Dutch housing market: more sales and higher prices
Dutch Housing Market Quarterly
- Economic growth to slow slightly during the coming quarters
- Consumer confidence remains high
- Mortgage rates expected to remain low
- The number of transactions to rise to between 200,000 and 220,000 in both 2016 and 2017
- Dutch House prices to continue rising, by around 5% in both years
- Factors underlying these trends are falling interest rates, new house building failing to keep pace, combined with increasing shortages in the market and improved affordability
- Still marked regional differences, but prices are rising virtually everywhere
Improvements in labour market and purchasing power positive for the housing market
For 2016 and next year we anticipate sustained economic growth across all sectors, with 1¾% growth in GDP for both years. Growth in employment is also positive, which will help to reduce unemployment to 6%. Consumer confidence among Dutch households fell in July from +5 to +1, but is still well above the historical average. This fall would appear to be related to the Brexit referendum result. A potential slowdown in growth caused by Brexit could reduce the willingness of households to make large purchases. Together with the low interest rates on savings, this may lead to extra repayments on mortgages and other debts.
Dutch house prices and number of sales rising
The number of sales in the second quarter of 2016 was 50,315, almost 10,000 more than in the second quarter of 2015. House prices are now 4.4% higher than they were a year ago. Increasing shortages on the housing market, the failure of new house building to keep pace and improved affordability of owner-occupied homes mean that the number of transactions and house prices will continue to rise during the coming quarters too. We expect the number of transactions to continue to rise to between 200,000 and 220,000 sales a year. We anticipate that prices will rise by around 5% this year and next.
At present Amsterdam accounts for a quarter of house price rises in the Netherlands. Without Amsterdam, price rises would have been not 4.4% but 3.4% during the second quarter of this year. Only the province of Zeeland appears to be structurally lagging behind.
Mortgage interest rates fall further and will remain low for the time being
New mortgages amounting to EUR 13.1 billion were approved during the second quarter of 2016, a rise of 29% compared to the second quarter of 2015. This rise is partly due to a rising number of transactions. Since the value of new mortgage approvals is higher than mortgage repayments, gross mortgage debt is rising again. Households are also making extra repayments on their mortgages. We estimate that this is around 1% of the outstanding mortgage sum on an annual basis. Mortgage rates fell further during the second quarter and are expected to remain low in 2016 and 2017. During the past year, the majority of house buyers have chosen to take out fixed-rate mortgages for a longer period.
Chapter 1: Economic background
According to initial estimates of Statistics Netherlands (CBS), the volume of real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased by 0.6% in the second quarter compared to the previous quarter, the same rate of growth as seen in the first quarter. This growth was again broad-based. We expect this broad-based economic growth to be sustained throughout this year and into 2017. For both years we reckon on growth in GDP of 1¾% (Table 1). Growth in employment is also positive and is contributing towards a fall in unemployment. International uncertainties are creating a significant downward risk for economic growth.
1.1 Wait-and-see approach among households
During the second quarter, the volume of household consumption rose by 0.2% in real terms compared to the previous quarter, when household consumption rose by as much as 0.5%. We had expected higher growth in private consumption for the first half of this year, since the current consumer climate is particularly favourable thanks to rises in real disposable household income, growth in employment and the tax reduction package (which benefits above all the working population, the largest group of homeowners). The lower than expected growth is partly a reflection of relatively high extra repayments on mortgages (see Chapter 3). Underlying these trends, however, we see that consumption of goods, which is related to trends in the housing market (e.g. durable goods and furniture), has already been growing over a number of quarters.
Consumer confidence in the Netherlands increased in August from +1 to +2. In July, the confidence indicator fell from +5 to +1, this was the first measurement since the Brexit referendum result. The fall was largely due to the fact that households have become considerably more pessimistic about the economic climate for the coming 12 months, which would strongly appear to be related to the Brexit referendum result (Figure 1). For private consumption, the sub-indicators of ‘willingness to buy’ and ‘favourable moment to make large purchases’ in particular are important. These are often good predictors of sustained household consumption and have hardly fallen at all (Figure 1). Consumer confidence is also well above the long-term historical average (-6.8), and so we do not expect any sharp fall in consumption volume in the short term.
