I hate to be a party-pooper, but one of the agency industry’s coming-up-to-Christmas traditions is going to be particularly hard to undertake this year.
The tradition is the annual prediction of what’s going to happen to the housing market in the next year.
It’s become as much a part of the end-of-year activities as the office decorations and the staff lunch, whether you’re a property journalist or an estate agent.
There’s a traditional cast list for this event. It includes high-end agencies such as Savills, Knight Frank and Strutt & Parker, accompanied by the property consultancies such as Hometrack and JLL, mainstream agencies like Countrywide and the LSL group, as well as the business gurus in the Centre for Economic and Business Research and the like.
As they produce their forecasts so we scribes faithfully reproduce them on screen and in print – partly because we think they inform the public and partly (let’s face it) because it’s getting towards the end of the year and stories are getting fewer and farther between.
As estate agency and business consultancy research departments have proliferated in recent years, however, so the annual predictions have become less important.
This is chiefly because whereas at one time just a few forecasts were made (making each one important and ‘an event’) now there are so many that one often blurs into the other.
To make matters worse, some forecasters ‘revise’ their predictions periodically, so end up strikingly accurate – even if their last version was made a few months before year-end.
But what makes this season’s predictions more interesting or a complete waste of time, depending on your viewpoint, is that it must surely be hard to know what will happen.
It was not uncommon in the past for research experts to say “mainstream house prices will rise 3.7% in the next year” and it’s always been a conundrum to mere journalists how the experts could know – to a 10th of one per cent – how house prices will move.
But even if it was possible before – perhaps – surely it’s not possible for 2017?
The past seems a foreign country now. Or at least the past is when we were happy to have links with 27 foreign countries. And it was when a 52% share of a 72% turnout (aka, some 37% of the public) was not the overwhelming mandate it appears to be in Britain today.
So in the world today we can’t draw on past evidence to make hard and fast predictions, as the rules have changed and no one yet has agreed where they will end.
With a fast-moving pound and a slow-moving government – at least when it comes to revealing its Brexit objectives – who is to know what the next year will hold for interest rates, inflation, currency movement, employment, taxation, economic sentiment, overseas investment and a host of other variables that feed in to guesstimating house prices?
Even if the UK government does come clean about its aims for withdrawal, it may be the remaining EU governments that have more influence on what the UK’s economy will look like in the short term, before this country forges its links on a free-standing basis.
So bring on those house price forecasts: as a non-statistician whose conversations with estate agents have all involved head scratching and an overwhelming sense of uncertainty in recent months, it’s going to be interesting to see if the predictions are remotely precise.
Frankly, residential research teams, if you don’t know what’s going to happen, just say so. No one’s going to hammer you for not giving a figure down to the 10th of one per cent – and frankly, if you did, I’m not sure anyone would believe you.
*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting all things property @PropertyJourn