Housing market activity stumbles

The hoped-for spring bounce in the housing market failed to occur during May, as fears over the economy and lack of mortgage finance continued to depress activity levels, says the latest RICS UK Housing Market survey.

Newly agreed sales in May slipped back from the previous month’s reading, as only 5 per cent more surveyors reported sales rose rather than fell. The average number of completed sales per surveyor* also fell by 3.4 per cent in the three months to May, to just 14.7 – the lowest level since January. Meanwhile, the average number of stocks per surveyor increased by 8.1 per cent over the month to 71.3 (from 66), as more properties came to market and many stayed on surveyors’ books for longer.

Given the rise in stock levels and fewer sales levels during May, the sales to stock ratio – an indicator of the balance between demand and supply – fell to 20.6 per cent, well below the long run average of 33.5 per cent.

Significantly, there was little sign of a renewed appetite to view property, with new buyer enquiries little changed on the month (-2 per cent); many surveyors cited the bank holidays for the flattening of demand. Meanwhile, new vendor instructions continued to rise, but the pace of increase slowed slightly during May (to +15 per cent).

Turning to house prices, 28 per cent more surveyors reported price falls rather than rises – the lowest reading since the beginning of the year. However, of those respondents seeing falling prices, the vast proportion – 82 per cent – reported declines within the 0 per cent -2 per cent margin.

A continuing theme over the past few months has been the distinct regional contrast between London and the rest of the UK. This continued during May, with London the only region of England where more surveyors saw rising rather than falling prices. Meanwhile, in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, the price balance remains negative.

Looking ahead, surveyors expectations for future sales edged down, although they remain in positive territory at +9 per cent. Price expectations, which are already negative, fell more sharply with 27 per cent more respondents expecting prices to fall rather than rise over the next three months.

Commenting, RICS puppies housing spokesperson, Ian Perry, said: “Buyer interest in purchasing property remains flat across much of the country and there is little sign of this changing any time soon. Uncertainty over the economic outlook remains as important as the availability of mortgage finance in depressing demand. On the other hand, the appetite to rent is continuing to grow. And, with little new supply coming onto the lettings market, the cost of renting is increasing and will continue to do so.”
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