Despite this, the effects of Brexit is causing uncertainty about consumption trends. A potential slowdown in growth caused by Brexit may impact on consumer willingness to make large purchases. If the slowdown in growth also leads to persistent deflation, this will cause real household debt positions to deteriorate. A rational reaction to this by households is to make extra repayments on their mortgages and other debts, which may cause household consumption to be lower.
1.2 Unemployment falling as employment picks up
Since the start of the year unemployment has fallen from 6.5% in January to 6.0% in July, the lowest level since the end of 2012. This fall has been driven above all by a rise in employment. During the first half of this year the number of people in work rose by 41,000, mainly accounted for by the business services sector and trade, transport and the hospitality industry (Figure 2). The increase in the number of vacancies and hours worked through temporary agencies points to further growth in employment. We expect that unemployment this year will average 6¼% of the labour force and then fall further in 2017 to 6%.
1.3 Domestic picture still surrounded by foreign uncertainties
The favourable picture of the domestic economy illustrates that the Dutch economy is becoming increasingly resilient against foreign uncertainties. However, the negative economic effects of the Brexit referendum result will have greater economic effects in the Netherlands than in other eurozone countries. This is largely due to the important trading relationship between the UK and the Netherlands. Moreover, the relatively open Dutch economy depends heavily on developments in the global economy. A sharper than expected slowdown of growth in China and a further slowing of the global economy may harm Dutch export channels. Political developments abroad too may become a greater downward risk. Despite the stronger picture of the domestic economy compared to previous years, there is a chance that international uncertainties will dampen economic growth.
Chapter 2: The market for existing owner-occupied homes
The Dutch housing market got off to a strong start this year. The number of sales in the second quarter of 2016 reached 50,315, almost 10,000 transactions more than in the second quarter of 2015. The house price index is 4.4% higher than the level a year ago. As more homes were sold during the second quarter of 2016 and fewer homes were coming on to the market, the negotiating position of sellers improved. Increasing shortages on the market, the failure of new house building to keep pace and the improved affordability of owner-occupied homes have pushed house prices up as well as generating very high consumer confidence in the market for owner-occupied homes. We expect both the number of transactions and house prices to continue to rise during the coming eighteen months.
The number of house sales is rising spectacularly
The number of transactions in the Netherlands is back to pre-crisis levels (Figure 3). The number of house sales during the past four quarters (196,256) surpassed the number of sales in the four quarters preceding the crisis. During the first and second quarters of 2016, some 42,897 and 50,315 homes respectively changed hands. The rise in the number of house sales is substantial. Roughly ten thousand more homes are being sold each quarter than last year. The current level of the number of transactions was considered normal at the turn of this century. We believe that the end is not yet in sight for the rise in the number of transactions, but growth will weaken during the coming quarters. Factors behind further growth are the limited number of new homes, the sustained falls in interest rates and improved affordability. Growth is weakening because transaction numbers appear to have reached their historical maximum and the positive effect of the growth factors is declining. We assume that sales of existing owner-occupied homes will remain at their current high level during the coming period too. This means that for 2016 and 2017 the number of transactions will reach a total of between 200,000 and 220,000 (Figure 4). A number of factors are stoking the uncertainty surrounding our expectations. The shortages on the housing market and a rise in the supply of new homes, for example, may limit growth in sales of existing homes. Higher sales can be expected if affordability continues to improve (see further).
2.2. House prices
House prices rising steadily
Average house prices in the Netherlands have risen substantially during recent quarters (Figure 5). If we compare the level of the house price index (Prijsindex Bestaande Koopwoningen - PBK) with the level a year ago, the index has risen by 4.4%. Compared to the first quarter of 2016 growth was 1.0%. The first quarter of 2016 saw a rise of 1.3% compared to the previous quarter. These are price rises that we regularly saw on the housing market before the crisis (before the third quarter of 2008).
The average house price levels we experienced just before the crisis have however not yet been reached. The house price index reached its peak in the third quarter of 2008, after which it fell by 20.6% until the end of the second quarter of 2013, since when prices have been rising. At present the average house price is still 14% below the peak of the third quarter of 2008 (Figure 6).
