• New buyer enquiries increase at the fastest rate in more than three years
• Headline price balance records first positive reading, albeit just +1, since mid 2010
• Sales and price expectations suggest greater optimism about the outlook
The results of the latest RICS Residential Market Survey demonstrate in the clearest possible terms that the government’s announcement regarding the new Help to Buy (HTB) initiative in the Budget has had an immediate impact on sentiment. All the key indicators show some improvement in April compared with March with the notable exception of the sales to stock ratio which was broadly unchanged. Significantly, the new buyer enquiries series registered a net balance of +25. This is the seventh positive result in the last eight months but, more importantly, it represents the highest reading since November 2009. The increased interest in the sales market reflects in part, as we have noted previously, the success of the Funding for Lending Scheme in both bringing down mortgage rates and encouraging banks to lend higher multiples. However the latest jump in enquiries strongly suggests that the HTB proposition is attracting interest even if the mortgage guarantee element of the product is not due to come into effect until next year.
Alongside the increase in buyers enquiries, the RICS survey also shows that new instructions to agents rose in April albeit at a more modest pace. The more rapid rise in ‘demand’ than ‘supply’ in recent months is consistent with the improving trend that is visible in the headline price balance; the latest reading shows the first positive outturn in this series since June 2010. Meanwhile, although the sales to stock ratio actually slipped very slightly over the month (from 25.2 to 25.2) it remains within a whisker of recent highs and is likely to push upwards as the year progresses given the stronger numbers coming through on agreed sales.
Critically, the forward looking indicators for sales and prices recorded more positive readings at both the three and twelve months horizons. The net balance for price expectations twelve months out jumped from 26 to 34 and arguably even more importantly, the results are now positive in every part of the country with the notable exception of Northern Ireland. This is also reflected in the results of a number of new series that we are tracking. Surveyors responding to the survey suggest that, on average prices are likely to rise by just over 1% over the next twelve months; this compares with expectations of just 0.1% back in December. Meanwhile over the next five years, respondents are suggesting that house prices will on average increase by just over 3.5% per annum; at the back end of last year, the projection was for a more modest 2.5% per annum gain. Predictably, London surveyors are most positive in their expectations.
The new RICS Residential Market Survey also contains monthly updates on the lettings sector (supplementing the quarterly data). Our latest readings show that tenant demand remains robust and that it is continuing to outstrip new landlord instructions. The result is that the rental expectations series remains in positive territory with the net balance in the three months to April at 18 compared with 21 in the quarter to January. It is noteworthy that despite the positive reading, respondents to the survey anticipate rents rising by less than 2% over the next year.
Some people have all the luck. Others, if we are to agree with Hull playwright David Pattison, enter this world on the wrong side of the tracks and live a life blighted from birth until its end. It is to this misfortune that ‘Topshop’, Pattison’s hopeless character in his frequently brutally realistic play ‘An Unquiet Mind’, is born.
From the off ‘An Unquiet Mind’ startles and challenges. “The only good time Topshop has known is when he’s in the forces”, explains Pattison. Now, the hapless main character, who takes his name from a label in the clothes he’s found himself wearing, lives only ‘for the moment’, his home is the streets and his material wealth is carried with him in a plastic bag. “I think Topshop exists,” says Pattison, “I think that there are maybe hundreds who can’t get their head above water. They are victims.”
They are victims. Those that work with rough sleepers will recognise many of their client group in the character Topshop. The weight of life’s experiences have left these victims shell-like, even shell-shocked. Memories of childhood, family and formative moments are quashed by the constant burden of self-preservation. “If you have nowhere to sleep,” explains Pattison, “that is your driving concern.” The pursuit of happiness in these circumstances seems futile, the notion of ‘self worth’ difficult to comprehend. At one point in the play Topshop is heard to say “I’ll be happy if I wake up and no-one’s pissed on me.” This line, reveals Pattison, always raises a laugh, but afterwards comes the awkward realisation that “it’s true, it really happens.”
