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Prolonged Brexit uncertainty will damage UK housing market

Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Images

Prolonged Brexit uncertainty will likely further damage the UK housing market, according to the latest research by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). 

The most recent results from RICS’ UK Residential Market Survey show a continued decline in activity across the UK housing market in February, with new buyer enquiries, agreed sales and instructions all falling.

This is the sixth consecutive month all have fallen together, and the headline price balance also slipped to its lowest reading since 2011.

According to the body, continued lack of political resolution on Brexit after Theresa May’s latest deal was thrown out of Parliament on Tuesday could mean the housing market will continue to take a hit, with sales activity dropping off further.

In an additional question in the survey this month, over three quarters (77%) of respondents said Brexit uncertainty was holding back activity in the market, as buyers and sellers sit tight, resulting in near-term activity indicators pointing to further declines.

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The RICS survey has long highlighted the impact Brexit uncertainty has had on the housing market, as stock levels hit all-time lows, activity stalled and sales took longer to complete.

But in recent reports the twelve-month outlook has remained broadly positive, reflecting the hope that greater clarity will emerge after 29 March.

Looking at the key activity measures in detail, buyer demand fell for the seventh consecutive month in February as 41% more respondents reported a fall in the number of new buyer enquiries, and the volume of agreed sales also slipped, with the indicator now having displayed a flat or negative trend since March 2016.

According to the report, this near-term uncertainty is set to linger for the coming three months, with sentiment for sales remaining subdued. Looking further ahead, however, its twelve-month sales expectations suggest a slightly more positive outlook.

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As the lack of stock, in addition to Brexit, appears to be holding back buyer demand, 29% of contributors reported a decline in new instructions being listed over the month.

This is the eighth consecutive month where respondents have reported a fall in the number of new properties being listed for sale. Average stock levels are now back to record lows, and respondents cited this as the next biggest challenge after Brexit.

Following Theresa May’s latest Brexit deal defeat, regardless of whether the UK now leaves the EU with or without a deal, the impact of further uncertainty is expected to be felt across all tenures of the housing market, RICS said.

Simon Rubinsohn, RICS chief economist, said: “Although activity in the housing market continues to be weighted down by the lack of available stock, changes in the tax regime affecting property, and affordability; feedback to the latest RICS survey makes it pretty clear that the ongoing uncertainty around how Brexit will play out is the critical factor influencing both buyers and sellers.

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“And with little sign that the issue will be resolved anytime soon, it could prove to be a challenging spring for the housing market and the wider economy.

“It is clear from professionals working in the market that this environment requires a greater degree of realism from those looking to move. A reluctance from some vendors to acknowledge the shift in the balance of power in the market will compound the difficulty in executing transactions,” he added.