House prices are still falling, the Land Registry says

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Media captionNationwide's Robert Gardner: "The economy's basically been stagnant over the past six months and the housing market has followed suit"

House prices in England and Wales are still falling, according to the latest survey from the Land Registry.

It says the average property price fell by 1.1% in March to £160,996, leaving prices 2.3% lower than a year ago.

The data paints a different picture from that of the Nationwide, which earlier said prices had been "fairly static" over the past six months.

Meanwhile, mortgage approval figures from the Bank of England suggest sales may rise slightly in the coming months.

Up or down?

The Land Registry figures cover all completed sales in England and Wales.

They shows that prices have been falling consistently since last August, with only one month since then - January - recording a price increase.

"The data for March shows a monthly house price change of minus 1.1%, which is the largest monthly fall seen since February 2009," the Land Registry said.

Over the past year, only London had seen prices rise, up by just 0.8% in that time.

By contrast, prices have fallen by more than 9% in the North East of England, while in Wales they have dropped by just over 7%.

'Move sideways'

The Nationwide's survey covers a sample of its own customers and suggests that in April house prices across the UK fell by just 0.2%, leaving them down 1.3% over the year.

However the lender said prices had fallen in three of the last six months and risen in the other three.

Overall, this had left prices 0.6% higher in the three months to April compared with the previous quarter.

Robert Gardner, the Nationwide's chief economist, argued that the up and down pattern of monthly changes reflected a market with little real momentum.

"A strong rebound in the market remains unlikely as the recovery is still expected to remain modest by historic standards," Mr Gardner said.

"In our view, the most likely outcome is that house prices will continue to move sideways or drift modestly lower through 2011."

More sales?

Separate figures from the Bank of England point to a possible modest increase in sales in the coming months.

The number of new mortgages approved for home buyers, but not yet lent, rose in March by nearly a thousand.

At 47,557 the number of approvals that month was higher than the average for the previous six months.

HM Revenue and Customs reported recently that there had been a jump of 10,000 in the number of homes sold in March.

The number of completed sales rose from 55,000 in February to 66,000.

However, sales in the first three months of the year, at 174,000, were still lower than during the same period last year, and were the second lowest figures on record for a first quarter.

Adrian Coles, director-general of the Building Societies Association, sounded a note of caution, despite mortgage lending picking up at building societies and other mutual lenders in March.

"These are increases from very low levels, and compared to previous times, activity in the mortgage market remains subdued."

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