Business

New buyer interest edged up in March, says Rics

Estate agent, London
Image caption Relatively good weather in March encouraged some to shop for property

Interest in the UK housing market edged up in March according to a new survey.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) said that, during the month, 9% more surveyors reported a rise in inquiries from potential buyers than those reporting a fall.

Rics said the warmer weather encouraged some potential buyers, while others wanted to snap up properties before a holiday from stamp duty ended.

But prices in all regions except London continued to fall.

Overall, 10% more surveyors reported falling house prices in March than those reporting a rise. However, this was the least negative reading since June 2010.

The declines in prices were modest, Rics said, with surveyors reporting price falls of up to 2%.

Northern Ireland saw the biggest increase in the proportion of surveyors reporting falling prices.

"There has been a gentle increase in activity across the market in the early part of the year but it remains to be seen whether this can continue, given the changes in the Budget and ongoing problems affecting the economy," said Rics' chief economist Simon Rubinsohn.

"London continues to outperform the rest of the UK in terms of prices but, interestingly, the North West did see an increase in activity in March."

The Rics survey covers the UK, but it collects most of its data from England and Wales.

Some buyers were keen to make a purchase before 24 March, the deadline for first-time buyers wanting to take advantage of a holiday from 1% stamp duty on houses costing less than £250,000.

The stamp duty tax band is being reintroduced because Chancellor George Osborne believes the holiday has not been effective in encouraging more people to buy a home.

Instead, the government is introducing other incentives to persuade lenders to offer loans to potential buyers. This includes the NewBuy scheme in England which is aimed at helping first-time buyers, who can only offer a small deposit, to buy a newly-built home.

Mr Rubinsohn said there had been signs of a pick-up since the start of the year, but he expected a "pause" in activity in April owing to the stamp duty holiday having expired.

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