London’s property market is slowing down

By Nigel Alexander, director, Fincorp

House prices, house prices, house prices. Seemingly still everyone’s favourite topic on dinner party conversation.

The Bank of England, the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats have all been heard over the past six months worrying that London has a house price bubble and that the value of property is becoming increasingly disconnected from the reality of people’s wages.

Undoubtedly property values in the UK’s capital have seen dramatic inflation over the past few years but I think we are definitely seeing a levelling off in the second half of this year.

Indeed the latest data from Hometrack revealed that house prices stagnated in September for the first time since January 2013, after rising 0.1% in each of the previous two months. Richard Donnell, Hometrack's director of research, was quoted as saying: "While this slowdown can be attributed partly to seasonal factors – including a slight hangover from a slow August – it's clear that agents are wary about the direction of the market as a result of weaker demand and lower sales volumes.”

His view is that speculation about an interest rate rise by the Bank of England, warnings about a house price bubble and September’s Scottish independence referendum might have fuelled uncertainty in the market.

I have to say I agree. But I think there is an added factor that is affecting the top end of London’s market. Much of the growth in house prices has been a direct result of large volumes of foreign cash flowing into prime property in London.

In a world economy that has suffered years of low yielding investment opportunities as governments pumped money into their economies through quantitative easing and kept interest rates at historic lows, smart investors quite rightly saw London property as a pretty good bet.

But my sense is that this year has seen that investment drop off a bit. The Scottish referendum, even with its no vote, has forced our government to reassess the future shape of British politics. Devo Max, in whatever format it goes through, will mark a watershed moment for this country – and no one quite knows what that will mean longer term.

Labour is worried. The Tories are worried. And as UKIP enjoyed widespread success in the European elections earlier this year, David Cameron promised an in-out referendum on Britain’s future in the EU if he’s still in power in 2017.

This all adds up to uncertainty – not something investors like too much of.

I don’t think this means that the London property market is heading for a fall, but it has meant there is a bit less money washing around looking for a home in prime residential property – something I suspect is likely to continue until we have more clarity on our position on Europe after next year’s general election.