UK HOUSE SALES PICKING UP SAYS RICS
UK property sales edged up slightly in February, according to the latest survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics).
A few more first-timers have been buying ahead of the reintroduction of 1% stamp duty on 24 March for homes under £250,000.
As a result, average sales per estate agency branch in the survey rose from 15.7 to 16 last month.
Rics added its members were no longer expecting prices to fall further.
"This is the first time since May 2010 that respondents have not been predicting further price declines," Rics spokesman Alan Collett said.
"Given the recent upturn in interest from first-time buyers looking to beat the stamp duty exemption deadline, it would appear that surveyors are slowly becoming less pessimistic over prices."
However, the survey noted that sales actually completed in February still recorded an overall fall in prices, compared with the position three months earlier.
"Regionally, London was again the only part of the country to see prices increase, while surveyors in the West Midlands and Northern Ireland saw the least positive readings," Collett said.
"Surveyors report that problems accessing affordable mortgage finance continue to hinder many first-time buyers who would otherwise be looking to get onto the property ladder," he added.
One factor that may push up sales a bit further in the coming months is the government backed NewBuy scheme, which was launched on Monday.
This is aimed at letting 100,000 people apply for mortgages to buy newly built homes, when they may have only a 5% deposit to put down.
House sales have slumped in the UK in the past few years, partly due to severe mortgage rationing by lenders.
The NewBuy scheme will provide an element of insurance for lenders against borrowers defaulting, when lenders grant a mortgage to someone who has a deposit worth only 5-10% of the property's value.
Home builders, lenders and the government hope this will enable some potential buyers to buy for the first time, or move to another home, when they might otherwise have been frozen out of the property market.