Online House Hunter: Graphic facts

Alan Cleaver
grafsml 300x225 Online House Hunter: Graphic facts

Take care of sweeping statistics in the housing market

EACH month – sometimes each week – a new survey or set of statistics is published announcing either the rebirth or continued decline of the housing market. In order to make a good story, exciting headline or just turn dull figures into something interesting, journalists often gloss over important provisos about the data.

For example, they may not make it clear that the exciting headline is based on a survey of half a dozen estate agents living in a hot-spot in South East England. And even if the survey’s base covers hundreds of buyers, sellers or agents that might equate to just one in the North West region where you live.

There’s also the problem of what is meant by an increase or decrease. Quite often an increase of four per cent might refer to a month-on-month figure. A closer look at the statistic might reveal that over the past year that equatest to a six per cent decline.

And – one of my hobbby-horses – is the desire of journalists to pull-out a national average, ignoring the fact that huge prices rises in London are skewing the decline in prices throughout the rest of Britain.

So I urge journalists, housing professionals and those just trying to work out whether it’s a good time to sell or buy property to spend a few minutes reading an article just published by the Office for National Statistics. It may not have the attention-grabbing headline of most newspapers – it’s actually called “Regional and local variations in the housing market, England and Wales, 2001-10″ but it highlights in startling clarity why all the points mentioned above matter.

Let me pick out just two key points:

· The number of mortgage-funded purchases fell in all regions between 2001 and 2009, by as much as 59 per cent

· Sales volumes were volatile from 2001 to 2010 and dropped dramatically in all regions in 2008, with only four regions since experiencing any annual increase

Some of us may have guessed sales volumes were struggling but I suspect most will be stunned at the drop in mortgage-funded purchases.

I’m loathe to pick-out headline-grabbing stats in the way I’ve just criticised but I had to do a double-take when I read that the highest percentage rise in house prices between the boom years of 2001 to 2007 was Wales: Prices rose 133 per cent from £60,000 in 2001 to £140,000 in 2007. There’s been much discussion of late about the collapse of house prices in Wales but this statistic puts all that into some perspective. Journalists are quick to highlight London as the property investors’ favourite location but who was shouting about Wales in the boom years? And the big price drops being seen now might simply be a stark example of houses prices having to get real after those heady days of 2001-2007.

We may not all be expert statisticians but articles such as this one by the ONS do at least remind you to keep your thinking head screwed on when reading yet another racey newspaper article about property prices.


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