The structural reforms that the national government introduced in the period from 2008 to 2013 have been among the main reasons why transaction levels are back at pre-crisis levels while price levels are not. The pre-crisis price levels must therefore not be regarded as a natural balance on the housing market. The main reforms have been the cautious phasing out of mortgage interest relief, the ‘compulsory’ return of the annuity mortgage, the gradual reduction in the loan-to-value (ratio between the mortgage sum and house value) and the considerable tightening up of the debt-to-income limits. These are measures that adversely affected lending capacity above all, and in doing so also structurally reduced house price levels. According to research by DNB, half of the price falls in the crisis period are the result of structural reforms. The other half were due to economic circumstances and a fall in consumer confidence.
We expect the house price index to continue to rise during the coming quarters. Underlying factors are falling interest rates (which lead with some delay to price rises), rising incomes and increasing shortages as demand for owner-occupied homes grows. For 2016 and 2017 we assume a rise of between 4 and 6% (Figure 7).
There are also uncertainties, of course. Negative developments abroad in particular may have an adverse effect on Dutch economic growth (chapter 1), and with it slower growth in the number of house sales and house prices.
The Amsterdam effect
There are regional differences in price trends. In the Dutch big cities in particular, prices are rising faster than the average in the Netherlands. For example, prices in Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague and Rotterdam have risen 10%, 5%, 4% and 1% faster respectively than the Dutch average (4.4%) during the past year. Despite the fact that average prices have risen in all provinces over the past year, prices in southern province Zeeland in particular are lagging behind significantly, with rises of only 0.7%.
But not only house prices are rising strongly. The number of sales in Amsterdam has also risen fast in recent years, causing the capital’s share of the total housing market turnover to soar. During the second quarter of 2016, homes worth a total of EUR 12,052 million were sold, of which Amsterdam accounted for EUR 1,052 million (almost 9%). What is particularly striking here is that Amsterdam’s market share has been rising since 1995 (when it was only 2%), while the market share of the other major cities has remained more or less the same. The market share of the four largest cities together was 18% in the second quarter.
The rise in market share in Amsterdam has had a markedly positive effect on house price trends in the Netherlands (Figure 8). When calculating price trends in the Netherlands excluding Amsterdam, we note that prices have risen 1% less in the past year (i.e. 3.4%). In 2013 the Amsterdam effect was still only 0.1%. If we adjust this for all four major cities, the price effect is 1.9%.
2.3 Factors affecting market trends
Major factors affecting market trends for existing owner-occupied homes have been rising incomes (Chapter 1) and falling mortgage rates (Chapter 3). Together these have made houses more affordable. Shortages on the housing market also intensified again during the second quarter of 2016, partly due to only modest rises in the number of new homes coming on the market. These circumstances produced a new record for consumer confidence in the housing market.
The average affordability of owner-occupied homes continues to improve (Figure 9). The net housing cost ratio fell from 18% in the first quarter of 2013 to 16.2% in the second quarter of 2016. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the structural reforms in the period from 2008 to 2013 focused specifically on the financial risks surrounding home ownership. Because of this, the maximum mortgage sum compared to income in the Nibud tables fell by 17%. The rise in incomes and fall in interest rates meant that the actual negative effect of this was only 8%. Secondly, continuing falls in mortgage rates (Chapter 3) and rising household incomes (Chapter 1) cause house prices to rise, albeit with some time lag. This initially improves affordability.
Experience has shown that affordability fluctuates around a long-term average. Compared to the long-term average since 1995 (22.8%) the current percentage of 16.2% points to exceptionally good affordability. However, this is not a fair comparison because a substantial part of the fall in the net housing cost ratio has been caused by the reforms. A comparison with average affordability since 2013 would therefore be fairer. This works out at 17.3%, which means that since 2013 affordability has even improved (Figure 9).
If we compare affordability in the owner-occupied housing sector with that in the rental sector, the average owner-occupied house has become progressively cheaper during the past few years while the average rented home has become more expensive. The causes are clear. During the crisis period, rents rose faster than inflation and the net housing cost ratio for owner-occupied homes fell from 28% in the first half of 2008 to its current 16.2%, generating greater demand for owner-occupied homes. We expect that the affordability of owner-occupied homes will worsen slightly in 2017 as house prices continue to rise.
The tighter purchase standards have meant that it is increasingly difficult for first-time buyers to get on the housing ladder. For many of them, the rental sector is not an alternative either because of fast-rising rents and the limited supply of rented homes.
