The first real estate bubble? Land prices and rents in medieval England c. 1200-1550

About the project

In 2015, the University of Reading won a research project grant (ref. RPG-2014-307) worth almost £200,000 from the Leverhulme Trust. The research team, comprising Professor Chris Brooks, Professor Adrian Bell and Dr Helen Killick, are examining in detail the workings of the English real estate market in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries.

To date, the project team have collected data on the freehold property market between 1300 and 1500 comprising nearly 25,000 transactions and featuring almost 100,000 records of buyers and sellers (the largest database of this kind in existence); this is available to download below. The database contains information regarding the properties (their price, location and assets) and the men and women involved in the transactions (their social background and place of residence). This data forms the basis of three working papers, also available below.

The data has been analysed with reference to a number of specific research questions relating to the rate of commercialisation in the later medieval English economy and the role of the property market in this process. Firstly, we investigate the extent to which the medieval English property market was subject to speculative forces caused by buyer investment behaviour. We then examine the impact of broader social and economic trends on property market activity, and in particular, the impact of exogenous factors such as war, plague and political crises. Finally, we examine fluctuations in our price data for potential signs of a speculative housing bubble.

The First Real Estate Bubble? Land Prices and Rents in Medieval England C. 1300-1500

Bell, A. R., Brooks, C. and Killick, H. The First Real Estate Bubble? Land Prices and Rents in Medieval England C. 1300-1500 (ICMA Centre, 2018)

Abstract: This paper tests for speculative bubbles in the medieval English property market based on a unique hand-collected dataset from the feet of fines spanning the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. We focus on asset types where there are sufficiently large numbers of transactions each year to make a long and reliable run of information, and we transform this into annual time-series of prices. We employ a regime switching model that allows for boom and crash episodes to characterise and test for bubble dynamics. The results are consistent with the presence of periodic, partially collapsing speculative bubbles in the market for agricultural land, but there is no such evidence in the context of messuages. Our findings demonstrate that the medieval English property market shares important features with its contemporary counterpart, for instance with the recent so-called ‘barn bubble’.

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Medieval property investors, c. 1300-1500

Bell, A. R., Brooks, C. and Killick, H. ‘Medieval property investors, c. 1300-1500’, (working paper, ICMA Centre, 2017)

Abstract: This paper utilises a dataset of freehold land and property transactions from medieval England to highlight the growing commercialisation of the economy.  By drawing on the legal records we are able to demonstrate that the medieval real estate market provided the opportunity for investors to profit. The careful analysis of the data provides evidence of group purchases, multiple transactions and investors buying outside of their own locality.  The identification of these ‘investors’ and their buying behaviours, set within the context of the English medieval economy, contributes to the early commercialisation debate.

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A reappraisal of the freehold property market in late medieval England

Bell, A. R., Brooks, C. and Killick, H. ‘A reappraisal of the freehold property market in late medieval England’, (working paper, ICMA Centre, 2017)

Abstract: This paper re-examines the late medieval market in freehold land.  To what extent was it governed by market forces as opposed to political or social constraints, and how did this contribute to the commercialisation of the late medieval English economy?  We employ a valuable new resource for study of this topic in the form of an extensive dataset on late medieval English freehold property transactions. Through analysis of this data, we examine how the level of market activity (the number of sales) and the nature of the properties (the relative proportions of different types of asset) varied across regions and over time. In particular, we consider the impact of exogenous factors such as war, plague and political crises, and the effects of growing commercialisation. In doing so we present an important new perspective on the long-term evolution of the medieval English property market.

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