November 2014: We have seen strong house price growth over the year and, for the first time in many years, we have seen values in the UK increase in every region in which we operate. In addition, the performance of our portfolios have been supported by strong sales margins. We also continue to see growth in London, albeit at varying rates.
Sentiment within the housing market has been dampened by wider concerns about the economy combined with the possibility of interest rate rises, the mortgage market review and the Labour Party’s proposed mansion tax, should they assume power after the next election. This political uncertainty and the outcome of the forthcoming election has likely been a factor in the reduction in house price inflation in some areas of London as well as reduced transaction levels.
There remains, however, a significant undersupply of housing in the UK and, along with a slowly improving economy, jobs market and expected population growth, this imbalance supports a positive house price inflation environment, albeit at more sustainable levels. In the regions we have seen positive momentum in terms of sales and capital values. Specifically, we expect to see a gradual improvement in those regions with stronger economic prospects. In our own experience in the south of England over recent months, we have seen the time to complete sales slightly increase and the number of viewings diminish; this has been most apparent in central London.
The business is well placed to respond to the market. Our assets have defensive qualities which help maintain strong values due to their size, type, location, pricing and condition. Moreover, it is important to note that, although 68% of our UK portfolios by value are in London and the South East of England, only 27% of our assets are located in Central London. In addition, we have 80 assets worth £2m and over at vacant possession value out of our UK portfolio of c.11,500 units.
Rent levels in the market rented sector remain robust, with stable increases seen throughout the year. The UK market rented properties which we manage strongly outperformed the market. According to the Office of National Statistics, the average private rent increases in the UK were 1% for the year to September 2014. Our portfolio saw like-for-like rent increases at both renewals (4.2%) and on new lets (9.1%). This outperformance is due to our active asset management, refurbishment investment programme and strong asset characteristics which are in high demand.
Although political manoeuvring in the run-up to the General Election, such as the proposal for a mansion tax, risk creating uncertainty over the next six months, it is encouraging to note that the main political parties are broadly supporting growth policies in terms of housing supply and institutional investment in the private rented sector, which is important to our longer term strategy.
The Government and the Conservative Party are pursuing policies with the intention of supporting house building, the mortgage market and the private rented sector and Labour’s Lyons Review of the housing market was broadly welcomed by the industry, setting a positive direction of travel for the formation of Labour’s housing policies in the run-up to the election.
This backdrop continues to provide a good tailwind for institutional investor interest in the UK private rented sector, and we see clear opportunities for growth which we can leverage in order to further our long term strategic direction for the business.