The current state of the residential property market

The party conference season has underlined the deep differences of political opinion on how to approach Brexit and the strategy for managing the UK economy. Despite record high levels of employment, the climate of uncertainty is affecting business and consumer confidence, and UK growth has slowed, counter to the trend for other major global economies.

The recent performance of the housing market is similarly divided. Slower growth and hikes in stamp duty rates for more expensive properties have meant turnover has declined, as people stay longer between house moves.  House price growth has stalled or reversed in more expensive parts of London and its commuter belt, where the rebound in prices since the financial crisis has reached limits of affordability, and where recent tax changes have hit hardest.  By contrast, outside London, prices have continued to rise across every region, with the Midlands, northern England and Scotland still seeing year-on-year increases of 5% or more.

Tax changes have also combined to make buy-to-let property a less attractive option for private investors, prompting a spate of selling by private landlords across the country.  This is eroding the supply of rental stock, although demand is continuing to increase.  The resulting shortfall is pushing rents higher, and is creating opportunities for institutional investors to enter the sector.

Looking ahead, whatever happens with a Brexit deal (or not), we face a prolonged period of economic and political uncertainty, not just confined to the UK.  No one is sure what they are planning for, so contingency planning and forecasts are likely to err on the side of gloom.

That said, we are probably close the point of maximum uncertainty now.  One way or another, as the shape of a deal emerges, or conversely the prospect of “no deal” becomes a reality, some of the fog will clear, and decision-making will start to adjust to the new climate.

Accordingly, it is quite possible that business sentiment and investment activity will pick up faster than most people currently expect as we adjust to the new reality – whatever it is.  Although the confusion over Brexit is currently dominating the assessment of risks to the UK’s prospects, a lot of that will pass.  The wider global threats from protectionism and political polarisation may well prove more significant for investment markets in the long run.
Despite the uncertainties, it is interesting to note that none of the independent forecasters polled in the Treasury’s latest (September) survey expected a general decline in house prices for 2019.  The 16 forecasts in the survey ranged from 0.3% to 4%, around an average of 2.7%.  While property prices fluctuate with economic fortunes, the residential market, underpinned by the steadily growing demand for housing, has shown through successive cycles that it can be more resilient to downside risks than many other forms of investment.

Risk Warning

Investing involves risk. Investors should be aware that the value of an investment and the income from it can fall as well as rise, and they may not receive back the full amount they invest. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results.
The Authorised Fund Manager is Thesis Unit Trust Management Limited, Exchange Building, St John’s Street, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 1UP. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Hearthstone Investments PLC is the parent company of the Hearthstone Investments Group. Regulated business is carried out by Hearthstone Asset Management Limited. Hearthstone Asset Management Limited is an appointed representative of Thesis Asset Management Limited which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (114354).

What are the benefits of residential property compared to commercial property?

Residential property investment is very different to commercial property investment and needs different expertise and experience in order to gain the best returns.

In general, residential property provides:

  • Diversification – low correlation to other mainstream asset classes, including commercial property.
  • Improved liquidity – whilst liquidity risk will exist for any property fund, it is generally easier to sell a house than a large commercial property as the residential market is larger and more active and with lower unit sizes.
  • Historically greater resilience of rental income during market downturns

How risky is residential property investment?

Properties, like most other things, can go up or down in value. The value of your investment is very much dependent on the value of properties in the fund, so that can go up or down in value too. Property values, although provided by professional, independent Chartered Surveyors are a matter of opinion, so the price actually achieved when a property is sold could be higher or lower than its most recent valuation.

Property can also take time to sell and, although the fund does usually hold enough cash to enable investors to withdraw their money, delays may occur if properties need to be sold.

You should always read the Key Investor Information Document or the prospectus, and the latest fund factsheet, before investing.

UK residential property does have a long history of providing investment returns which are less volatile than the stock market or commercial property. It also tends to react differently to changes in the economic environment than other asset classes (in other words, its returns have little correlation with equities, fixed income and commercial property). If you already invest in those asset classes, an investment in the TM home investor fund can give your overall portfolio further diversification and potentially reduce the risk of your overall portfolio.