Demand from house hunters fell for tenth month in a row in February – surveyors

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House sales are more likely to be being agreed at a discount typically when homes are priced above £500,000 than below this level, research by surveyors suggests.

Stretched mortgage affordability is weighing on housing market activity, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) said.

It looked at the difference between asking and selling prices in its February survey of property professionals, asking how average sales prices had compared with initial asking prices over the past three months.

In the mainstream housing market covering prices up to £500,000, 60.3% of professionals indicated that prices were being agreed at below the asking price.

For properties priced between £500,000 and £1 million, the share of professionals observing prices being agreed at below the asking price jumped to 71.5% – and the proportion of contributors taking this view on properties priced at over £1 million was broadly similar (at 68.3%), Rics said.

There were some signs of the housing market becoming less downbeat.

The proportion of professionals seeing new buyer inquiries in February improved compared with January, but overall, the proportion seeing inquiries fall still outweighed those seeing increases.

While it marked the tenth negative monthly reading for new buyer inquiries, it was the least negative result since July 2022.

By contrast, in the rental market, demand from tenants continues to increase, while landlord instructions to let properties continue to decline, putting an upward pressure on rental prices.

The report said: “As far as the lettings market is concerned, it is clear that respondents don’t envisage a material change in the demand supply imbalance in the foreseeable future, with rents seen as likely to rise by more than 25% at the five-year time horizon.”

Tarrant Parsons, senior economist at Rics said: “The housing market continues to adjust to the tighter lending climate, with stretched mortgage affordability still weighing heavily on activity.

“Given the ongoing weakness in demand, house prices remain on a downward trajectory, and are expected to see further falls through the first half of the year at least.

“Going forward, near-term expectations suggest market activity will remain generally subdued over the coming months, although the latest survey feedback shows tentative signs that the ongoing decline in buyer inquiries is now moderating.”

The research is a monthly sentiment survey by Rics of chartered surveyors who operate in the UK’s residential sales and lettings markets.

The report also contained the views of some property professionals.

One, based in Yorkshire, commented: “Some return of activity in January after a very dull autumn. Prices falling faster than is widely acknowledged.”

Another, based in Birmingham, said: “After a very poor January when sales and instructions were well below a typical January, the market in February has steadily improved and although still patchy it seems to be moving towards levels last seen in 2018.”

A professional based in Cardiff said: “Numbers of viewings are fewer, but those looking are serious. A healthy number of sales are being agreed, many at full asking prices, or near.”

A St Andrews-based professional said: “The number of instructions to sell is starting to rise, but at a slower rate than last year. There is a lack of supply but we expect this to change towards the end of March.”

Another, based in Belfast, said: “We have found new builds are popular and investors are looking as they seem to get a good return.”

Commenting on Rics’ findings, Sarah Coles, head of personal finance at Hargreaves Lansdown said: “The report highlighted the impact of stretched mortgage affordability, and to make matters worse, there have been subtle changes in the mortgage market which could make life even more difficult.

“After months of rates slowly falling from the peak, we have seen some of the most competitive deals pulled from the market.

“Rate expectations are shifting slightly, as there are growing concerns that higher inflation might last for longer than expected.

“This is moving the swaps market (which underpins mortgage pricing) very slightly, making it more expensive for mortgage lenders to price a fixed rate – so that some of the best deals are off the table.

“This hasn’t moved the dial on average rates yet, but is one to watch.”

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