Topshop is not alone in his world, however, he is joined by ‘Legion’, an unsettling character that adds further dimension to the play. “All lives are about crossroads,” explains Pattison, “you turn right, fortune and happiness, you turn left, death and destruction.” Legion is, we are prompted to consider, the person Topshop might have become had he taken a different path through life. It can also be questioned, however, which of the characters is in the better place. “That’s a good question,” replies Pattison, “but I don’t know that I can answer it really.”
The format of two characters, perhaps both homeless, contemplating and confronting their condition is not new to drama. Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play ‘Waiting for Godot’, described by some as one of the most significant plays of the twentieth century, sees vagrant characters Vladimir and Estragon waiting hopelessly for the arrival of Godot, passing their time in folly. Pattison’s characters, in contrast, are allowed little respite, subject only to the brutal reality of their painfully human condition.
‘An Unquiet Mind’ is a play which may prompt some viewers to social action. A different writer may have taken the audience through a storm of challenges and then on to the ‘silver lining’ of a heart-warming solution in a stage-perfect world. Not so with David Pattison, “I want people to see what you can do with a really difficult subject. I want them to experience it. I want them to go out to their comfortable homes knowing that a lot of people cannot do that. I want them to walk past the guy selling the Big Issue knowing that he hasn’t got a Rolls-Royce around the corner, but he has a doorway behind the Co-op, maybe.”
The challenges presented by ‘An Unquiet Mind’ are many, and their attack upon the audience is almost relentless save for some phrases of song. The play is not some West End ‘pick me up’ for tourists bent on some cultural high. The challenges are real. “An Unquiet Mind makes the audience think ‘my God some people are in a dreadful, dreadful mess,’” says Pattison, “I wrote it. It’s bloody heart-breaking. But if one person benefits from what we’re doing, then that’s enough.”
An Unquiet Mind plays at Hull Truck Theatre on Saturday 8th June. Tickets available from the website: www.hulltruck.co.uk or Box Office: 01482 323638
photographer, writer, campaigner on homelessness issues
‘An Unquiet Mind’
Written by David Pattison.
Directed by Paul Codman.
‘Topshop’ played by Paul Codman. ‘Legion’ played by Michael Chapman.
A Wotlarx Enterprises production.
Pictured, left to right: Richard, resident of a similar project in Leeds; Patrick Doyle, Chair of Emmaus Hull; Helen Martland, Head of New Initiatives, Chevin Housing Association Ltd.
Plans for ‘The Orchard’, an innovative centre and project for people caught in homelessness, has been revealed by Emmaus Hull. The plans, now ready for submission to Hull City Council’s planning department for approval, are for a building on Lockwood Street which will not just provide a home for up to 30 ‘companions’ but also employment in a furniture restoration enterprise. To be built in partnership with Chevin Housing Association Ltd, funding is being partly provided by the Homes and Communities Agency. The target is to have the building finished and in operation by March 2015.
Richard, who currently has a home in Emmaus Leeds, explains the benefits of this sort of project: “This is not like living in a traditional homelessness hostel, none of the residents need to ‘sign on’. You don’t struggle to get a job interview because of your past, you’re not seen as a criminal or addict, Emmaus give you a job. That can turn your life around. I really think Hull deserves an Emmaus project.”
Submitting plans for this innovative project is another significant step in bringing an Emmaus project to Hull, a dream pursued by former council leader Patrick Doyle for more than 5 years. “Today is important. We’ve been talking about this a long time. Today we’re on the cusp of achievement” says Patrick. “This is not short-term, it’s about getting people turned around and on the way to self-sufficiency and independence. People will be able to stay at the project as long as they like, because they will like it. They will learn a range of skills within the enterprise like restoration and van driving.”
In keeping with Hull’s drive to become a greener city, ‘The Orchard’ will also demonstrate its commitment to reducing its environmental impact. The residency and workshops will be built to high environmental standards. The project also hopes to plant a real orchard of fruit trees, and to become partly self-sufficient by growing food for the table from its own allotment.
Emmaus has a fantastic reputation nationally for the work it does with formerly homeless people. Offering its residents immediate work, and helping them to learn new skills, gives ‘companions’ hope and value. This project is about more than giving someone a home, it’s about restoring lives.
photographer and writer
Good News Project, City Life Church Hull