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Truth about housing market: even the spin doctor looks confused

Two statements flatly contradicting each other about the mortgage market were put out by the same PR company at almost exactly the same time yesterday.

Wriglesworth issued one statement for Connells Survey and Valuation claiming that the mortgage market has seen its strongest start to a year since 2008.

A second statement, put out on behalf of LSL’s e-Surv business – a competitor to Connells – warned that mortgage approvals had fallen to their lowest level for 15 months.

According to Connells Survey and Valuation, the total number of residential valuations conducted during the first quarter of 2012 was 10% higher than in the previous quarter, and a rise of 34% compared to the same period last year.

It said there had been a 35% rise in valuations for first-time buyers trying to beat the end of the Stamp Duty holiday, although this group of purchasers fell off sharply in March.

But according to e-Surv, mortgage availability has tightened, and the number of loans for house purchase in March dropped to 43,450 – the lowest since December 2010, and 7% down on March last year.

It also said that first-time buyers were hardest hit as banks reduced the availability of high loan-to-value mortgages in response to increasing funding costs and tightening credit conditions.

Richard Sexton, director of e.surv, said: “Up until now, high-street mortgage lenders have been able to absorb steadily increasing costs, rather than passing them on to the consumer. The tactic boosted activity during last autumn and early part of this year, albeit artificially, and veiled a multitude of underlying weaknesses in the market. Now that the banks can no longer afford to take on extra costs, those weaknesses are beginning to come to bear once again.

“A challenging period lies ahead – particularly for buyers on low incomes and with small deposits. Mortgage lenders’ balance sheets are groaning under the weight of increased funding costs and it is no surprise that a range of banks are changing their SVRs.

“In the Bank of England’s latest survey of credit conditions, the banks reported a fall in mortgage credit for the first time since spring 2010. As a result, banks are tightening their criteria and putting up rates on some of their fixed term mortgages. We are also seeing a severely weakened appetite for interest-only mortgages, driven in part by focus from the FSA on the sustainability of these mortgages in the longer term.”

James Staunton of Wriglesworth, which is hosting a Great Housing Debate in London next week, said it was not at all embarrassing that his firm had sent out two completely contrasting statements.

He said: “We represent our clients to the best of our ability, and the figures and views we sent out are our clients’, and not our own. This kind of thing is bound to happen when you specialise in property, as we do.”

Source EAToday Friday 13 March 2012