Property and the EU referendum

Property and the EU referendum

It’s now under a month until the EU referendum on June 23. It might feel like the debate has been going on forever, with both the Leave and Remain sides taking every available opportunity to put their case across to voters.

But, putting aside the shouts of Project Fear and Project Fantasy and sidestepping some of the 'facts' we have been greeted with from both sides, what would a 'Brexit' or 'Bremain' mean for the property industry?

The Remain side, in particular the Chancellor George Osborne, has made plenty of noise in the last few days about house prices tumbling in the event of a Brexit.

Realistically speaking, there is no knowing what would happen to house prices if we did pull out of the EU.

If we remain, things will stay largely as they are, with the uncertainty caused by the EU referendum washed away.

If the UK votes to leave, there is likely to be some downward pressure on house prices, but it is unlikely to be catastrophic.

The HomeOwners Alliance has said house prices might not even fall, but they would grow more slowly than they otherwise would if the UK voted to stay put.

When it comes to the economy, the outcome is less certain. Many expert economists say that if we do vote to leave the EU the pound will decline in value, foreign investors will be put off investing and the long-term economic health of the country could be threatened.

The Bank of England and the Treasury have both warned that the UK could fall back into recession if we pull out.

While the more dire warnings should be taken with a large pinch of salt, it does seem likely that the UK economy will suffer a sharp shock in the short-term if we withdrew.

Imports could become more costly, in turn placing extra pressure on the Bank of England to increase interest rates for the first time since 2009.

As a result, a vote to leave is likely to ensure the cost of mortgages will rise faster than they would do if we opt to remain.

On the other hand, pro-Brexit campaigners say housing demand will be eased if we vote to leave as the UK would be able to do more to reduce immigration.

Demand for housing going down would mean house prices growing at a slower rate, which would help to make it easier for first-time buyers to get onto the property ladder.

They also say EU regulations on housebuilding (and where we can build houses) would be loosened in the event of a Brexit, making the planning and subsequent building of houses a smoother, quicker process.

The number of houses built would go up, once again giving first-time buyers more opportunities to purchase that first home.  

On the downside, protected green spaces could be built on and areas dedicated to wildlife could be at risk.

There are a number of property-related EU requirements which could be shelved if there is a vote for leave. Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) – a must for anyone buying, selling or letting out a home – are required by EU law.

There is a good chance these would be kept even if we did Brexit, but there is also a chance that they would be ditched.

This would make the process of moving home slightly cheaper, but there would likely be opposition from those keen on making homes as energy-efficient as they can be.

Equally, the EU target for Zero Carbon Homes by 2020 – something this current government is not exactly enamoured with – would likely be scrapped if we voted to leave.

As for the private rented sector, demand – particularly in major UK cities – is expected to remain high whichever way the referendum goes.

Nonetheless, if the UK does leave the EU there might – over time – be a drop off in the number of EU nationals renting privately here, which could cause issues for landlords in London.

Currently, though, renting is far more popular than buying and, for the foreseeable future, that doesn’t look like changing, regardless of an In or Out vote.

Some people believe a Brexit would impact on overseas investment, making the UK a less attractive proposition to foreign investors.

If this happened, more stock would be freed up for domestic landlords and first-time buyers. The Build to Rent sector, however, could struggle for investment.

There is also a school of thought that the UK – and London in particular – will still be very appealing to foreign investment even if we leave the European Union. Opponents, though, argue that the knocks to the economy will help to deter would-be investors from overseas.

All in all, much of what is written and spoken between now and June 23 on things like house prices, mortgages and interest rates will be speculation, conjecture and guesswork.

The truth is, no-one can say for sure what will happen. Very little is certain, because of all the variables involved.

However, given the robustness of the property market – it is one of the few areas of the country that has really thrived since the recession took hold in 2008 – the sales and rental sectors should hold up pretty well in the long-term whether the vote is for Brexit or Bremain.