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House prices fall easing

House prices in England and Wales fell at their slowest pace in 15 months in the three months to April while new buyer enquiries rose at their fastest pace in a decade, a survey showed today.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' monthly house price balance picked up to -59.9 last month, its best showing since January last year, from -72.1 in March.

Analysts had forecast a reading of -70. New buyer enquiries rose for a sixth consecutive month and at their fastest pace since August 1999, RICS said.

The findings tally with recent surveys from mortgage lenders suggesting that housing market activity has picked up from last year's record low and prices are falling more slowly.

However, RICS cautioned that this was an improvement, not a turnaround.

"There are tentative signs that the market is starting to pick up but transactions remain at very low levels and we are unlikely to see significant improvement while money remains in short supply and the employment picture is uncertain," said RICS spokesperson Jeremy Leaf.

The survey noted that record low interest rates meant few households were being forced to sell their properties despite rising unemployment.

The sales to stock ratio -- a key gauge of market slack -- rose for a fourth consecutive month, to 15.3 per cent from 14.5 per cent, but remained low by historical standards.