Just after the turn of the century, the property world went crazy. We all know the story of the boom and bust, culminating in the collapse of the housing market across the UK in late 2007, and propagating through the subsequent years. Even now, seven years later, we’re only just seeing the murmurs of interest rates starting to move into a direction vaguely towards their historical norms, and the top dogs are predicting that the full journey to (if there’s such thing) normality will take another decade. That means that we’re not even half way through the story yet.
The good news is that the property market has staggered its way back to the value of its previous peak, at least that’s good news if you were a home owner and didn’t lose it along the way. If you were really unlucky and bought around 2006 or the first half of 2007, you’ve no doubt had a more difficult that expected few years. Finally though, you should be back in positive equity, or very close to it. There’s still plenty of people out there who got caught up in the Northern Rock 125% mortgages though, and they’re probably still a year or two from safety, as their mortgages slowly get paid down. Having said that, it’s probably the rising house prices that will be their saviour too, as they’ll miraculously massage the magic loan to value ratio when they re-mortgage just in time to miss the monthly fee hikes that are coming soon.
That’s not what this piece is about, though, as we’re here to focus on home improvement, and more specifically (in most cases) electrical work. That was one of the more hidden effects of the crash. Normally, in the sense of the norm for the pre-collapse years, finding property in the price range that was common around 2008 and 2009 would have been snapped up fast by investors, but a strange thing happened. Many had got greedy in the preceding years and had bought up what they could, when they could. This was because the double digit growth had become the norm, so missing a property could mean an extra £10,000 or more six months later when they moved onto the next project. No-one in those circles had the faintest idea of how abruptly the market would shut up shop though. Investors suddenly found themselves sitting on property that was becoming less valuable every day, needed work doing before being resold and having banks suddenly unwilling to provide the crucial cash-flow for the jobs. Ouch!
That had a knock on effect to tradesmen, as the market was flooded with people but a lack of work – there was little in the way of new home-building happening, so there was a perfect storm brewing, which had no visible fast fix.
So, electricians like us were in a race to the bottom in providing the cheapest quotes to try and get enough work to weather the storm – to put it bluntly, see who could last longest to go under, and hope that was long enough for things to improve. And improve they did, which then caused an under supply of companies to take on work. The workmen were out there, but unemployed, and companies were very cautious about taking too many people on in case double dips turned to triple dips and beyond.
So, from the old investment property stock (from 2007ish), we’re only now seeing the work start. As you might imagine, the easy jobs were done fast, and any possible profit job salvaged. What’s left is the more complicated and sometimes dangerous jobs, involving properties that needed work over half a decade ago and having become more run down since.
For example, there’s been slow progress on removing existing threats from asbestos in the inner city buildings of the UK, as they were construction hotspots during the 70s and early 80s when asbestos use was commonplace, and then very attractive to investors in the boom years. All too often jobs are getting held up for these reasons, as no-one’s going to want to risk channelling out an artex wall as part of a re-wire if it might contain asbestos.
So there’s the story behind the story. While the news channels talked of bankrupt Britain, corrupt bankers and any other sensationalist headlines they could think of, there was a much deeper mess hiding beneath the surface, and we’ve only talked about one small part of that spaghetti like tangle here.
There is one huge positive to come out of all this though, and that’s that we’re bouncing back – it’s just going to take longer than anyone ever imagined back in 2007.