Around the block: UK shows willingness to tackle its property bubble

House prices are rising at more than 10 per cent a year in the UK. Photograph: Thinkstock

House prices are rising at more than 10 per cent a year in the UK. Photograph: Thinkstock

Thu, May 8, 2014, 00:00

Not to be outdone by our overheating property market, the talk in the UK this week is of little other than the simmering property bubble there that threatens to derail its economic growth.

Comparisons are odious of course, and our confined property bubble is tied to stock shortages in urban areas, while that of England appears linked to better than expected economic growth.

House prices are rising at more than 10 per cent a year (sound familiar? In Dublin the figure ranges from 10 per cent and up to 20 per cent in some areas) and UK economists are concerned buyers are taking on unsustainable levels of debt. After the Bank of England said the housing market was the biggest threat to the UK’s financial stability, the OECD suggested deposit payments be increased for house buyers, and a reining-in of its Help to Buy scheme.

What’s interesting is that the UK seems prepared to move far more swiftly to address its property problems than we are in Ireland. Here we spend months which then run into years bemoaning rising prices and stock shortages, but do little to address them.

The key economic tool that the UK has at its disposal is its ability to increase interest rates from their record low level of 0.5 per cent, and push up mortgage costs. Because we are hitched to the euro we have no such direct economic cooling method available, although the banks have pushed up costs of borrowing to offset all those tracker mortgages still out there.

Under new laws the Bank of England’s Prudential Regulatory Authority can limit banks’ freedom to lend to housebuyers if it thinks the market is becoming unsustainable.

Here, however, there have still been scant measures taken to safeguard against a repeat of previous errors.