Here are five massively depressing charts about the British housing market

The private rental sector, yay. Image: Getty.

The Resolution Foundation think tank has just published a report called “Home Improvements: Action to address the housing challenges faced by young people”. Some of the charts in it are fascinating – if, that is, you are fascinated by charts showing quite how badly stuffed millennials are getting by Britain’s ever exciting housing market.

Luckily, I am. So here are some of the best ones, with some thoughts about what they tell us.

1. The number of kids growing up in the private rental sector is going through the roof

Between 2003 and 2016, the number of families with kids living in their own homes dropped by 20 per cent. Over the same time period, the number of families with kids living in private rented accommodation tripled.

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This, to my mind, is one of the best arguments for legislating to ensure longer, more secure tenancies and to force landlords to do all those tricky things like fix broken boilers immediately, rather than in a couple of weeks when they get around to it. It’s one thing expecting 22 year olds to put up with shitty rented flats, where they can be turfed out at almost no notice. Expecting families with kids to do the same is a whole different thing.

Apart from anything else, forcing a family to move can also mean pulling its kids out of school, with all the disruption that implies. An under-regulated private rental market isn’t just annoying millennials: it risks ruining childhoods.

2. Rents are not actually rising that fast

There’s a recurring argument on housing Twitter about whether housing costs are actually rising – and therefore whether we have enough homes. Nobody questions whether it costs more to actually buy a home, since it obviously does. But there are those, like economist Ian Mulheirn, who argues that the cost of renting is stable, or even falling.

The Resolution Foundation report suggests that Mulheirn has a partial point. In most of the country, since 2003, rents have risen slower than general inflation.

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But there are several caveats to this. One is that the same cannot be said of London, where rents clearly have risen faster than inflation. Since such a high proportion of young renters are in the capital, that goes some way to explain the apparent mismatch between anecdotal experience and hard data.

Another issue is that it seems to matter when you start counting. Start in 2003, and yes, general inflation has been greater than rental inflation in every other region. Since 2010, though, it looks a lot since rents are catching up. Look at the last eight years in London, and rents have risen much faster than inflation.

And then there’s this:

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To quote the report:

As Figure 4 shows, average rent rises across England topped CPI in two-fifths (62 months) of the 146 months covered. Larger spikes were less common, while average rents still rose more quickly than CPI+1 per cent in one-fifth (30 months) of the period.

That reads to me a lot like many rents will feel rents are rising – even if, on aggregate and over the long term, they’re not.

3. Help to buy has screwed most non-homeowners

The Help to Buy policy was sold as a way of helping first-time buyers onto the ladder, by providing them with government subsidies. The reality, however, is that, by pouring money into a market that wasn’t building enough homes, it just pushed prices up even further out of reach.

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Once again we must give thanks to David Cameron for helping create this crappy country we’re all living in.

4. Fewer young people have a home of their own

Rising rents aren’t the only figure suggesting we need to build more homes: so does the growing proportion of young people forced to share their living space.

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The millennials are the first generation in the last century in which a majority were forced to share at the age of 25. That probably doesn’t translate over-crowding in the Dickensian slum sense – but it certainly suggests that we could do with building more homes in the places people want to live.

Sadly, though...

5. We’re not building enough homes

Over the last 20 years, the government – every government – has repeatedly missed its house-building targets. The only time any managed it was 2005-6, at the height of now looks like an unsustainable boom.

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The government’s current target is 300,000 new homes a year, vastly higher than it’s managed in decades. We don’t have the data to be certain, yet – but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest it’ll miss that, too.

So, to sum up, everything is fine.

You can read the full report here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

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A new wave of remote workers could bring lasting change to pricey rental markets

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus. (Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

When the coronavirus spread around the world this spring, government-issued stay-at-home orders essentially forced a global social experiment on remote work.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people who are able to work from home generally like doing so. A recent survey from iOmetrics and Global Workplace Analytics on the work-from-home experience found that 68% of the 2,865 responses said they were “very successful working from home”, 76% want to continue working from home at least one day a week, and 16% don’t want to return to the office at all.

It’s not just employees who’ve gained this appreciation for remote work – several companies are acknowledging benefits from it as well. On 11 June, the workplace chat company Slack joined the growing number of companies that will allow employees to work from home even after the pandemic. “Most employees will have the option to work remotely on a permanent basis if they choose,” Slack said in a public statement, “and we will begin to increasingly hire employees who are permanently remote.”

This type of declaration has been echoing through workspaces since Twitter made its announcement on 12 May, particularly in the tech sector. Since then, companies including Coinbase, Square, Shopify, and Upwork have taken the same steps.

