At the end of 2015, the Council of Mortgage Lenders created a commentary with forecasts of the housing market for 2016 and 2017. The headline statements were a belief in a ‘gentle improvement in housing and mortgage market activity’, and as part of that the council noted the then-lowest levels of mortgage arrears and possessions since 2004.
So far so good for homeowners, and that low number of around 102,000 was reason for optimism. Its predictions of a rise in repossessions in the proceeding two years was described as ‘broadly healthy’, thanks to low inflation, strong earnings growth and an improving job market. The council’s final predictions for each of the two years was a slight rise, from 16,000 in mid-2015 to 16,500 in 2016 and 19,000 in 2017, although these are far below the level of 2009 when nearly 50,000 homes were repossessed.
The actual numbers for the entirety of 2016 have obviously not yet been revealed, although we do have a snapshot of the start of the year; 2,100 properties were repossessed between January and March, comprising 1,500 homeowners and 600 buy-to-let borrowers. The CML said that if that rate was extrapolated it would give the lowest overall number since 1982, but with far more mortgage borrowers.
The current and future state of play with repossessions would therefore seem to be positive, although this does perhaps give a false overall impression of the housing market. It’s no secret that we’re in the middle of a housing crisis that means many young people can’t get onto the housing ladder in the first place, so they have no chance of getting homes repossessed.
It’s by no means just an issue for those who own their homes – some studies suggest that rent arrears will be one of the biggest issues facing the housing market in 2017. According to online letting agent Upad, more than 60% of landlords are experiencing rent arrears; a worrying statistic when one considers the rise in rental payments that is growing faster than house prices. According to the research, more than 34,000 landlords issued possession claims in one three-month spell this summer.
So what will happen in 2017? It depends who you listen to. There are negative stories such as inside the Irish Mirror – it’s been predicted that banks will put pressure on solicitors for repossession orders, which could see them double from 400 a month to nearer 800. Conversely, the current interest rate may remain at a low level so at least mortgage levels should retain some form of stability in this scenario. Telegraph experts said it will remain below 0.5% until 2021, although in the same piece there is also an admittance that experts very rarely get things right!
We don’t yet know how Brexit will affect the economy and jobs, but if investment is removed from this country and employment suffers as a result, people will struggle to pay mortgages. Another possible scenario is that more people will choose to live together or stay with parents, which will put pressure on landlords to find tenants, which may lead to more homes entering the market. Conversely, more companies might decide to invest, which could stop repossession in many cases.
Ultimately though, nobody really knows – the proceedings of 2016 and Trump, Brexit and even Leicester City taught us that predictions can sometimes turn out to be spectacularly wrong.