Unlocking insights – one year on
From the peak of March, where web sessions and high-intent goal completions (those for booking appointments to view) had been at their highest levels since July 2020, we’ve seen a tapering off in both metrics throughout April and May. The headline figures for the past month, showed a 10.4% decrease in sessions and 21.8% drop in goal completions. Forcing a narrative onto this data trend, we might easily conclude that the March budget and the extended SDLT relief announced therein had a substantial and immediate impact on consumer intent, and that the uptick driven by that government intervention has gradually been ebbing ever since.
Following a few months with artificially flattering year-on-year comparisons, we now enter a period where comparisons with 2020 may create an unfairly grim view of the current market. 13th May 2020 saw property viewings and home moving become permissible once more, and the sector entered a boom period as it began to trade through demand that had been building through lockdown and before. Many otherwise in-market consumers had been in stasis through an election, Brexit and lockdown, and in May 2020 their return to active engagement with housebuilder websites was manifest in a 56% increase in web sessions.
Looking back at 2019, probably the last year where typical seasonality in the market could be on show, we can see that there was no March peak: decreases in web traffic from February were negligible and there was rarely more than about a 2% swing in traffic each month right through to September. A flat line that made the events of 2020 even more visually dramatic when plotted YoY.
Following March this year, subsequent dips in April and May were anticipated given Covid restrictions easing drawing focus elsewhere for more casual property browsers, perhaps mitigated by the stamp duty holiday end of June threshold. Even so, the return of stamp duty isn’t expected to completely ruin the strong start gained from the first quarter of the year and our index supports this: although on a downward trend since peaking in March, most key performance indicators are still extremely strong.
Nationwide’s House Price Index for May noted: “Amongst homeowners surveyed at the end of April that were either moving home or considering a move, three quarters (68%) said this would have been the case even if the stamp duty holiday had not been extended.” Elsewhere, the GFK Consumer Confidence Barometer offers reasons for optimism for all purveyors of major-ticket items. Although still below zero, the various indices are all trending upwards and the Major Purchase Index in particular rose 5 points in May, sitting at -7, compared to the -47 seen in May 2020.
Google trends reflects the decrease in interest in wider UK real estate throughout the last three months.
Source: Google Trends – Real Estate (UK); Topic
Despite these quantitative indications that we have somehow passed our peak for the time being, there are other encouraging signs of robustness in qualitative website engagement data in our New Homes Index pool. Combined average time on site has been increasing from March into early June and conversion rates of sessions to appointment booking conversions have held steady throughout.
Even if, as is probable, the looming June SDLT deadline has begun to put a dent into consumer engagement with the property sector, and even if the September deadline offers further uncertainty through the summer months, there are good reasons to expect that the improving health of the wider economy will help to lessen the impact, and that underlying the boom times of March and April is a solid core of a sector in rude health.