The first signs of increased demand may now be appearing. But any recovery isn’t going to be a return to how things were before. Yolande Barnes predicts a brave new world for housebuilding

In the last week, we have been assailed with at least two pieces of apparently conflicting information about the housing market. On the one hand, the Council of Mortgage Lenders reported that it 9% less money had been borrowed in April than March, leaving it a 60% lower than a year ago. On the other hand, the Nationwide building society reported that average UK house prices rose 1.2% in May.

Monthly figures tend to yo-yo so it is foolish to read too much into these pieces of data. House price growth is likely to “bounce around zero” for a long while yet and is most unlikely to take off with alacrity in the middle of a recession. But when positive monthly figures start to be scattered in with the negative ones, we are probably seeing the end of the worst price falls.

When taken with increasing evidence that agents are short of stock in some markets and locations, we can see that the seeds of renewed house price growth are being sown (even if they haven’t been watered yet by an improving economy).

What the latest figures do highlight is the difference between housing market activity and housing market values. Although mortgage lending has continued to decline in both numbers and value, there are distinct signs that buyers with equity are becoming more active. This spring, the market has switched from being one of low demand and high supply to one of still low, but improved, demand coupled with low supply.

From that point of view, the market today feels rather like 1992, the long, slow wind-up to the crest of the run. It is unfashionable to speak of housing market recovery but an equity-driven, investment-motivated increase in demand looks likely and appears to be starting, especially in some prime markets. Mortgage markets will languish at around zero growth for a while but prime, and some regional, markets could take off. The main players have changed from occupiers to investors and this will affect the way the game is played – but we are probably still on the rollercoaster.

It is unfashionable to speak of a recovery, but an equity-driven, investment-motivated increase in demand looks very likely

It is possible that prices will eventually rise on the back of small numbers of transactions. In fact, we expect turnover to remain lower than it has been in the past, not least because there is little newly built stock likely to come to the market in the foreseeable future.

Even while the population (and hence, demand for housing) continues to increase, two factors may cause owner occupation to decline. In the past 20 years, homeowners have moved less frequently and entered the market later than in the seventies and eighties. In coming decades, the average household will enter owner-occupation even later and move less frequently again. If that is the case, affording mortgage payments will not be the big issue for many would-be first-time buyers but affording a deposit payment will. Even before the credit crunch, the sheer magnitude of house prices in recent years meant the difficulty of finding the cash for a deposit was already reducing the number of owner-occupiers with a mortgage.

Falling loan-to-value ratios won’t help deposit-finders and meanwhile, the infrequency, and cost of, moving means that the search for value will remain relentless.

All this means a market change that borders on revolution for the housebuilding industry.