The latest housing market survey released today by the surveyors’ body RICS paints a fascinating picture of the courting process between buyers and sellers of houses.
The headline figure taken from the survey was always going to be that the majority of estate agents are now seeing house price falls. The figure for the balance of agents seeing rising prices against those seeing prices fall was -52, which was the lowest since March last year.
This figure fits with the general trend in the main house price indexes which are showing prices slumping.
But for me the most intriguing figure is the sudden shift in attitude among sellers, from increasingly interested in selling to much less interested.
In September a 22% majority of estate agents said they had received more instructions from vendors. That +22 figure plunge to -4 in October (see graph sourced from the RICS survey). This means that the average estate agent is seeing fewer folk looking to sell their homes.
This represents is a huge change in sentiment. And it will be interesting to see whether this is the start of a sustained period of reduced activity by sellers or just a blip.
There is other evidence to suggest that this may be a trend. Late last month the quarterly survey by the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) found signs of a return of the “reluctant landlord”. It said there was a sharp rise in the number of its members (34% compared with 19%) who thought that more properties were being rented out because they were not selling.
This was to be expected as we discussed in a previous blog a couple of months ago. With low interest rates would-be sellers can more easily afford to hold onto properties in the hope of an improvement in house prices.
For those who fret about prices this is good news as it will help to put the brakes on house price falls. Although how much of a brake this may prove will depend on how many people there are activity seeking to buy – and that number too is reducing and at a faster rate than that of retreating sellers (see graph sourced from the RICS survey).
There is however a worrying side effect of this reduction in both buyers and sellers and that is a reduction in the overall activity in the market and a further slump in transactions.
This will probably mean a much more erratic path for house prices both nationally and regionally, depending on which party – buyer or seller – is in the strongest position at any given time.
And it certainly will not please the Treasury which is hopeful of boosting its tax take from stamp duty as we have discussed before.
But more worrying, again as we have discussed before, is that history appears to link transactions and housing sales. So the likelihood is that fewer transactions will mean house builders trimming their output and that will mean fewer homes built.