Business

Sellers' gloom over property market inactivity

House prices
Image caption Sold signs are relatively low in number in the UK at the moment, the survey shows

Fourteen homes were sold per UK estate agent in the three months to August - the lowest total for more than two years, a survey has found.

Economic uncertainty and a lack of mortgage lending led to the sluggish housing market, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) said.

More surveyors reported price falls than price rises in August, Rics said.

And an increasing proportion expected prices to drop further in the next three months.

"The risk is that the worsening economic picture will gradually begin to have a more material impact on sentiment and discourage potential house purchasers, even where mortgage finance is available," said Alan Collett, housing spokesman for Rics.

'Flexibility'

The prediction will bring more gloom to John Carey, a developer for 10 years, who has been trying to sell a block of four homes in Bedford, each for between £120,000 and £135,000, since before Christmas.

There had been plenty of interest from potential buyers, he told the BBC News website, but a number of sales had fallen through, owing primarily to mortgage difficulties for people in the chain.

Image caption John Carey has been trying to sell four small homes since December

"I would have expected them [the properties] to have gone by spring, and certainly by May, but here I am sitting in the estate agents in September," he said.

"There is no lender flexibility. A loosening of lending terms will help."

His views were backed up by the Rics report, which reported that surveyors regarded economic uncertainty as the biggest factor affecting activity in the housing market, followed by a lack of mortgage finance.

A smaller number considered that buyers and sellers were staying away from the market because of fears over further house price falls.

First-time buyers

Central Bedfordshire has seen an above-average 4.2% fall in house prices in the year to July, according to the latest figures from the Land Registry, but many of the issues affecting the market here are typical of much of the UK.

At Harrison Murray estate agent in Bedford, staff have seen a sharp drop in the number of first-time buyers coming through the doors since the boom in the housing market.

Image caption Geography remains a key factor for sellers' hopes of making a sale, says Jo Howes

"Those who do have saved up for a long time, and we are increasingly seeing family members helping out," said senior sales negotiator Jo Howes.

She said these first-timers were now often aged in their late 20s or 30s, rather than new to work and in their early 20s.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders said on Monday that first-time buyers were typically having to find a deposit of 20% of the purchase price to get a home loan.

School effect

Ms Howes said that those having the toughest time in the current market were sellers who had bought new-build apartments in 2006 and 2007 and were now looking to move on.

Often this was because they had bought at the height of the market, had found it easy to get a 100% mortgage, but now needed a bigger home having had children or found a partner.

At the opposite end of the scale were sellers in villages further out of the town centre, with larger homes in areas with good schools.

"They are doing infinitely better than the town centre," she said.

Nationally, Rics said that prices continued to increase in London, with prices falling the most in East Anglia and the West Midlands. Scotland and Northern Ireland also recorded house price falls, the survey said.

Government figures

In the last year, prices have fallen the most sharply in Northern Ireland (down by 4.1%), according to the government's own house price survey.

Property prices fell by 1.8% in Scotland in the year to July, and dropped by 1.5% in England and 0.1% in Wales, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said.

It said that UK house prices fell by 1.5% over the year to July.

However, it said prices rose by 0.3% compared with June, making the average home worth £207,690.

Prices paid by first-time buyers were 0.5% lower on average compared with a year earlier and prices paid by former owner occupiers decreased by 1.9% over the same period.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites