New listings down nearly 10%

New sellers failed to raise their asking prices in the month of May for the first time since Rightmove began measuring housing market statistics 11 years ago.~

The average asking price of property coming to the market remains virtually unchanged at £243,759, up just £22 (+0%) on the previous month last month.

Rightmove says that overall market volumes look set to remain subdued in 2012 as the motivation of new sellers to come to market has stalled, with new listing numbers down by nearly 10% in May compared to April. It is a cause for concern that the market appears to have lost its spring momentum, as there is likely to be a longer than normal summer slowdown too thanks to the extra distractions of the Jubilee and two major sporting events.

New research from Rightmove also shows that those wanting to trade up are outnumbered by those looking to trade down. This market mismatch has its roots in age demographics and the baby boomer generation’s changing housing needs.

Miles Shipside, director of Rightmove, said: “New sellers asking more in May had become the norm, so it comes as quite a shock to see prices flat at this time of year. Perhaps the first-time buyer stamp duty holiday, and the knock-on activity it helped to create, has concertinaed the market’s stronger than expected early spring momentum into the first four months of the year rather than the usual six. The high rainfall in May will have been a further factor in dampening prospective buyers’ enthusiasm to get out and view property, and even if the forecast picks up we have a summer of sport and celebration ahead that will provide further distractions.”

The end of the first-time buyer stamp duty exemption appears to have been a factor in the market losing its price momentum, having contributed to a brisker than expected start to the year, Rightmove noted. Recently reported statistics for March show that first-time buyer mortgages constituted over 40% of all advances, fleetingly back to levels normally associated with a healthy and balanced housing market. The knock-on effect is for some of those who sold to first-time buyers to then trade up, and again the mortgage statistics indicate a 15% increase in mortgage lending to the rest of the market compared to March 2011.

Shipside said: “The post-stamp duty holiday lull in first-time buyers, and the upward chains they help to build, appears to have made the market pause for breath, taking the wind out of spring market sales a little earlier than usual. It’s hard enough for those looking to get onto the property ladder to save the chunky deposit, and now some face the prospect of another savings spurt to pay stamp duty. This will put some first-time buyers on the sidelines for a few months, and rule some out of the game for much longer, before they can field themselves again as ready, willing and able to proceed.”

The number of new sellers appears to be stalling too, with the weekly run-rate of 26,595 properties coming to market in May nearly 10% fewer than the 29,333 in April. All 10 regions saw fewer fresh property listings compared to the previous month, at a time of year when enthusiasm to try and sell should be higher. This will help underpin prices in areas with a shortage of supply and keep market conditions more buoyant in various micro-market hotspots around the country. In less active areas, however, seller numbers are restricted as many have insufficient equity to either afford the jump up to the next rung on the property ladder, or obtain the best mortgage rates. Agents report that some of the recent upward creep in lenders’ interest rates has had a detrimental effect on activity. Some sellers may also have concerns about realising what they perceive as ‘fair value’ for their current property from those buyers who are able to proceed. The shortage of property for sale to tempt them in their target market can also cause them to rethink their moving plans.

Shipside added: “The ability to trade up is a vital component of a healthy housing market, though there is concerning evidence that the numbers who want or are able to trade up are worryingly fewer than those who intend to trade down. This imbalance is exacerbated by baby boomer downsizers perhaps looking to release some of the considerable equity that their generation have benefitted from. With trader-uppers restricted by insufficient equity and a lack of mortgage funding there are currently too few buyers to fill the gaps at the lower end of market, stoking the growing imbalance between downtraders and uptraders.”

Nick Hopkinson, director of PPR Estates, said: “March was always going to be a high water mark point for house prices with the temporary stamp duty relief for first-time buyers ending. Now, when even estate agents with their ever keen ‘puppy dog’ enthusiasm are saying house prices have hit the buffers, it’s time to get worried about where the market is going.

“The Euro-land crisis is currently taking a dangerous turn for the worse and, more worryingly, the impact is getting closer to home with Santander UK being downgraded by Moody’s last week. One of the UK’s biggest mortgage lenders is now facing steeper borrowing costs; this is not good news for beleaguered borrowers. Mortgage costs have already increased for many thousands of homeowners this year and new lending is already heavily restricted as the major banks look to repair their balance sheets. Further debt defaults at either a country level or, even worse, the possible break-up of the Euro could well see the Debt Capital Markets, on which many lending banks rely, close down completely again like they did in 2008.

“Amidst this global uncertainty, UK home buyer confidence is plummeting and even those who are brave enough to trade up in the property market cannot get viable finance without huge deposits and a perfect credit rating. Outside London’s ‘oligarch’ enclaves it’s difficult to retain any credible, let alone enthusiastic, belief that house prices can do anything but fall over the remainder of this year.”