The UK housing market comprises 27.8 million residential properties1. Linked to income, wealth and availability of lending, the housing market is sensitive to the overall economic climate.

Housing policy in the UK is devolved and sub national trends are available in the related links. This latest article in the UK Perspectives series presents some UK national trends.

1. Current rising house prices

The ONS mix-adjusted House Price Index (HPI) is a measure of house price inflation over time and is calculated as a weighted average of prices for a standard mix of tenure. This removes the effect of the changing composition of properties.

Mix-adjusted House Price Index (HPI), UK, 1980 to 2013

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  • On average house prices have increased by 6.9% per year since 1980.
  • Since 1980, the greatest annual increase in house prices was 25.6% in 1988.
  • In 2013, the average price (mix adjusted) of a property in the UK stood at £242,000.

There were seven years between 1980 and 2013 where, on average, UK house prices fell - the majority of which occurred during the recession of the early 1990s. The biggest drop, however, was 7.6% in 2009.

The economic downturn in 2008 had a considerable impact on the UK housing market. The decline in house prices was accompanied by reduced mortgage availability and stricter lending criteria, and this is a major reason in the UK for the continuing low level of housing transactions.

The number of property sales in the UK almost halved from a peak of 1.67 million in 2006 to 0.86 million in 20092. Since 2009, however, the number of sales has partially recovered – increasing to 1.07 million in 20133.

2. Declining number of first time buyers

Number of mortgage loans for first time buyers, UK, 1980 to 20134

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Rising house prices could partially explain the decline in the number of first time buyers taking out a mortgage. Between 1980 and 2002, the number of mortgages agreed for first time buyers was averaging around 486,000 per year. However, in 2003 there was a 31% decline in the number of mortgages for first time buyers from 2002.

2008 saw a further 47% decrease from 2007 as the effects of the economic downturn impacted on the housing market. While some recovery in the numbers of first time buyers has been apparent in 2013/2014, the level remains below the average seen prior to 2003.

3. Decreasing numbers of younger homeowners

Percentage of each age group that are home owners5, England, 1981 to 2012

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The reduction in the numbers of first time buyers has subsequently had an impact on the age of homeowners. In 1991, 67% of the 25 to 34 age group were homeowners. By 2011/12, this had declined to 43%.

There were also reductions in home ownership over the same period for the 16 to 24 age group (from 36% to 10%) and for the 35 to 44 age group (from 78% to 64%). By contrast, home ownership has increased among older age groups.

4. Increasing deposits paid by first time buyers

Deposit as a percentage of purchase price by type of buyer, UK, 1988 to 2013

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Another likely contributing factor to the decline in numbers of first time buyers is the rise in the value of deposits paid to secure a mortgage.

For first time buyers, the average deposit as a percentage of purchase price increased by almost 10 percentage points between 1988 and 2013, standing at 22% of the price of the house. Deposits for first time buyers peaked during the economic downturn in 2009 at 28% of the purchase price. Since 2009, deposits for first time buyers have steadily fallen – though figures remain among the highest for the last 25 years.

For former owner occupiers (existing owners) the level of deposit being paid remained fairly stable, with an overall increase of 1.2 percentage points between 1988 and 2013. However, at 36% this is still higher than throughout the entire 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s. The difference in deposit paid by first time buyers and existing owners has therefore narrowed over time.

5. Increase in private rental sector stock

The number of households in the UK, and therefore demand for housing, has increased, partly as a result of increasing population together with decreasing average household size. There were 26.4 million households in the UK in 2013. Of these, 3 in 10 consisted of only one person6; in 1981, 2 in 10 of the 20.2 million households were single occupancy7.

Dwelling stock by tenure, UK, 1980 to 2012

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Supply has also risen, with an increase of 30% in the total dwelling stock between 1980 and 2012.

Under the 1988 Large Scale Voluntary Transfer (LSVT) policy, local authorities transferred much of their housing stock to housing associations and registered social landlords.

Meanwhile, the growth of home ownership throughout the 1980s and 1990s can be partly attributed to the introduction of Right to Buy, a policy in the UK which provides secure tenants of councils and some housing associations the legal right to purchase the home they are living in at a large discount. By 1991, more than one million council houses in England had been sold to their tenants as a result8.

The rate of Right to Buy sales fell during the 1990s, and in recent years the number of owner occupancies has also slightly declined. Accompanying this decline is the continued growth of private sector renting – which doubled between 1980 and 2012.

6. Fewer new homes are being built

Permanent dwellings completed, by tenure, UK, financial years 1979/80 to 2013/14

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The overall level of house building in the UK has declined since 1980, with 140,880 houses built in financial year 2013/14 – a fall of more than 44% from the 251,820 built in 1979/80.

From financial year 2002/03, the number of build completions saw a short term increase, peaking in 2006/07. Afterwards, the number of houses built dropped at the time of the economic downturn.

Conclusion: Increasing demand and limited supply

Since 1980, there has been considerable fluctuation in the UK housing market. Overall, there has been growing demand and relatively limited supply growth. House prices have been increasing, and first time buyers are finding it more difficult to get on the property ladder - while home ownership among younger age groups generally has declined.

If the number of households in England grows to 24.3 million in 2021 as projected, this would be equivalent to an additional 221,000 households per year9. Housing is therefore likely to remain an important topic in the future.


  1. Trends in the UK Housing Market
  2. See footnote 1.
  3. See footnote 1.
  4. The data for this chart has been provided by the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) solely for this purpose. As such, the underlying data is not available.
  5. The concept of the household reference person (HRP) has been used here. The HRP is defined as a ‘householder’ (that is, a person in whose name the accommodation is owned or rented). For households with joint householders, it is the person with the highest income; if two or more householders have exactly the same income, the older is selected. 2012/13 data for this chart is available from the source link.
  6. Families and Households, 2013
  7. Social Trends
  8. DCLG Right to buy sales, Table 671
  9. DCLG Household interim projections