House prices down in April, says Halifax

Experts suggest this may be a blip rather than the start of a downward trend

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The Independent Online

House prices fell slightly last month, by 0.2 per cent, according to the latest figures from Halifax. This represents the second successive monthly price fall and the third in the past six months.

It follows the Nationwide's report last week that prices went up by 1.2 per cent and the Land Registry report which suggested a 0.4 per cent fall in March.

Halifax's figures also show that house prices between February and April this year were 2.3 per cent higher than the previous three months and 8.5 per cent higher than the same time last year.

"Although mortgage approvals have now declined for two consecutive months and property transactions fell in March, on an annual basis housing demand still remains strong," said Stephen Noakes, Mortgages Director.

Nicholas Ayre, managing director of buying agency Home Fusion, said: "With prices levelling out and even tailing off a little in the past month, we could be seeing the first signs of resistance from buyers who are not prepared to pay what sellers are asking. If buyers are being sensible and refusing to pay over the odds because they can't afford it, then that is a good thing. While interest rates are low at the moment, they won't always be and working out whether you can afford your mortgage when rates do rise is a reasonable strategy.

"However, this may just be a blip rather than the beginning of a downwards trend in prices. And while the market may be adjusting, there are pockets of the London housing market where it is still crazy busy while in other parts of the country talk of a bubble is laughable. A national average house price is not at all helpful, as regional variations tend to be significant."

Rob Thomas spokesperson for haart estate agent added: "Only London-centric commentators believe there may be a housing bubble expanding in the UK. But what’s the true story away from this Monte Carlo-on-Thames of prime Central London? According to our own national data, prices are still not recovered to their peak 2007 levels. The national average property price released by Halifax today is still well below 2007 levels.

"While London’s strong recovery has brought prices to within a whisker of the previous peak, the idea of a bubble must seem like a bizarre joke to anyone who bought a house in 2007 in much of the rest of the country. House prices are 18 per cent off their peak in the North and a massive 53 per cent lower in Northern Ireland."

Oliver Atkinson, director of online estate agents said: "
"There was a time not long ago when two successive month-on-month falls in house prices might have caused the market to pause for thought. Not now. This modest dip will have as much impact as the addition of a pair of furry dice to a Saturn V rocket. A mild encumbrance but nothing that will halt levels of confidence that are fast approaching the stratospheric.

"In price terms the market is levelling off rather than fizzling out. But while prices have fallen slightly, demand for property is still very strong and continues to be driven by attractive mortgage rates and bullish borrowers. With the new mortgage rules in play, there may well be a further drop in mortgage approvals and transactions in the months ahead. The market needs a breather and a price plateau is surely a positive.

"As always, it's important to remember that the overall house price picture can be misleading. London and the South East remain supercharged while other areas of the UK, such as the North and Wales, are still struggling."

Peter Rollings, CEO at Marsh & Parsons, said: "There has been much talk of whether or not there’s a bubble in London. It’s true that prices rose more rapidly than I’ve ever seen in the first three months of this year. Prices rises are slowing now, thank goodness, but bubbles by definition pop and with the supply/demand ratio still out of kilter  I don’t see that happening here. At long last, there is more property coming onto the market, but there are still almost 50 per cent fewer properties available than in 2007, so there is still plenty of slack to be taken up.

"Thanks to a greater supply of property coming onto the market, the ratio of buyers per property has shrunk from around 24 buyers per property in January, to around 18 at the end of April. This is partly due to some portfolio and accidental landlords deciding to cash in by selling their properties, following several years of excellent capital growth. This has led to more property being available for sale, but less property for rent. As a result, we may now see rental prices starting to rise."