Number of homes on estate agents' books falls to new low, say surveyors

The number of homes on estate agents' books has dwindled to a new low, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics).

Average property stock levels per branch on agents' books fell to a new record low of just under 42, as new buyer inquiries, new instructions from sellers and newly-agreed sales continued to drift lower in February, its report said.

New buyer inquiries fell for the eleventh month in a row while sales trends have remained similar over the past six months, Rics said.

Meanwhile, the number of fresh properties coming to market recorded its lowest reading since May 2017.

For the ninth month in a row, house prices remained broadly flat, with little change.

In what Rics said was "another sign of the increasingly challenging market environment", the average time for a sale to complete from listing has increased by two weeks over the past year.

At the start of 2017 it took around 16 and-a-half weeks typically to sell a home. Now it takes around 18 and-a-half weeks.

There also continues to be significant regional variations, with new buyer inquiries increasing in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Yorkshire and Humberside in February.

Declining inquiries from new buyers were seen in London and the South East of England as well as the East Midlands, with the trend in most other regions broadly flat, according to the report.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Theresa May said her goal was getting "the right homes in the right places" as she set out a shake-up of planning laws.

Simon Rubinsohn, Rics chief economist, said: "The consultation announced earlier this week on housing delivery put the onus squarely on developers and planning departments to up their game to lift the supply pipeline, but the feedback to the latest Rics residential market survey casts some doubt as to whether this will be sufficient to address the challenge.

"Significantly, the longer term national house price indicator has begun to creep upwards once again in recent months despite the current somewhat mixed climate."

He said that, despite the subdued housing market activity, Rics' findings point to house price increases of around 15% over the next five years.

He continued: "Meanwhile, the divergent regional picture is becoming increasingly pronounced with key Rics indicators across huge swathes of the country still showing considerable resilience but data for London, the South East and East Anglia rather more subdued."