Right hand, meet left hand

The tough choices of joined up government…

As we reported, Grant Shapps made the case earlier this week that a stagnant housing market with prices remaining flat or decreasing in real terms would be a good thing for first-time buyers and achieve a more stable housing market in the future.

 At the end of this week, David Cameron argued that the housing market “has become very stuck and we’ve got to get it moving again”.

He rightly points out that mortgages are now hard to get even for those who are able to pay them and are likely to be able to in the future:

“If you are a single person, you are earning a decent salary. You go to the bank or building society, you are actually quite a good risk – they won’t give you 80 per cent of the value, they won’t give you four times your salary.”

Here’s the problem however – as soon as you start opening up mortgage lending again, to exactly the people David Cameron describes above, then house prices will start rising again, exactly what Grant Shapps doesn’t want.

As I said, in my last post the brake on house price increases is mortgage availability. The price of homes in Britain rises to the amount of available credit in the economy. Increase the credit, increase the prices.

It’s one of the tough problems you face in government. They can try to help Britain to develop a more stable and secure housing market. The result of that is locking first-time buyers out of the market in the meantime. Take your pick.

Without some really radical reforms (that some of our previous commenters have flagged) the government has pretty limited powers over shaping the housing market. They’re going to find it really hard to force the banks to free up their lending, not least because they also want to banks to build their reserves back up so they can pay back the public’s money.

In contrast, if/when banks in the future begin to lend more freely and the housing market gets motoring again, they’re going to have to take some pretty tough steps to stop prices spiralling again. Grant Shapps hasn’t said what steps he would take or what levers government really has in these circumstances, but it would take quite a lot of political steel to intervene.

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