The average house price, according to the Nationwide building society, rose by £6,000 in April, or £200 a day. In the course of the month, the cost of property increased by 2.1% – the highest one-month jump since 2004.
Everywhere there are signs of boom conditions: buyers putting in offers without even seeing the property they are after; agents asking for best and final offers well in excess of the asking price; lenders trying to compensate for spiralling prices by offering cheaper home-loan rates and easier terms.
There is more to come. The Bank of England – despite evidence that the economy is emerging more rapidly from its deep winter freeze than expected – will keep official interest rates at 0.1% when it meets this week. Threadneedle Street’s quantitative easing programme is creating the cash that is lubricating the property market.
At the Treasury, Rishi Sunak has extended the stamp duty holiday, which now comes to a final end in September, and with prices rising, buyers have an added incentive to get their deals done quickly. The fact that the housing market was in the doldrums last spring because of the first lockdown will mean double-digit house price inflation within the next few months.
In one sense, this is good news. The UK is so dependent on the state of the residential property market that the current burst of activity increases the chances of a rapid bounce-back from Covid-19. Homebuyers employ solicitors to do their conveyancing. They spend money on furnishings and white goods, ensuring shops and distribution centres stay busy. Even without the feelgood factor engendered by rising prices, there are considerable spill-over effects when the market is hot.
Britain has been here many times before and it never ends well
All that said, however, an incipient property bubble is unwelcome for a number of reasons. First, it entrenches already serious inequalities between young and old, between rich and poor, and between owner-occupiers and renters. It is not immediately obvious why a young couple desperately saving up to buy their first home but needing to find an ever-higher deposit would consider rising prices to be