It wasn’t long ago that real estate experts were bracing for the worst.
The coronavirus pandemic had sent large parts of the world into lockdown, shuttering businesses, costing tens of millions of workers their jobs and putting the housing market into a deep freeze. The number of people asking lenders for more time on their mortgage payments surged as the global recession hit. “This time last year we thought it was going to be 2008 all over again,” said Kate Everett-Allen, the head of international residential research at real estate consultancy Knight Frank.
The fear was that house prices would collapse, as they reliably had done in past economic downturns. An increase in bankruptcies and unemployment would squeeze disposable incomes and make it difficult for highly indebted homeowners to keep up with their mortgages. Those fortunate enough to own second homes would be forced to sell to build up cash reserves, putting even more downward pressure on prices. “Actually, none of that happened,” added Everett-Allen. Instead, house prices soared even as the world suffered its worst slump since the Great Depression. From New Zealand to the United States, Germany, China and Peru, the same phenomenon has taken hold: home prices are skyrocketing, and many buyers are panicking. Among the 37 wealthy countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), real house prices rose by almost 7% between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the fourth quarter of 2020 — the fastest year-on-year growth in the past two decades.