Barratt has taken "pricing action" on high-end homes in London as weak demand begins to bite

Emma Haslett
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Homebuilders Barratt Homes Record Year On Year Profits Of 159%
The housebuilder said sales were strong, despite softer growth in the capital (Source: Getty)

Not long ago, housebuilders were all clamouring to get a slice of London's high-end property market. Not any more: today Barratt said although sales have been strong, demand in the capital has weakened.

The figures

First, the good news: in a trading update ahead of its shareholder meeting today, the housebuilder said total forward sales rose 4.3 per cent to £2.65bn in the 12 weeks to 13 November. Wholly-owned forward sales rose 19.5 per cent to £2.47bn.

Meanwhile, its sales rate per active outlet rose to 0.74 net private reservations - up from 0.71 during the same period last year.

Barratt said it had launched 69 new developments during the period, up from 51 last year, and was operating from 385 sites, up from 380. However, average site numbers for the period fell 4.1 per cent to 370.

More encouragingly, it also repeated plans to pay a £248m dividend later this month.

That wasn't enough for shareholders, though: shares were down 2.1 per cent at 475.4p in early trading.

Why it's interesting

The government has spent the past few years throwing a raft of measures at housebuilders, aimed at increasing the number of homes they build.

Thus, Barratt said today it had continued to benefit from the government's Help to Buy scheme - and while it didn't mention it, that cut to interest rates has helped push up mortgage lending, too.

But London, where price growth has been slow since the Brexit vote, has been a fly in the ointment. The company said while sales rates in its Northern and Central regions had outperformed the year before, in the capital they remained softer.

That was particularly the case at the top end of the market - to the extent where Barratt said it had taken "pricing action" at a number of its sites in the capital to mitigate those risks. It's not the only one: in September Berkeley Group halted construction at one of its sites, a £20m housing scheme in Barnes.

"Further actions to de-risk London delivery include an exchanged build and sale agreement on a bespoke development of 39 apartments for a total value of £47m," it said.

It's worth pointing out that analysts were reasonably happy with Barratt's performance, despite its trouble at the top end.

"Barratt demonstrated today the benefits of a broad national coverage," said Anthony Codling, equity analyst at Jefferies.

"Outside of the capital where the majority of homes are covered by Help to Buy trading is strong...Overall the group is trading in-line with expectations although we believe that the moving parts are moving at a greater pace more than the group would ideally choose."

Still - it probably doesn't help that the company's former London boss, Alastair Bird, has been arrested on suspicion of bribery.

What Barratt said

Chief executive David Thomas said:

This has been another good trading period for the group. Consumer demand is strong supported by good mortgage availability.

We are mindful of the potential for economic uncertainty created by the outcome of the EU Referendum. However, market fundamentals are robust, and we remain a housebuilder of choice.

In short

Barratt's spread across the UK has helped cushion it from slowing house price growth in the capital.

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