The latest data on the housing market suggests that although prices are still falling, mortgage approvals and sales are on the up. The country’s biggest mortgage lenders, Halifax and Nationwide stated that house prices had fallen in February by 2.3% and 1.8% respectively with Halifax citing the value of an average house at £160,327 and Nationwide’s figure coming in at a much more pessimistic £147,746. This is a fall of 17.7% for Halifax and a nearly identical 17.6% for Nationwide.
The Bank of England had better news for the market however, by stating that the number of approved mortgages in the same month went up by 19%. The bank’s lending statistics showed 37,937 home loans approved for the month of February, easily beating the six-month average of 31,495. Although the bank also reported that housing equity withdrawal, where home owners cash in on the increased value of their homes, has fallen for the ninth month in a row. A further £8bn of mortgage debt was paid off between the months of October and December of last year as borrowers continue to be cautious about their debt.
The general feeling among industry experts seems to be one of the bottom of the property market approaching fast. Because mortgage approvals happen before property transactions, the reported rise in mortgage approvals could well be an indicator of better times ahead for the housing market. However, these gains could easily be snuffed out by rising unemployment, poor mortgage availability and a weak economy.
Data from Hometrack also suggests that more buyers, motivated by a potential bargain, are registering with estate agents. After polling 1,794 agents and surveyors across the country they concluded that this number had increased by 26% over the last two months. This information was borne out by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) who also reported rising interest from potential buyers.
Better news came for the housing market came in the shape of a shock increase in house prices for March. The Nationwide said that they had gone up by 0.9% in the month, reducing the annual rate of fall from 17.6% to 15.7%. However, the bank were quick to add a note of caution to what was described as a ‘surprise bounce’ with their chief economist, Fionnuala Earley warning that the Bank of England’s drastic move to expand the amount of money in the economy (quantative easing) would take time to work through into the housing market.
The quarterly figures from the bank, often seen as a better indicator of the market, show that house prices have fallen by 4.2% in the first three months of the year – compared to the last three months of 2008. Nationwide are now indicating that the average house price stands at £150,946 with the most expensive homes being in London, at an average of £242,678 and the least expensive being in the north of England, at an average of £112,986.