RICS reports sales per surveyor are less than half 2002 peak, but market sentiment is slightly up on last month

House sales have fallen to their lowest number for 30 years, according to the latest data from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

The body said that UK house sales in the three months to May fell to 17.4 per surveyor, the lowest number since 1978, and a fall of 31.5% over the past 12 months. The figure is less than half that seen at the height of the housing boom in 2002.

However, the body said that market sentiment had improved very slightly since April, with a balance of 92.9% of surveyors reporting a fall in prices rather than a rise, compared with a score of 94.7% in April. Both these figures are far worse than those seen at the peak of the 1990 housing recession, where the balance of those reporting prices falling rather than rising reached only around 60%.

The stock of unsold property on surveyors' books increased by 4.4%, up by 45% in the past 12 months. The rate of decline in new buyer enquiries fell, with the balance of surveyors reporting a decrease rebounding to -51%.

The release of the RICS data caused shares in some of the UK's biggest housebuilders to suffer this morning.

Barratt shares fell nearly 9% to 110p and Redrow nearly 8% to 182.50p, while Persimmon slipped by more than 5% to 405p and Bovis Homes by 3% to 359p.