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U.K. House Prices Decline for First Time Since 2005 (Update1)
By Brian Swint
Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) -- U.K. house prices fell for the first time since 2005 in August after five interest-rate increases in the past year discouraged buyers, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said.
The number of real-estate agents and surveyors saying prices declined outnumbered those reporting gains by 1.8 percentage points in August, London-based RICS said. That's the first negative balance since October 2005. Prices in the capital rose at the slowest pace in more than two years.
The U.K.'s decade-long property boom is showing signs of cooling after the Bank of England raised its benchmark rate to a six-year high in July. With the U.S. subprime mortgage slump pushing global borrowing costs higher still, pressure on property prices is likely to increase in coming months.
``The market will soften further,'' said Ian Perry, an RICS spokesman. ``Potential house buyers have become far more cautious as they wait and see what effect interest-rate rises will have on household finances.''
Price declines were largest in the West Midlands, the northwest of England and East Anglia. The house price index for London, the engine of the U.K. property market, fell to the lowest since June 2005.
``The interest-rate rises have eventually bitten and their sting is being felt across all but the highest-value properties,'' said Grant Robertson of Allied Surveyors in Glasgow, Scotland. ``Selling times are very slow.''
Mortgage defaults in the U.S. have made commercial banks reluctant to lend to each other, pushing up market interest rates around the world and prompting concern that global economic growth will slow. The gap between three-month U.K. money-market rates and the benchmark central bank rate of 5.75 percent is the widest in at least two decades.
Banks such as Abbey, the second-largest U.K. mortgage lender, are passing the higher rates on to their customers. The rate on a mortgage fixed for two years, the most popular type, rose to a seven-year high of 6.58 percent in August for borrowers with a 5 percent deposit on their homes, the Bank of England reported Sept. 11. That's up from 6.37 percent at the end of July and 5.38 percent a year earlier.
Recent reports have sent mixed signals about the health of the property market. HBOS Plc, the U.K.'s biggest mortgage lender, said prices rose for an eighth month in August and gained 11.6 percent from a year earlier. Rightmove Plc, Britain's biggest real-estate Web site, said London prices dropped for the first time in a year in August.
``It is dangerous to attach too much importance to one survey,'' said Howard Archer, chief European economist at Global Insight in London. Still, ``we expect house price growth to trend gradually lower over the coming months and then settle down into an extended period of very modest rises.''
A shortage of housing, which has helped fuel a tripling of prices in the past decade, may continue to support the market. Building stagnated at 148,000 new units a year on average between 1989 and 2005, down from a peak of 425,000 in 1968, government figures show.
The U.K.'s economy is also on track to expand at the fastest pace in three years in 2007. Growth accelerated in the second quarter, unemployment dropped to a two-year low in August and retail sales increased in July, reports in the past month showed.
Higher borrowing costs are nevertheless increasing the burden on consumers already shouldering a record 1.3 trillion pounds ($2.6 trillion) in debt. A gauge of interest from new buyers dropped the most since August 2004, RICS said.
``Affordability is at its most stretched in over a decade, said RICS's Perry. ``Many will worry that rising mortgage repayments will prove a step to far.''
To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Swint in London at [email protected] .
Last Updated: September 13, 2007 04:40 EDT