During the second quarter of 2016 the supply of owner-occupied homes fell slightly to 147,000 homes for sale. During the previous quarter, households looking to buy a house had 149,000 houses to choose from (Figure 10). One year earlier, there were 20,000 more houses for sale. The fact that the fall in the number of houses for sale is slowing is because households are increasingly choosing to buy their new house first and then put their present house on the market.
As supply falls slightly and the number of sales rises, the market for owner-occupied homes is slowly being transformed from a market with good availability to one with shortages. The shortage indicator of the NVM divides the total number of houses for sale by the number of sales in a quarter. This indicator therefore gives an idea of the number of choices a house buyer has in a given period. The indicator fell from 30 in the first quarter of 2013 (just before the market had reached its lowest point) to 11 in the second quarter of 2015, and then further to 8 in the second quarter of 2016 (Figure 11).
Despite the relatively strong rise in the number of sales, in a historical perspective there is still a reasonable supply on the market, but there are differences between the market segments. For example, there is still a good supply of detached houses on the market, but there are already some significant shortages in the market for apartments (Figure 11). There are also large regional differences in the shortages. Although we do see the same trend of higher sales and lower supply throughout the Netherlands, the market is picking up faster in the urban areas than in the more rural regions (Figure 12).
New house building not picking up
As demand for houses picks up, one would expect a response in the supply of new homes. To date this has not happened. Since the start of the year the number of new owner-occupied homes sold has risen only slightly on a twelve-month basis. Based on the number of building permits granted, it would appear that production in 2017 will fall rather than rise compared to this year. The main explanations for this are capacity problems among developers, builders and local councils. The result is increased pressure on the market for existing homes.
Current situation in in the market for new homes
In the Netherlands, it takes roughly eighteen months from issuing the building permit to completing the house. Based on the number of building permits issued on a twelve-month basis in July 2015, it would appear possible for 55,000 new homes to come on the market in 2016. Almost 48,000 rented and owner-occupied houses came on to the market in 2015. If the current negative trend in the issue of permits as of mid-2016 is reversed (Figure 13, a further rise to 58,000 new homes would seem possible in 2017. If the negative trend continues or stabilizes, a scenario where 45,000 new homes become available in 2017 would also be a possibility.
This low production is worrying because it simply exacerbates the housing shortage. We estimate that 70,000 to 80,000 new homes are needed each year to keep the housing shortage at an acceptable level. With the current rate of building, the shortage will increase to 186,000 homes by 2025 (2.3% of the stock). Demand for housing will rise because the flow of migrants will remain substantial, certainly until 2020, which will contribute to a rise in the number of households by between 55,000 and 65,000 annually.
Reasons for the low production
Commercial builders have difficulty in meeting the rise in demand following a long period of capacity reduction. Usually they have had to make many of their workers redundant during the crisis, and it is difficult to scale up operations quickly. Much equipment has also been sold. Builders and developers therefore phase their applications for new building permits and also build in smaller series instead of large projects as was usual during the period of Vinex residential development (areas designated by the government for future urban development). Just as with builders and developers, earlier cutbacks mean that local councils lack the capacity to assess and prepare plans. Decision-making and the issue of new building permits therefore takes more time. Personnel numbers have been gradually reduced and scaling up to the new reality takes time. It does not help either than projects are on average smaller than before the crisis, because it takes more time to deal with four smaller projects than two larger ones.
This situation means that the supply of new housing is limited and prices of owner-occupied homes, including new homes, may rise. Land prices ultimately rise as well. Councils see financial opportunities in land sales and the issue of permits, and as a result may deliberately delay their decision-making processes. Following many years of recording substantial losses on land holdings, they now see an opportunity to benefit from rising prices and generate profits again.
At the same time, local councils must ensure a balanced availability of housing. This would include, for example, the task of meeting the growing need for average-priced rented homes. Since councils can demand a higher land price for owner-occupied housing than for rented housing, it would seem that little will come of this in the future
Confidence in the market for owner-occupied homes
Confidence in the market for owner-occupied homes is determined by consumers’ perceptions of the previous, current and future market situation. At the end of the second quarter of 2016 the Eigen Huis Market indicator, published by the Homeowners’ Association (Vereniging Eigen Huis – VEH), reached a new record of 120 (Figure 14). Following a brief lull in mid-2015, confidence began rising again during the past year. The main reason underlying this trend is that most households expect mortgage rates to remain low and house prices not to fall during the coming twelve months. High confidence levels generally lead to a rise in the number of transactions for existing homes.
