COVID-19 and the publication of House Price Statistics

This note was published on Wednesday 20 May 2020.

Due to the coronavirus illness (COVID-19) there will be changes in terms of our regular statistical production.

Land & Property Services (LPS) has decided to publish the January – March 2020 NI House Price Index as planned on Wednesday 20 May. While the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown measures announced on 23 March impacted sales recorded in the last week of March 2020, this did not adversely affect the quality of the price index calculations for January – March. So LPS/NISRA are content that the figures in this report are a reliable reflection of the property market during the first quarter of 2020. 

Future publications

The House Price Index (HPI) is designed to provide a measure of change in the price of a standardised residential property sold in Northern Ireland. The index uses information on all verified residential property sales as recorded by HM Revenue & Customs. The government measures to reduce the spread of covid-19 have effectively paused the housing market in Northern Ireland and while there are still some transactions happening, the number of transactions during April has been greatly reduced (a fall off of approximately 80% compared to normal transaction levels). 

It is not possible, at this stage, to predict the level of sales which will be recorded during May and June, however given there is no speedy resolution to the public health crisis, it is likely to be a number of months before the housing market and sales volumes return to pre coronavirus levels. Any average prices/index produced based on such low levels of transactions would be unreliable, would not be of help to users when interpreting changes in average house prices and would fail the three pillars of the Code of Practice for Statistics - Trustworthiness, Quality and Value which guide all statistical decisions. 

As a result LPS have decided to suspend publication of the NI House Price Index relating to April – June 2020 (Q2 2020), originally due to be released on Wednesday 19 August 2020. We will continue to process any transactions received via HMRC and monitor the volume of transactions over the coming months and we will publish as soon as transaction levels are sufficient to produce a reliable estimate of average price and, most importantly, the change in the average price. 

This is in line with the decision taken by the UK House Price Index working group, of which LPS is a member, to temporarily suspend the UK HPI publication from the April 2020 publication (due to have been published 17th June 2020) until further notice. The full details of the announcement can be read in the Housing Market Indices section of the ONS article Coronavirus and the effects on UK prices

LPS will continue to work closely with colleagues from the Office for National Statistics, HM Land Registry and Registers of Scotland, who form the UK House Price Index working group to agree the best approach to providing estimates for the suspended periods, although this will depend on the levels of transactions that ultimately took place. We will continue to review the data received and provide users with an update in due course.

Annual Price Statistics at Local Government District and Electoral Ward

Annual descriptive price statistics for calendar year 2019 are due to be published on 19 August 2020, however LPS will keep this date under review as the statistics contain verified sales numbers and prices relating to new dwellings. 

The process of recording property characteristics of new dwellings takes longer than for existing re-sold properties. The majority of sales of new dwellings recorded in a quarter will have property characteristics added during the following two quarters and only when characteristics are available can the sales of new dwellings be used to calculate a price/index.

The government measures put in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic have impacted working practices and this could result in a reduced number of new dwelling sales recorded in Q4 (October – December) 2019 having property characteristics added. This may mean verified sales numbers for new dwellings from Q4 2019 are not be at a reliable level for reporting.

LPS will analyse the new dwelling transactions and plan to provide updated information on our website as the situation develops over the coming months.

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