What go up, down and remain at the same level at the same time? The answer is house prices, depending on whose stats you follow.
Often the headlines simply don’t match and that’s because so many property portals, mortgage lenders, estate agents and government departments run their own figures.
The question for landlords and homebuyers is how reliable are house price statistics reliable, and if so, who should you follow?
- 1 The Big Five numbers just don’t add up
- 2 What the figures are based on
- 3 What does house price data tell you?
- 4 Where to look up house prices
- 5 More information
The Big Five numbers just don’t add up
Just about everyone involved in property publishes a house price report every month, but the media tend to concentrate on the big five – Acadata, which is put together by e-Surv; the Office for National Statistics, the government’s statistics department; Nationwide; the Halifax and Rightmove.
The table below shows the results of each of the indices for the past 12 months. The ‘A’ column is for annual price growth and the ‘M’ for monthly price changes.
The Rightmove gap for April to June last year was because the index wasn’t published due to coronavirus.
The ONS publishes data two months late, so the current latest data is for December 2020.
For February 2021, annual house prices rocketed between 3% and 8.6% and there aren’t any months when the data matches across each index.
UK house price comparison data 2020-21
What the figures are based on
The key to picking the right index to follow is the accuracy of the data and what it is based on.
The experts will say the best house price indicator is the ONS House Price Index based on house sale data reported to the Land Registry.
Unfortunately, the flaw with the data is the time the ONS takes to publish the results – two months in arrears means the data is out of date when released.
That gives a good historical view of house prices, but scant information to base current prices on.
The e-Surv report also uses Land Registry data but updates the index with predicted house prices.
The Nationwide and Halifax use their own mortgage information as the source of their data.
This immediately excludes cash sales, which make up a third of the market.
There are other issues with the data:
- Sample size – Not everyone goes to these lenders for a mortgage
- Geography – Becoming less of a problem with online applications, but where offices are located can influence the data if they are mainly in more affluent areas
- The mortgage amount does not reflect the house price but the affordability rating of the customer
The basic flaw with property portals is the figures quoted are asking prices and not necessarily the agreed sale price, which can be wildly different.
What does house price data tell you?
Fixing the right price is difficult if you are buying or selling a home.
So many factors need considering, like size, the garden, the location and general condition.
But house price data tells you little about any of these things.
If you live in a street of identical houses and your neighbour sells at the same time as you but for 10% more, does that mean house prices have gone up 10% or stayed the same? Or it could mean your neighbour has a conservatory or a better decorated property.
Your neighbour just might have got lucky and accepted an offer from someone who didn’t try to strike a deal over the price.
Average house prices
Lots of house price indices calculate average house prices, but the figure is meaningless as there’s no such thing as an average property v- even in the same street.
And most of the indices work out regional averages, which could be for the entire country, London or the North East, which all return vastly different results.
Why is house price data published?
The data is published for lots of reasons, but the cynical answer is to mainly to garner column inches or airtime to give the publisher free advertising.
The information might be useful to economists and businesses as well.
Where to look up house prices
Find out house prices where you live or want to buy in England and Wales:
The Big Five house price data sources
Sold house prices
You can look at lots of web sites for sold house price statistics, but all of them rely on Land Registry data, so go straight there – Land Registry sold house price data.