Forget Covid-19 and Brexit. The question to which most people in the UK would want an uncertain answer is what will happen to house prices in 2021.
UK chancellor Rishi Sunak seems to be trying to build for himself the image of a man who is not afraid to “tell it like it is” when the situation requires it. But his actions show that he is prepared to sacrifice long-term economic development for a short-term boost for his Conservative party.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many British people to look for the first time at their homes in a new light: as a place to live, rather than simply an investment.
The lockdown has served as a time of reflection on their home’s advantages and disadvantages and perhaps a reassessment of priorities.
Before the new coronavirus pandemic, one of the main ways in which the UK’s Conservative Party boosted consumer confidence was pushing house prices up with the aid of various taxpayer-funded schemes such as Help to Buy.
But as the damage done by Covid-19 to the economy heaps pressure on the public purse, should the taxpayer still generously fund schemes that mainly serve to boost house prices and the fortunes of a few big companies and their already well-off clients?
The fact that chatter about a wealth tax is increasing to the point where it could become reality in the UK should not be a surprise. But it would be a very odd thing for a Conservative government to be the one to actually implement it.
The price growth of an “asset” into which investors everywhere around the globe have poured billions since the financial crisis has slowed dramatically, and this should worry policymakers.
One thing that becomes clear to a foreigner after even a short time in Britain is how obsessed people are with homeownership. Expressions like “getting on the housing ladder”, “you can’t go wrong with bricks and mortar” or “rent is throwing money away” are all too common.
Despite this obsession — or maybe because of it — it turns out that the British are not all that careful when it comes to making sure they fully read and understand the terms of their mortgage.
This year, the UK government must come up with solutions to the main crises that eat away at some ordinary Britons’ well-being. One of these is the housing crisis, which continues unabated despite the billions of pounds thrown at the problem.
As the major central banks are slowly retreating from their policy of asset purchases, we will probably witness some of the side effects of this withdrawal.
Warren Buffett famously said that “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” The tide is going out only slowly, but we are beginning to see, at least in the UK, the damage the ultra loose monetary policy has done.
The Bank of England has reason to pat itself on the back. During the financial crisis of 2007-2009, things could have taken a very ugly turn if it hadn’t cut interest rates to record lows and hadn’t started printing money.