Subscribing to our award-winning Hub enables readers to receive regular emails with the top articles most likely to interest them

James Parker’s New Year’s Resolution focuses on the need to look for facts

My new year’s resolution is to not let a good story get in the way of facts.

Part of, if not most of, a journalist’s role (surely) is to try and be as clear as possible about how things are. It’s in everyone’s interest not to beat around the bush, as we embark on what will be a really challenging few months.

Of course, the truth can sometimes seem to depend on who you’re listening to, and the ever-shifting background to much of what’s going on in our industry tends to make deciphering the facts something of a fool’s errand.

We need to have a grown-up conversation, to avoid overpromising, and under-delivering.

James Parker James Parker Editor of Architects DataFile

Dinosaur teeth

In December we swallowed (along with all the food and booze) some pretty funny media communications, no doubt sent in the interest of ‘goodwill to all men.’

If you read this following headline for example, you’d be forgiven for thinking all in the housing market was in no danger at all: “UK House Prices SOAR: Expert shares important guidance for buyers negotiating deals.”

The shouty capitals are either intended to make the ‘SOAR’ look the genuine hero of this fact-compromised bit of work from the serious-sounding US price comparison site ‘NerdWallet,’ or (being optimistic), a sign that the headline was intended to be slightly frivolous.

The truth is that since around April 2021, the house price graph has resembled a set of Tyrannosaurus Rex teeth – there has been no clear pattern, apart from extreme volatility as the market emerges from Covid hibernation to a world of record inflation.

Yes, it’s also true (at least according to the Government’s official source – the ONS), that the average house price was £296K in October last year, making it £33K higher than the same month in 2021, and continuing the overall upward trajectory the UK has expected for decades.

However whether that counts as a ‘soaring’ rise is very much down to the beholder.

A wake-up call

What actually happened to house prices in the last few weeks though must give everyone pause for thought.

They fell in November (despite that chirpy December headline) by 2.3%, the biggest fall since October 2008 – the middle of the ‘Great Recession.’

That is a sharp wake-up call to the industry, which has become accustomed, some might say complacent, to its ever-growing magical house-price money tree.

The only region with rising house prices currently is the north east (growth rose a smidgeon to 10.5% in November).

This all means that housebuilders will not be able to meet the (now aspirational) 300,000 homes a year target, but many might also be in a more precarious position.

However, it might also mean a rebalancing of affordability for people across the country, who are currently priced out of the market.

With the cost-of-living set to be a major problem throughout 2023, and Help to Buy ending in March, this ‘softening’ in house prices looks set to continue, if not deepen.

Finding the true picture

The Bank of England pulled interest rates up to 3.5% in December, spooked by continued inflation over 10%, making it their ninth consecutive increase.

They’re now at their highest since October 2008, making life hard for the already ‘squeezed middle’ coping with hikes in energy prices and other cost rises.

From humble PR and business-to-business media, to top Government levels, with the situation we are in I think we should always aim not to overstate, but to try and find the true picture.

So, sorry this isn’t a happy-clappy start to the new year, but we need to have a grown-up conversation, to avoid overpromising, and under-delivering.

When we have problems like climate change on our hands, I think this kind of ‘looking at the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be’ approach is going to be a big part of a successful strategy, both this year and beyond.

James Parker is editor of Architects DataFile and Housebuilder & Homemaker