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Better housing policies promote economic growth

“Housing and the Economy: Policies for Renovation” says reforms to financial sector regulation, taxation,  land-use, rental market rules and the provision of social housing will improve both the real estate sector and spill-over to the economy as a whole.

“OECD countries have seen the damage caused by badly designed policies through their effects on housing markets,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria. “As we search for new sources of growth, as we seek to restore trust in our financial sectors, as we try to green our economies, policies related to housing can have a huge impact on our future”.

The OECD says that easy credit over the past two decades amplified price volatility, with real housing price jumps of  90% or more in Australia, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom over the study period. Deregulation and innovation in  mortgage markets – coupled with inadequate supervisory frameworks –  contributed to a significant relaxation in lending standards, an increase in non-performing loans and the sub-prime crisis.

The report, a chapter in the OECD’s forthcoming Going for Growth publication, suggests that future innovations in mortgage markets must be coupled with tighter regulatory oversight and stronger prudential regulations.

The report also shows how policies favouring homeownership over rental markets have reduced residential and labour mobility.This is particularly true for households with mortgages that went into negative equity positions due to the crisis. Low mobility risks undermining the ongoing jobs recovery.

Other key policy reforms should:

Increase responsiveness of new housing supply to market demand. Countries should reassess licensing procedures that limit new housing starts and reconsider land-use regulations that unduly prevent development. More responsive supply can limit price volatility, excessive price increases and encourage labour mobility.

Eliminate tax policies that favour housing over other investments. Favourable tax treatment lowers borrowing costs, encouraging excessive investment, speculation and price volatility and limit mobility. Tax breaks are capitalized in house prices, preventing some lower-income households from home ownership. Property taxes should better reflect market values.

Encourage labour mobility. Lowering transaction costs would enable more financially-constrained households to move. Redesigning strict rent control regulations could increase housing supply. Better targeted social housing could improve access  for households in need. Policymakers should avoid concentrating low-income households  Portable housing allowances may be preferable over direct provision of housing.

Nicholas Leeming, commercial director at Zoopla.co.uk, said:

“The property sector needs to encourage first-time buyers and the abolition of stamp duty would certainly help to achieve this. The last stamp duty holiday had a positive impact on first-time buyer numbers which filtered into the rest of the market. However at a time when inflation is on the rise and people are struggling to meet their current financial obligations, imposing a tax across the board to cover the loss of stamp duty revenues is not the best policy. Instead of abolishing stamp duty completely, an increase in the thresholds would provide more of an incentive for first-time buyers without the need for an all embracing tax that would affect everyone. Lenders aren’t going to provide incentives to revive the market this year so it’s up to the government to step in.”

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  1. David Newnes, estate agency managing director of LSL property services, owners of Your Move and Reeds Rains says:

    “Stamp duty only becomes a barrier to first time buyers when they purchase higher value properties over the stamp duty threshold. There are lots of first time buyer properties round the country still under the threshold. These aren’t the people who are finding it hardest to buy property. Most first-timers don’t get over the threshold for stamp duty but, because they tend to have relatively small deposits, they have their feet kept off the ladder by tight lending criteria for the higher loan-to-value mortgages. This is the real problem. If the government is serious about kick-starting demand for housing among first-time buyers, it needs to find ways of ensuring that publicly owned lenders start lending to people without large sums of cash in their pockets.

    “Swapping a single payment tax for one that continues indefinitely will have an adverse effect on prices. Property buyers can’t be hoodwinked by a short-term saving that is so clearly a poisoned chalice. An ongoing tax on property would put the brakes on demand even further”