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UK: House prices continue sharp fall in March

  The sharp fall in English and Welsh house prices continued in March, though the pace of decline was the slowest since February last year after fast-rising new buyer interest translated into a modest increase in sales, a survey showed on Wednesday.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ monthly property survey reported that its seasonally adjusted house price balance rose to -73.1 in March from -78.1 in February.

The house price balance represents the difference between the percentage of surveyors reporting rising and falling house prices, and is consistent with data from mortgage lender Halifax which showed house prices fell 1.9% in March after a 2.3% drop in February.

While prices fell, RICS said there were now signs of greater housing market activity after a shortage of mortgage finance caused sales to almost grind to a halt at the end of last year.

“The tentative signs of a pick-up in activity have become more broadly based over the past month,” RICS said. “The higher level of buyer interest is feeding through into actual sales. Newly agreed sales, measured on a net balance basis, rose over the month as did the average sales per surveyor series, for the first time since the tail end of 2007.”

New buyer inquiries have risen for five consecutive months, and are now growing at their fastest pace since September 2003, while the number of homes being offered to the market is falling, making surveyors’ less gloomy about the next three months’ price outlook

“The net balance still remains comfortably in negative territory but the reading of -55 is the least worst in more than a year and considerably better than the -88 net balance registered in January,” RICS said. (Reuters)