Matteo Benetton, Philippe Bracke, João F Cocco and Nicola Garbarino
Academics have made the case for mortgage products with equity features, so that gains and losses due to fluctuations in house values are shared between the household and an outside investor. In theory, the equity component expands the set of affordable properties, without increasing household debt, and default risk. These products have not become mainstream, but in a recent paper, we study a large UK experiment with equity-based housing finance — the Help To Buy Equity Loan scheme. We find that equity loans are mainly used to overcome credit constraints, rather than to reduce investment risk. Unconstrained household prefer mortgage debt over equity loans, suggesting optimism about house price risk. Equity loans could still contribute to house price inflation: we don’t find evidence that houses purchased with equity loans are overpriced, but an assessment of the aggregate effects is beyond the scope of the paper.
The interest-only product has undergone tremendous evolution, from its mass-market glory days in the run-up to the crisis, to its rebirth as a niche product. However, since reaching a low-point in 2016, the interest-only market is starting to show signs of life again as lenders re-enter the market.
When someone bought a house turns out to be an important factor in predicting whether the house will be sold again soon, and at what price. People who bought during a boom aim at achieving higher prices when they sell and, as a consequence, move less often. We explore whether this pattern is due to psychological anchoring (whereby the previous purchase price becomes an important reference point) or to the way the mortgage market works (for example, with homebuyers often using proceeds from house sales for down-payments on new properties).
Economic theory suggests that property prices and rents should move together: rents represent the flow of housing services gained from living in a property, and prices are determined by the discounted value of all future rents.
In 2006, 64 English houses in every 1000 changed hands. Three years and a credit crunch later, this had halved to only 32 transactions per 1000 houses. Since 2009, transactions have recovered, but remain well below their pre-crisis level (Chart 1). Transactions are a key metric of the health of the UK housing market and can be seen as a measure of “liquidity”. The reasons behind low transactions levels may also provide further insight into people’s behaviour and view of housing in the UK. In the work set out below, we conclude that it is unlikely that transactions regain their pre-crisis level any time soon, because of affordability constraints for first-time buyers and fewer discretionary moves by existing owners.
Property derivatives markets could allow first time buyers to hedge the risk of price rises whilst they save for a deposit and help prevent prices moving away from underlying fundamentals. But despite this, property derivatives trading is still at a nascent stage. I attribute this to the lack of an appropriate underlying index, a thin secondary market and investor unfamiliarity. But as Shiller (2008) says, this will change over time: “Starting a new market is like opening a nightclub. Lots of people will want to come if lots of people are there. But, if few people are there, few people want to come. Somehow, nightclubs do get started. So too, do real estate futures markets, but it will take time.”