Some Very Welcome Rate Relief for A Resilient Housing Market

Date Published: 27 September 2023

Before noon’s announcement from the Bank of England on interest rates, I was all ready to write that we should not regard a rise in official interest rates from 5.25% to 5.5% – as generally expected ahead of the decision – as bad news.

Such a rise was priced into mortgage markets, and mortgage rates had been edging down.

As everybody now knows, there was no such rise, the Bank opting to leave its rate unchanged at 5.25%, on a 5-4 vote, thus breaking a sequence which had seen 14 rate rises in a row.

This was not anticipated by the markets, even in the minutes ticking up to the announcement, so this paved the way for mortgage rates to come down even further.

It was good news.

This decision completed one of the strangest 12-month periods for official interest rates, mortgage rates and the housing market.

It is now almost exactly 12 months since Liz Truss, the very short-term prime minister, and her even shorter-term chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, almost blew a hole in the housing market with the oddest and most irresponsible “mini” budget in modern history.

She has been defending it, though most people will remember it differently.

Two things survived from it.

The previously planned increase in National Insurance contributions for employers and employees, intended to have been renamed as the health and social care levy by now, was scrapped and has not been revived.

For the housing market there was the minor positive of a reduction in stamp duty, by raising the threshold at which it is paid (except for second homebuyers and most landlords) to £250,000, accompanied by an increase in the nil-rate band for first-time buyers from £300,000 to £425,000.

This was temporary, but quite long lasting.

The main threshold will revert to £125,000 and the first-time buyer band to £300,000 after March 31 2025, by which time we may have had a change of government.

This positive was, of course, swept away by the huge negative of surge in bond yields, a slump in sterling to a record low against the dollar, a crisis for pension funds and massive dislocation in the mortgage market, with hundreds of products withdrawn overnight, as markets feared that Bank Rate would have to rise as high as 7%.

This was the first realisation for most people that something dramatic had changed.

Years of stretched affordability when house prices were measured against earnings were compensated for by ultra-low mortgage rates.

When those mortgage rates started to rise dramatically, things changed.

Affordability was suddenly under enormous pressure.

Everybody reading this will know that housing activity and prices turned down quickly in the aftermath of that mini budget and, by and large, things have stayed down.

Prices are down by 4% to 5% on average.

Source: Property Notify