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Outside edge: Mark Chilton

What is it about pigs and financial services? It&#39s bad enough for Zurich to try and persuade us that pigs can fly but now Barclays is trying to woo us with fairy tales about pigs, bulls and bears. So are greedy pigs ruining the property market?

The press is full of tales of potential house price collapse supported by the Bank of England&#39s MPC who, having done an about-turn on their view of the market, admit it is not part of their mandate to control house prices. The reality is very different, principally due to flaws in the way that underlying activity is being projected on to the market.

Nationwide tells us prices to May have increased by 7.7 per cent, an annual increase of 18 per cent. Tell that to someone in the poorest areas of Burnley, where prices have fallen by 25 per cent in five years.

What Nationwide are actually telling us is that prices on houses sold have increased dramatically. But take into account the volume of houses that cannot be sold and the picture for inflation of the national housing stock is probably half this figure. The danger is that those happily living in less attractive properties may be fooled into thinking they are better off than they actually are. Could this be behind the current consumer boom and lead to an eventual disaster?

History helps us little in the mainstream market. In the crash of the late 80s and early 90s the reality was that the vast majority of homeowners stayed put and transaction volumes declined hard. The apparent bounce back in prices indicates that underlying values did not fall nearly as hard as the forced-seller-dominated market suggested.

In addition, interest rates are so low that they are below the range where house prices are immediately sensitive to interest rate change. Indeed, increases in interest rate may fuel growth in desirable areas.

Affordability is becoming more of an issue, when properly measured to take account of repayment as well as interest cost. Solutions are emerging for the haves, particularly the recycling of inflated property wealth from one generation to the next. This does not help the have-nots and only reinforces market divisions.

There are very real and disturbing social issues that emerge from this which can only be countered by stronger application of the planning regime, forcing local authorities to take a harder line on affordable housing provision. The other side of this coin is to reduce market supply, thereby accelerating price rises.

You must conclude from this that I am the bull that ate Samuel L Jackson&#39s pig. I believe that outside major urban centres the rest of this year will see sustained growth of around 18 per cent measured on the Nationwide index, followed by a fall in transaction levels and virtually zero growth next year.

London is a very different story. The traditional house market will continue to be strongly driven by simple demand, although the top end looks very vulnerable to redundancies in the banking sector. The real problem area is new-build flats in London designed for the buy-to-let market are largely not suitable for families and, driven by speculative investors, are priced way over the secondhand market in pound per square foot terms.

The rental market is not there, yields have collapsed, more forced sellers will appear and the sector will see a fall in value of as much as 25 per cent over the next year. This is not to say buy-to-let is bad, as in most places the long-term investment case remains strong. It&#39s just in London that Sam&#39s bear will eat the greedy piggy.

Mark Chilton is an independent mortgage consultant


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