Blackfriar: Housebuilding seems immune from the Brexit blues

Property Year Book 2014 Jeff Fairburn Persimmon
Property Year Book 2014 Jeff Fairburn Persimmon
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At a time when nearly every sector is suffering from post Brexit blues following the collapse of sterling, one area that is riding high is property.

Yorkshire housebuilders Persimmon and MJ Gleeson issued robust trading performances this week and both insist that whatever happens once Article 50 is triggered, people will still need a roof over their heads.

One positive effect of Brexit is that interest rates are at record lows making a house purchase much more affordable.

According to Taylor Wimpey, which has plots across Yorkshire, people who opt to buy can save £300 to £350 a month by repaying a mortgage rather than renting.

The ​group said ​UK housing market fundamentals remain good with strong customer confidence in core areas such as Yorkshire​ and​ the market is underpinned by a competitive mortgage market and low interest rates.

Persimmon predicted a “confident” housing market in 2017.​

The York-based FTSE 100 firm​ said visitor numbers have risen 7 per cent in the first eight weeks of 2017.

The group’s chief executive Jeff Fairburn said the EU referendum created an immediate and significant uncertainty in the markets. However it said the vast majority of the group’s customers remained focused on exchanging contracts and completing their new home purchases​.

“​Customers are confident,” said Mr Fairburn.

“We saw that very quickly after the referendum​. Nothing will fundamentally change after Article 50 is triggered. If people see the economic climate change, that might make a difference, but if people have got jobs and access to mortgages they will want to buy new homes.”

Urban regeneration housebuilder MJ Gleeson said​ ​reservations are​ ​at record levels. The Sheffield-based firm​ ​specialises in building houses on land that no-one else wants to buy and turning the developments into desirable areas that rejuvenate the local economy.

Gleeson’s CEO​ ​Jolyon Harrison​ ​said: “Demand is very, very strong indeed. Lenders are desperate to lend. It’s totally affordable. A two bed semi is £100,000. With Help to Buy and a mortgage over 25 years, the payment is £52 a week​. That compares with council house rent of £80 per week.”

Mr Harrison said the group has seen little impact from the Brexit vote.

“Most of our customers voted for Brexit, around 60 to 70 per cent voted for it. People are getting on with their lives,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter what happens with Brexit. It’s cheaper to buy one of our houses than rent.”

At a time when most sectors including retail, manufacturing and services face great uncertainty post Brexit, bricks and mortar look a safe bet for investors​.

However there are concerns. W​hilst the housebuilding market has remained resilient, there ​are fears that we could be seeing the same credit bubble that was created before the financial crisis of 2008.

The latest ​Bank of England figures show​ that the number of mortgage approvals reached its highest levels in nearly a year in January.

The are worries that some borrowers may be at risk of over-stretching themselves as households are squeezed by rising living costs.

Kay Daniel Neufeld, economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research said: “The increasing indebtedness of UK households and the reliance on cheap credit have evoked eerie memories of the credit binge days before the financial crisis.”

T​his is a worry if people are overstretching themselves with their mortgages, ​but home grown talent such as Persimmon and Gleeson have kept prices down to manageable levels.

​​At a time when it’s hard to find a family home for under £500,000 in the South, Gleeson’s price tag of £100,000 and Persimmon’s £206,765 average price tag are far more affordable.