London

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 January, 2007, 12:00am

It's been a week of depressing financial news for the average Briton. First, it was revealed that inflation was running at its highest level in 15 years, which prompted the Bank of England to threaten another interest rate rise, the fourth in seven months. Then, a report showed first-time house buyers were having to take on unprecedented levels of debt in order to get on the property ladder.


Doomsayers are now confident of a crash in house prices. Without first-time buyers, the market grinds to a halt and it can only be re-started if people are motivated by houses becoming cheaper.


And that in itself causes problems because no one can say for certain how sharp the fall will be, so people will be reluctant to buy until it appears prices are rising again. It becomes a vicious circle fuelled by the fact that workers will be demanding pay rises to cover their additional bills, adding to the inflation rate.


Gilly Freedman, 50, who lives in Golders Green in North London, has seen her household bills rocket. Her gas bill has risen 32 per cent in the past year. Petrol and electricity prices have also shot up. Even furniture in December cost an average of 11.2 per cent more than it did in November - its biggest monthly jump since 1947, according to the Retail Prices Index.


Her husband, David, 51, is an economist and he persuaded her to sell their home in the property hot spot of West Hampstead four years ago, arguing the signs were there for a price crash then and that they should get out at the top of the market, bank their equity and rent until they could buy an equivalent apartment at a cheaper price.


'Sadly he was wrong. It's a bit of a sore point,' she told me. 'Prices continued to rise dramatically. We decided to jump back in last year. We couldn't afford to live in as nice a place. Now I wonder if David just got the timing wrong and we have bought at the height of the market.'


Some argue the housing boom has been behind Britain's economic strength relative to other European countries, where home ownership is less common.


A lot of equity was released just as a boom in electronic and digital goods materialised. But it appears to be at the expense of the younger, less well-paid generation for whom a home of their own is a distant dream.


But they aren't the only ones who are missing out. Neil Osman, 38, is a banker in the City and is perhaps one of the very few in that line of work who simply could not believe house prices would continue to rise as fast and for as long.


'Every year for the past 10 years I asked myself, 'should it be this year that I buy?' And every year I decided not to and continue to rent. Even though I earn a good salary - GBP57,000 (HK$878,000) per annum - my expectation of what I could afford has fallen from a small house in a leafy suburb to a one-bedroom flat in a less salubrious area, if I am lucky.


'I read somewhere the last three interest rate rises have added GBP600 a year to repayments on a typical GBP100,000 mortgage. And I know people with GBP200,000 mortgages. Inflation in this country is double what it is elsewhere in the world. Selfishly, I'm hoping for a lot of houses to be repossessed because people can't afford the repayments any more. That will cause a crash and then maybe I can step in.'


With predictions of a large rise in council tax this year, Mr Osman might finally realise his aspirations.


London City Views appears every Wednesday


 
 
 
 

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