Supply dries up in UK housing market as listings shrink by a quarter

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·3 min read
BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - APRIL 29: Placards from various housing estates agents advertising properties for sale on April 29, 2021 in Blackburn, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)
While the supply of houses fell by a quarter in the year to March, there was a 22% increase in the number of them going under offer. Photo: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Parts of the UK property market are facing a supply shortage, with a quarter fewer properties listed for sale in England and Wales in March 2021 than compared with the same time last year. 

OnTheMarket data published by Knight Frank showed that this is more of a problem in the market for houses rather than flats, as the number of houses listed for sale was 33% lower over the 12-month period while the number of flats was 7% higher.

Analysis also revealed that it is more acute in parts of the country that have experienced stronger demand due to successive COVID-19 lockdowns. Among the house listings, the number was 3% down in London compared to a drop of 42% in south-west England.

Part of the problem relates to the first two months of this year. January and February were marked by uncertainty over new COVID variants and the vaccination programme was in its early stages. On top of that, many parents were home-schooling. All of which meant new sellers were reluctant to list their property and we are seeing the effects of that now.

When demand escalated sharply in March, supported by the original stamp duty deadline at the end of the month, the best properties sold relatively quickly.

As those properties went under offer, sellers hesitated as they were unable to find anywhere to move into themselves, exacerbating the supply shortage and putting upwards pressure on prices, Knight Frank said. 

“The current supply shortage represents a bumpy exit from the pandemic and tells us very little about how the property market is going to perform over the next 12 months,” said Tom Bill, head of UK residential research at Knight Frank. “The last year has shown the importance of looking beyond short-term distortions in the property market.”

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One reason to believe the imbalance will correct is that the number of market valuation appraisals is rising. Appraisals take place when owners want to know the market price of their property before listing and is a leading indicator of supply.

Chart: Knight Frank
Chart: Knight Frank

The number of appraisals was above the level seen in January 2020 for the first time in six months in March. Last January was marked by a pick-up in demand and supply following the general election. Total available supply also increased for the first time in six months in March although it was still 15% down on last January.

While the supply of houses fell by a quarter in the year to March, there was a 22% increase in the number of them going under offer.

If the UK wasn’t emerging from a pandemic, you could argue this signalled a period of strong price inflation followed by a possible correction, says Knight Frank, nothing that downwards pressure on prices will return as supply increases.

In the meantime, property prices are not becoming detached from their underlying value in a meaningful way, the sign of an asset price bubble.

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