Chapter 3: Mortgage trends
The number of mortgage approvals continued to rise throughout the second quarter of 2016. This rise is in line with the growing number of transactions for owner-occupied homes. Since the value of new mortgage approvals is greater than mortgage repayments, gross mortgage debt is rising again. Mortgage rates fell further during the second quarter and are expected to remain low in 2016 and 2017. Over the past year, most house buyers chose mortgages with a long fixed-rate period.
3.1 Mortgage approvals and level of mortgage debt have risen
During the second quarter of 2016 some EUR 13.1 billion (EUR 13.8 billion seasonally adjusted) was lent in new home mortgages (Figure 15). This was a rise of 28.7% compared to the second quarter of 2015 and 10% compared to the first quarter of 2016 (seasonally adjusted). During the second quarter of 2016 the number of refinancing or extra borrowing transactions remained virtually the same (Figure 15). For 2016 we expect the number of new mortgage approvals to continue to rise, in line with the rise in the number of house transactions and house prices (see Chapter 2).
The total outstanding gross mortgage debt rose in the first quarter of 2016 by almost EUR 2 billion, reaching a total of EUR 658 billion (Figure 16). Since mid-2015 the volume of mortgage approvals has again been greater than repayments and gross mortgage debt is rising. Total mortgage debt figures for the second quarter of 2016 are not yet available at the time of writing.
We expect the level of total mortgage debt to rise slowly in 2016 and 2017, just as in 2015. Set against the expected rise in the number of new mortgage approvals are the extra repayments on mortgages. As long as savings interest rates remain low, many households will choose to repay their mortgages or put their savings into a bank savings mortgage rather than a regular savings account.
3.2 Extra repayments
Since 2013 the mortgage curtailments have risen sharply. These are repayments that households make in addition to their regular repayments. Homeowners have a variety of reasons for making extra repayments or deposits in a mortgage-linked savings product. Firstly, it is to reduce any potential residual debt. In addition, it has become a less attractive option to hold regular savings because of the low interest rates on savings, in combination with tax measures such as capital gains tax and the introduction of a means test for contributions to the long-term care of the elderly. Finally, in 2013 and 2014 a variety of temporary incentives led to extra repayments, such as the temporary extension of the limit for tax-free gifts (for a detailed discussion, go to our Dutch Housing Market Quarterly of February 2014). The extension of the limit for tax-free gifts will in fact be reintroduced with effect from January 2017.
Based on annual reports from banks and data from securitised mortgage portfolios (RMBS) we estimate that the extra mortgage repayments, including extra payments into mortgage-linked savings products will be around 1 per cent annually of the outstanding mortgage sum (Rabobank Financial Markets Research, 2016). This is low compared to the amount of ‘repayments’ made when a mortgage is terminated through the sale of the house or when remortgaging (Figure 17), since the entire outstanding amount or loan component is repaid in one go when selling a house or remortgaging.
An extra repayment reduces the mortgage debt. A repayment from the sale of the house, on the other hand often leads to a rise in the mortgage debt because the purchaser of the house usually has a higher mortgage than the former owner. The latter has in fact often already repaid part of the loan.
We expect households to continue making extra repayments for some time to come. The upward effect of the sharp rise in house sales since 2015 on mortgage debt, however, is stronger than the downward effect of these extra repayments.
3.3 Low mortgage rate levels
Mortgage rates fell further during the second quarter of 2016 (Figure 18). In June 2016 the average rate for new mortgage approvals was 2.36% with a fixed-rate period of two to five years, 2.61% for a fixed-rate period of six to ten years, and 3.06% for a fixed-rate period of longer than ten years (DNB). A year earlier, in June 2015, these rates were still 2.71%, 2.90% and 3.29% respectively, so that average interest rates have reached new record lows for all fixed-rate periods.