Remote work is much more accessible to white and higher-wage workers in tech, finance, and business services sectors, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and the concentration of these jobs in some major cities has contributed to ballooning housing costs in those markets. Much of the workforce that can work remotely is also more able to afford moving than those on lower incomes working in the hospitality or retail sectors. If they choose not to report back to HQ in San Francisco or New York City, for example, that could potentially have an effect on the white-hot rental and real estate markets in those and other cities.

Data from Zumper, an online apartment rental platform, suggests that some of the priciest rental markets in the US have already started to soften. In June, rent prices for San Francisco’s one- and two-bedroom apartments dropped more than 9% compared to one year before, according to the company’s monthly rent report. The figures were similar in nearby Silicon Valley hotspots of San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto.

Six of the 10 highest-rent cities in the US posted year-over-year declines, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle. At the same time, rents increased in some cheaper cities that aren’t far from expensive ones: “In our top markets, while Boston and San Francisco rents were on the decline, Providence and Sacramento prices were both up around 5% last month,” Zumper reports.

In San Francisco, some property owners have begun offering a month or more of free rent to attract new tenants, KQED reports, and an April survey from the San Francisco Apartment Association showed 16% of rental housing providers had residents break a lease or unexpectedly give a 30-day notice to vacate.

It’s still too early to say how much of this movement can be attributed to remote work, layoffs or pay cuts, but some who see this time as an opportunity to move are taking it.

Jay Streets, who owns a two-unit house in San Francisco, says he recently had tenants give notice and move to Kentucky this spring.

“He worked for Google, she worked for another tech company,” Streets says. “When Covid happened, they were on vacation in Palm Springs and they didn’t come back.”

The couple kept the lease on their $4,500 two-bedroom apartment until Google announced its employees would be working from home for the rest of the year, at which point they officially moved out. “They couldn’t justify paying rent on an apartment they didn’t need,” Streets says.

When he re-listed the apartment in May for the same price, the requests poured in. “Overwhelmingly, everyone that came to look at it were all in the situation where they were now working from home,” he says. “They were all in one-bedrooms and they all wanted an extra bedroom because they were all working from home.”

In early June, Yessika Patapoff and her husband moved from San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighbourhood to Tiburon, a charming town north of the city. Patapoff is an attorney who’s been unemployed since before Covid-19 hit, and her husband is working from home. She says her husband’s employer has been flexible about working from home, but it is not currently a permanent situation. While they’re paying a similar price for housing, they now have more space, and no plans to move back.

“My husband and I were already growing tired of the city before Covid,” Patapoff says.

Similar stories emerged in the UK, where real estate markets almost completely stopped for 50 days during lockdown, causing a rush of demand when it reopened. “Enquiry activity has been extraordinary,” Damian Gray, head of Knight Frank’s Oxford office told World Property Journal. “I've never been contacted by so many people that want to live outside London."

Several estate agencies in London have reported a rush for properties since the market opened back up, particularly for more spacious properties with outdoor space. However, Mansion Global noted this is likely due to pent up demand from 50 days of almost complete real estate shutdown, so it’s hard to tell whether that trend will continue.

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus, but many industry experts say there will indeed be change.

In May, The New York Times reported that three of New York City’s largest commercial tenants — Barclays, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — have hinted that many of their employees likely won’t be returning to the office at the level they were pre-Covid.

Until workers are able to safely return to offices, it’s impossible to tell exactly how much office space will stay vacant post-pandemic. On one hand, businesses could require more space to account for physical distancing; on the other hand, they could embrace remote working permanently, or find some middle ground that brings fewer people into the office on a daily basis.

“It’s tough to say anything to the office market because most people are not back working in their office yet,” says Robert Knakal, chairman of JLL Capital Markets. “There will be changes in the office market and there will likely be changes in the residential market as well in terms of how buildings are maintained, constructed, [and] designed.”

Those who do return to the office may find a reversal of recent design trends that favoured open, airy layouts with desks clustered tightly together. “The space per employee likely to go up would counterbalance the folks who are no longer coming into the office,” Knakal says.

There has been some discussion of using newly vacant office space for residential needs, and while that’s appealing to housing advocates in cities that sorely need more housing, Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management Company, recently told Spectrum News that the conversion process may be too difficult to be practical.

"I don’t know the amount of buildings out there that could be adapted," he said. "It’s very complicated and expensive.

While there’s been tumult in San Francisco’s rental scene, housing developers appear to still be moving forward with their plans, says Dan Sider, director of executive programs at the SF Planning Department.

“Despite the doom and gloom that we all read about daily, our office continues to see interest from the development community – particularly larger, more established developers – in both moving ahead with existing applications and in submitting new applications for large projects,” he says.

How demand for those projects might change and what it might do to improve affordable housing is still unknown, though “demand will recover,” Sider predicts.

Johanna Flashman is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.