'Few signs' of house price rebound, says Nationwide


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The Independent Online

House prices have recorded their weakest annual growth in nearly three years amid the "challenging" economy, the Nationwide said today.

Prices slipped 1.5% year-on-year in June to £165,738 on average, the biggest fall since August 2009, according to the building society's latest house price index.

The study suggested the decline, which also showed a 0.6% month-on-month decrease, was partly due to the ending of a stamp duty concession for first-time buyers in March, which had the effect of bunching up sales.

It said there were "few signs of a near-term rebound", as economic conditions remain tough.

Robert Gardner, Nationwide's chief economist, said prices are likely to remain "fairly stable" over the next 12 months amid a lack of homes on the market, continuing a trend seen over the past two years.

There are hopes that a "funding for lending" scheme announced by the Bank of England and the Treasury earlier this month could help kick-start lending.

Analysts have said this may put the brakes on recent rate increases although those currently unable to get a mortgage may see little improvement.

Mr Gardner said: "The slightly weaker trend we've observed since March is unsurprising, given the difficult economic backdrop, with the UK economy dipping back into recession at the start of the year and few signs of a near-term rebound."

He added: "Economic conditions are expected to remain challenging over the next 12 months. However, policymakers' efforts to bolster the supply of credit to the economy and to help lower the cost should provide support to demand.

"Moreover, the supply side of the market is still constrained, with construction failing to keep pace with the number of new households being formed.

"Overall, this suggests a continuation of the pattern experienced over the past two years, with prices remaining fairly stable over the next 12 months."

Nationwide said the volatility caused by the ending of the stamp duty holiday for first-time buyers made it even harder to uncover the underlying trend. Mortgage lending to first-time buyers in March totalled £3 billion, around 40% above usual levels.

Nationwide estimated that more than 200,000 first-time buyers benefited from the concession during the two years it was in place, saving a total of nearly £375 million or around £1,800 each.

British Bankers' Association (BBA) figures released yesterday showed that mortgage repayments outstripped lending for the first time last month as Britain's households became more cautious.

Net mortgage lending declined by £73 million - the first reversal in the 16 years that records have been compiled by the BBA.

Households have been focusing on paying down their debts, but it has also become more difficult to take out a mortgage in recent months as lenders have been tightening their borrowing criteria and raising their rates in response to the weak economy and the ongoing eurozone crisis.