Autumn fails to deliver its customary cheer for housing sales, with starts down nearly 1,000

Housing starts fell 9% in September as more evidence emerges of an impending “double-dip” in the housebuilding sector.

The latest figures from the NHBC show that the number of registrations - which happen before builders start on site - fell to 9,033 from 9,954 in August.

Although the body cautioned against reading too much into one month’s figures, it said other evidence indicated the sector had not experienced the traditional autumn uplift in sales.

The NHBC said the average daily sales rates for its members rose to 269 from 242 in August. This compares with daily sales of more than 300 for the rest of the year and 364 for the same month last year (see below).

Imtiaz Farookhi, chief executive of the NHBC, said the availability of mortgage finance was acting as a drag on starts.

“Confidence seemed to leave the market around the time of the election and has not returned,” he said. 

“The autumn selling season, which is traditionally strong, has yet to take hold, due no doubt to a wait and see policy from consumers.”

As well as private sales, starts for publicly subsidised housing fell to their lowest this year, on the back of cuts to the Homes and Communities Agency.

Richard Tamayo, the NHBC’s commercial director, said he did not expect starts to fall much further, but believed the government needed to consider at what point it would intervene if build rates did not improve.

“There’s a danger we forget just how far away we are from meeting the housing need this country has,” Tamayo said.

Current build levels equate to about 110,000 starts on NHBC-registered sites, or about 135,000 across England. This follows evidence in recent weeks that mortgage providers are tightening their lending criteria.

Richard Donnell, director of research at housing information company Hometrack, said: “Starts are likely to slip back as lenders tighten mortgage availability. They’re not in a rush to lend to people at high loan-to-value ratios; they don’t need to.”