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The idea of a single, definitive house price index was first mooted by the National Statistician back in late 2010, when they said that an index and accompanying stats should be produced “by the official statistics producer community”.
They also said it should give a UK-wide picture, be updated on a monthly basis and be based on completion prices.
Since then the Office for National Statistics has been consulting on a regular basis with Land Registry, Land & Property Services Northern Ireland and the Registers of Scotland in an effort to achieve the creation and implementation of a single, unified, official government index for the whole of the UK.
There have been some small hold-ups thanks to issues from a technical and methodology viewpoint, but these problems have been ironed out and June 2016’s deadline for the new index now looks likely to be met.
A user event, organised by the ONS, will is to be held in London soon as the build-up to the launch starts in earnest. The new index will be analysed, discussed and compared against existing house price indices, which include those supplied by Nationwide and Halifax.
But what are the possible pros and cons of this new index? For example, will it stop sellers from quoting all sorts of figures – from a number of different indices – when it comes to trying to value their home?
Will it help to put the valuation process back in the hands of the agent, who knows the market and knows how best to set a fair and realistic asking price?
Alternatively, might having one single, unified, official government index allow the government to skew the perception of the market? If there is only one house price index, it will essentially be a case of "what they say goes".
There is always likely to be an element of massaging when it comes to house prices statistics, but could having only one official index make sure that a clearer, more broad picture won’t be offered up by the government? Might too much focus be placed on London and the South East rather than other regions?
Those who support the single house price index approach say one of the main advantages would be to avoid the contradictions currently served up the different indices produced by different national regions and sometimes different government bodies.
A more stripped-back, streamlined, centralised index would help to avoid contradictions and conflicting messages in regards to the house price data available.
Having an official government index – with the standing and kudos that would bring – could also stop the more commercial indices, like those provided by Rightmove, Nationwide and Halifax, from hogging the headlines.
The single government index may come to be seen as the ultimate and most trustworthy provider of house price data. It may become the go-to destination for anyone seeking this kind of information. On the other hand, of course, it might not. People might still turn to the commercial indices. And these commercial indices aren’t just going to go away because of the government converting to a single, unified house price index, so there is still the possibility of contradictory and conflicting messages.
As many agents will know, all these indices will tell you something slightly different. All have slightly different views and opinions on what the house price data means, how much the data has changed on a month-by-month and year-by-year basis and where house prices will be going in the future. That won’t change with the introduction of this new index, although the government would themselves have a clearer, less contradictory way of measuring house price data. Like with all these things, it will be a case of waiting and seeing what exactly happens when the new index is introduced.
We will know more six months to a year down the line about how successful the new, streamlined version has been.
The long consultation period suggests that plenty of time, thought and effort has gone into its production. But, as always, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
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