Nationwide, Britain’s biggest building society, threw the spotlight on the cooling housing market by reporting a sharp fall in mortgage lending in the last three months.
But its finance director, Mark Rennison, remains confident that it will be a short-term dip. He said: “Whether, as we get beyond the summer recess, consumers return to the market is hard to call. But, whatever, it still looks likely to be a short-lived downturn.”
The latest sign of a slowdown comes amid reports that London house prices fell by 5.9 per cent in July, the largest monthly fall for more than six years, according to the estate agent website Rightmove.
However, the housebuilder Bovis Homes, which reported on Monday that profits had more than doubled in the first half of the year, said it had seen a normal summer slowdown and expects the market to pick up in September.
Bovis, which makes about three-quarters of its sales in the South of England, said house prices had continued to soar between January and June, pushing its average selling price up 11 per cent to £210,000, compared with the first half of 2013. Pre-tax profits were up 166 per cent to £49.4m in the first half, and it is already close to achieving its sales targets this year.
Nationwide, though, said that the seasonal slowdown in the market looked more pronounced than usual.
Mr Rennison said the Mortgage Market Review which came into force in April, had been a factor. “The timing of when we saw some elements in the market start to cool was very much in line with MMR,” he said. “But then the MMR effect has or is about to unwind quite quickly as all lenders seem to have got it well bedded in. It may still delay some buyers just because it is a more complicated process.”
Mr Rennison believes, however, that it is consumers who have really put the brakes on the market. “Consumers were uncomfortable with the rate of house price inflation, the actual price of houses and, to an extent, the MMR changes,” he added. “At the same time, some lenders, notably the high street banks, chose to cool their heels for a few months. There are signs they are returning.”
Nationwide’s gross mortgage lending in the three months to the end of June fell from £6.4bn to £5.8bn, compared with the same period last year, and its share of the market dropped from 15.5 per cent to 11.4 per cent. Despite that, underlying profits more than doubled from £121m to £263m. Mr Rennison said: “The same quarter last year was pretty exceptional. We are now back to more normal levels of lending and are very comfortable with that.”
Nationwide’s usual average market share runs between 10 per cent and 11 per cent.
The building society attracted 110,000 new current account customers, claiming a 10 per cent share of those customers who moved after the introduction of new, simpler account-switching rules.
Savers’ deposits rose by £5bn to £132bn.