictor of the future?” Codling asks.

He continues: “Lockdown has inflicted severe and clearly visible damage to the UK housing market, but fear of unemployment is the housing market’s silent assassin. If you are worried that you may lose your job, you do not make a big-ticket purchase like a house and basic economic theory tells us that if demand falls, prices follow.

“At best house prices are on hold so you have nothing to lose by staying put. At worst, prices may follow the trajectory of other more liquid asset classes; introducing a lack of volatility and price transparency not seen since the depths of the financial crisis.”

Codling insists that while many industry and mainstream media headlines suggest a relatively strong bounceback in the market over the past five weeks “the reality is that housing transactions have stalled and the outlook for the near-term housing market remains uncertain.”

And he concludes: “It is interesting that as stock market analyst I would write detailed research notes try to aid investors in deciding whether to buy shares in a company. My Countrywide (the UK’s largest estate agent) IPO research note was 148 pages long and my Zoopla IPO note came in at 136 pages. These pages and pages of research and analysis were to aid investors to decide whether to spend just 350p per share for Countrywide and 220p per share for Zoopla…

“And yet… if non-house price house price indices are to be believed we will spend on average £231,000 after looking at a two or three page property listing which mainly consists of pictures and spending five minutes walking around the property opening a few cupboard doors and looking inside a few fitted wardrobes… I am not known for my sartorial elegance, but even I spend more time than that choosing shoes.”

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