With residential property, views on value are more diverse – and emotional, unlike with shares, where there is often more consensus about what constitutes a reasonable price.
The average property in Britain has increased in value by almost 60 times in the past five decades.
That roughly follows the average for the UK, according to the latest data from Nationwide Building Society published on Wednesday.
On the back of such large, tax-free increases in wealth it is understandable that millions of families want their younger generations to benefit similarly. But right now?
On average prices continue to rise. But London’s top end is already falling (Kensington asking prices are down by 9pc year-on-year, says Rightmove); foreign buyers are pulling back; new taxes are taking their toll on buy-to-let; and rental yields – which, like dividend yields on shares, are one measure of pricing – are incredibly low in many regions.
The long-term pattern of house price movements shows a steady rise since the Fifties, but this masks many a slump. Average prices peaked in late 1989 at £62,800 and then fell throughout the recession of the Nineties, regaining that point again only at the end of 1997.
Some properties that went for top prices in 1989 in then fashionable areas such as London’s Wapping had to wait 12 years or more to come back into the black. Couple that with the fact that today’s buyers are likely to be borrowing a lot – even more if they use the Government’s Help to Buy schemes – and the decision they face is nerve-racking.
With every further upward click of the house price ratchet, the risk increases. Even a modest fall in prices could push borrowers into negative equity, leaving young families stuck in small or inappropriate properties.
A big fall in prices would be far more excruciating. It could blight a family for a decade, as it did families in the Nineties.
The mantra of those who believe in an endless boom is the theory that a property shortage will sustain prices.
People are borrowing at ultra-low rates and with little thought as to how the debt will be cleared in future. Or they are gambling.
If you would not borrow 10 times your downpayment to invest in shares, where several reliable measures of value suggest some are cheap, why would you borrow 10 times your downpayment to buy property – which in many areas appears so overpriced?
The Government has intervened in housing in a number of dubious ways, but to encourage large amounts of borrowing to buy – through “Help to Buy” – is reckless, especially now.
The only way today’s buyers can win is if house prices continue to rise. That is a big bet, and not something the Government should be casually encouraging young families to do.