Strong fall in UK residential property prices as experts warn of tough times ahead

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Warning on tough time ahead for UK property market

Residential property prices in the UK fell by £200 a day last month, the fastest fall since records began in 1983, as experts warn of a double dip.

More than £6,000 was wiped off the value of a typical home in September as prices dropped 3.6% compared with the previous month, the figures from the Halifax show.

A separate report from Knight Frank shows that even the buoyant prime London real estate market is on a downward spiral with prices falling 0.2% in September, the third monthly decline in a row.

Howard Archer, chief UK economist at IHS Global Insight, described the Halifax figures as ‘an absolute shocker’ and added: ‘It will undoubtedly raise fears of a housing market crash. There seems little doubt that the housing market is now in reverse.’

Britain runs the risk of a double dip in the property market, according to the International Monetary Fund. Its latest World Economic Outlook report warns that UK house prices were still high. ‘What remains worrisome is that house prices are still high based on traditional valuation yardsticks, and policy support may not be enough to prevent further correction,’ the IMF report said.

Although analysts have been predicting that prices would fall in the latter part of 2010 it is the extent of the fall that has caused a sharp intake of breath. However, Halifax housing economist Martin Ellis said it is too soon to conclude that September’s fall is the beginning of a sustained period of declining house prices.

‘A shortage of properties for sale contributed to an imbalance between supply and demand and was a key factor driving up house prices last year. An increase in the number of properties available for sale in recent months has reduced the imbalance.

At the same time, renewed uncertainty about the economy and jobs has caused consumer confidence to falter recently, dampening the demand for home purchase,’ he explained.

‘Together, these factors have been exerting some downward pressure on prices in recent months. In addition, volatility of the month on month measure has increased due to the low transaction levels across the market. This underlines the difficulty of getting a clear reading on the current state of the housing market,’ he said.

‘Prospects for the housing market remain uncertain. Earnings growth is expected to be very modest over the next year, tax rises are on the way and more people are putting their homes on the market. These will all be constraints on the market, dampening house prices. On the positive side, we expect interest rates to remain very low for some time, which will underpin the improved affordability position for homeowners,’ he added.

Simon Rubinsohn, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors chief economist, said that the latest figures provide further evidence that house prices are easing after the strong gains seen through the latter part of 2009 and the early part of 2010.

‘The 3.6% drop in this index in September undoubtedly highlights the extent of the softer trend in prices. On a month by month basis, house prices are always going to display a degree of volatility and in an environment in which transactions activity is subdued this is going to be even more pronounced,’ he explained.

‘RICS expects prices to slip a little further over the coming months, but despite the prospect of public spending cuts we believe the risk of large house price falls remains relatively limited. Key RICS lead indicators measuring the gap between demand and supply suggest the gap is already beginning to narrow which points to a more stable picture emerging for the early part of 2011,’ he added.

Adam Challis, head of research at Hamptons International, described the figures as ‘worrying’ and said austerity measures have been harmful to market sentiment. ‘As the October 20th Spending Review announcement draws nearer, buyers are choosing a wait and see approach to see how they will be affected by the cuts. This may well release some pent up activity towards the end of the year,’ he said.

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