Since mid-2015 most homeowners have chosen for a long fixed-rate period. More than 50% of the total value of new or extended mortgages have a fixed-rate period of six to ten years (Figure 19). According to information from the Mortgage Data Network (Hypotheken Data Netwerk - HDN) – which covers three-quarters of all mortgage applications – the ten-year rate is particularly popular in this category. The group choosing an even longer fixed-rate period has also grown. Roughly 20% of the total value of new mortgages and extensions are fixed for longer than ten years. Within this category, the majority choose to fix the rate for twenty years. Once interest rates start to rise again, this share may increase even further, as happened in 2006 and 2007.
When deciding what fixed-rate period to choose, not only the low interest rate but also what is known as the ‘notional interest rate’ (‘toetsrente’) plays an important role. The maximum mortgage sum depends on income and interest rates. If a fixed-rate period of less than ten years is chosen, however, the actual interest rate is not used in the calculations but rather a notional interest rate of 5%. Those who want to borrow as much as possible will therefore go for a fixed-rate period of at least ten years. In fact, among home buyers younger than 35 years more than 80% choose a fixed-rate period of at least ten years (DNB, 2016).
In the short term we expect mortgage rate to remain low. In view of the uncertainty surrounding economic growth and an easing of monetary policy by central banks, it is unlikely that capital market rates will rise this year. As described in our Economic Quarterly Report we expect capital market rates to remain low, and perhaps even fall a little further. The 10-year euro swap rate fell in early August to 0.3% (Figure 20). We expect this to stabilise during the course of the year, and possibly fall a little further; around 0.3% over a period of three months and 0.2% over a period of six months. Our 12-month expectation is 0.4%.
Indices for credit default swaps (CDS) and recent emissions of covered bonds by banks and insurers also show that the associated spreads fell again in July. This happened following a relatively strong rise in June as a consequence of the Brexit referendum. These spreads can be seen as an indicator for the risk premium that banks have to pay when attracting capital market finance to provide mortgages. The securitisation of mortgage portfolios (residential mortgage-backed securities; RMBS) has become a less important source of finance during recent years (DNB, 2016).
Compared to banks, insurers and pension funds are less dependent on external financing, because they issue mortgages as an investment of the pension or insurance premiums paid by members. These parties are playing an ever greater role on the mortgage market and through increased competition exert downward pressure on mortgage rates. These factors indicate that mortgage rates will remain low in 2016 and 2017.
 The right to mortgage debt relief for new mortgages has been linked since 2013 to the full repayment of the mortgage loan within thirty years, according to the annuity or linear scheme.
 Francke, van der Minne, Verbruggen (2014) The effect of credit conditions on the Dutch housing market, DNB.
 The housing cost ratio is the percentage of the net household income spent on net housing costs at the time of buying a house, and is an indicator of affordability of owner-occupied homes.
 At the time of the VINEX programme, a housing shortage of 1.5-2.0% was considered acceptable.
 This EUR € 658 billion concerns the gross mortgage debt. This has not been adjusted for capital accrued in savings mortgages (Spaarrekening Eigen Woning - SEW) and capital insurance policies (Kapitaalverzekering Eigen Woning - KEW). Researchers at DNB have previously estimated this accrued capital to be worth EUR 31-37 billion (DNB, 2015). Since the accrued capital in savings mortgages will increase faster for a relatively large group of households in the coming years due to the cumulative return on capital, the net mortgage debt will rise more slowly than the gross mortgage debt and this net debt may even fall while the gross debt rises.
 Unless this takes the form of an extra deposit in a mortgage-linked savings product. Although an extra deposit reduces the net mortgage debt, it does not affect the outstanding gross mortgage debt as reported by Statistics Netherlands.
DNB (2016), Overview of Financial Stability, Spring 2016, De Nederlandsche Bank, Amsterdam.
DNB (2016), Covered bonds outstrip securitisations, Statistical news, 22 March, De Nederlandsche Bank, Amsterdam.
Rabobank Financial Markets Research (2016), Focus on ABS: Dutch RMBS and prepayments
Rabobank (2016), Rente en valuta: stilte voor de storm?, Chapter 2 in Economisch Kwartaalbericht (only in Dutch), June.
The Dutch Housing Market Quarterly is a publication of Economic Research (ER) of Rabobank. The view presented in this publication has been based on data from sources we consider to be reliable. Among others. these include Macrobond, Land Registry, NVM, DNB, CPB and Statistics Netherlands. The date of completion is 19th August 2016.
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