Nationwide and Halifax house price recovery is fragile

The recovery in house prices reported in the Nationwide and Halifax indices underlies a significant issue – that many existing borrowers would see a much higher rate of interest if they moved mortgages. As an example, my own repayment mortgage is currently 1.9% annual interest rat, or 1.4% above base rate. If I moved house Nationwide’s best deal on a tracker is 2.44% above base rate for 2 years and the reverts to 3.9%. There is also a nearly GBP 900 fee. Halifax are similar- 2.69% above base rate for 2 years, then reverts to 3.5%. A GBP 1200 fee here.

These are the cheapest deals, for a loan less than 60% of the house price and are competitive in a thin market. Halifax reports August 2009 approvals were 51% lower than in August 2007. The Nationwide’s measure of private housing sector turnover rate is now 4% , from a peak of 7% and a low of 3%.

As the driving force for the Housing Market is people upgrading to a better house, there may be a considerable number of people delaying moving house for this very reason. It is better to save for a new house by paying down existing borrowings than move to the more expensive house.

Paradoxically, a rise in base rates may prompt a narrowing of this differential and therefore perk up the housing market. The reason being that the marginal cost of moving will have diminished. However

–  there are other reasons for the low levels of housing activity – uncertainty over jobs and the need to pay off debt.

– a rise in interest rates may tip many existing hard-pressed borrowers towards selling. In particular buy-to-let landlords who have seen rents diminish this year.

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