Surveyors upbeat despite new low in homes sales

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The number of homes changing hands hit a new record low in October but chartered surveyors are optimistic that business will pick up soon, figures showed today.

Property sales fell to an average of just 10.9 per chartered surveyor estate agent during the three months to the end of October, down from 11.5 in September, and the lowest level recorded by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) since its survey began in 1978.

The group blamed the current mortgage shortage for the slump in transactions, saying the lack of mortgage finance continued to "stifle" the ability of buyers to access the market.

But surveyors feel more upbeat about the future, with 20 per cent more expecting sales levels to improve during the coming three months than those who think they will worsen, up from just 4 per cent in September.

RICS said this optimism was being driven by an increasing trend for sellers to drop their asking price, but it added that it could also reflect expectations of a jump in the number of homes that are repossessed.

The proportion of surveyors reporting house price falls also eased slightly, with 81.8 per cent more saying the value of property had fallen during October than those who reported seeing a rise, compared with 84.5 per cent more who saw a drop in September.

The number of enquiries from new buyers remains in negative territory, but the rate at which enquiries are falling eased for the sixth month in a row during October, with the number of sales agreed following a similar trend.

The group said this suggested that the drop in activity, which accelerated during the first quarter, had slowed in the second and third quarters.

RICS spokesperson Ian Perry said: "Last week's interest rate cut should certainly help to support the market now that lenders have agreed to pass on the reduction to borrowers.

"Even so the general lack of mortgage finance remains a major blockage in the housing market for a large majority of would-be buyers.

"Fortunately, many vendors have finally started to accept current market conditions and are dropping their asking prices to achieve a sale. Sales should increase in the coming months as more and more sellers understand that greater realism is the only way to make that long desired move."

London has seen the biggest fall in sales, with chartered surveyor estate agents selling an average of only six properties each during the three months to the end of October, while those in East Anglia and Wales have sold an average of just nine homes.

But sales levels are more buoyant in the North East, with agents there completing around 16 transactions each.

Surveyors in London are optimistic that sales levels will pick up during the coming quarter, with a balance of 37 per cent expecting a rise, while 47 per cent of surveyors in the South West also expect to see an improvement.

A Government spokesman said: "We are focused on overcoming the current difficulties in the housing market, and ensuring support is in place to help vulnerable households and first-time buyers.

"We have taken action to support first-time buyers aspiring to enter the market by increasing opportunities to buy a share of a home, as well as protecting the most vulnerable families with a new mortgage rescue scheme.

"We are constantly looking at what more we can to do to ensure stability and fairness into the market, and working to ensure building societies and banks pass on recent cuts in interest rates."