Activity stalls as temporary stamp duty boost fades•
Price balance improves but remains negative
• Activity runs out of momentum
• Outlook becomes increasingly uncertainThe May 2012 RICS Housing Market Survey shows the price trend to still be negative, albeit a little less so than in April, with most activity indicators at best flat or turning a little softer. This reflects, in
part, some payback from the stamp duty exemption boost seen previously but also the broader increase in global risk aversion in the face of the worsening euro crisis.
The (seasonally adjusted) net price balance improved in May from -19 to -16 i.e. 16% more surveyors recorded price falls rather than rises. Whilst the price balance is still negative, the non-seasonally adjusted breakdown that underpins the headline price balance shows that 67% of surveyors reported no change in prices and of those surveyors reporting price falls, 70% of them are doing so within a range of 0 to -2%.
Activity was more or less stable in May. But there has been a clear loss of momentum following the expiry of the stamp exemption for first time buyers (for properties costing less than £250k) at the end of March. Indeed, the deadline has had the effect of bringing forward housing purchases into Q1 at the expense of Q2. Average sales levels (per branch) fell by 2.6% in (the three months to) May to 15.6, while average stocks on surveyors books (per branch) fell by 0.2% to 67.8. This had the mechanical effect of pushing down the sales to stock ratio – an indicator of market tightness – from 23.6% to 23.1% in May, which is considerably less than the long run average of 33%.
The outlook for prices deteriorated relative to last month while sales expectations, although still positive at both the three and twelve month time horizon, are less so than in April. This most likely reflects the deteriorating economic news flow coming out of Europe at the moment following inconclusive Greek elections on May 6th, but as mentioned above, it probably is also a result of the temporary hit inflicted by the expiry of the stamp duty exemption.
At the regional level, London remains the only region in the survey where the price balance is positive, a trend that has continued moreor less uninterrupted since February 2011. Of those regions recording negative balances, the South East’s was least negative, reinforcing the notion of a North/South price divide across England.
The Scotland and Northern Ireland net balances deteriorated further, indicating a broadening in the number of respondents reporting price falls.