A shortage of properties on the market continued to push house prices higher during May, figures show today.

The average cost of a UK home rose by 0.5% during the month to stand at 169,162, according to mortgage lender Nationwide (see the Free House Price Valuation guide).

The increase, which followed gains of 1.1% and 1% in April and March respectively, came despite activity in the housing market remaining subdued.

Martin Gahbauer, Nationwide chief economist, says: "Housing market conditions remain characterised by thin transaction volumes and a relative scarcity of properties for sale, despite a slow return of more sellers in recent months.

"The current supply-demand balance on the market is still consistent with relatively stable to modestly upward trending prices."

The group says house prices are now just 9.5% below the peak they reached in October 2007, having risen by 12.2% since they reached their trough in February last year.

But despite May's increase, the annual rate of house price growth edged back into single digits during the month to 9.8%, down from 10.5% in April.

Nationwide says the reduction was caused by last month's 0.5% increase being below the 1.2% rise recorded in May 2009.

It adds that the thee month-on-three month growth rate, which is often seen as being a smoother indicator of market trends, rose to 1.7% during the three months to the end of May, up from 1.1% during the quarter to the end of April.

Conflicting figures

Nationwide's figures have contrasted with those from the Land Registry and Halifax over recent months.

The average cost of a property edged ahead by just 0.2% during April, following a 0.1% fall in March and a 0.2% gain in February, according to the Land Registry.

The Halifax April house price index also indicated that prices were largely stable. It says typical values declined by just 0.1%.

Many analysts have say the combination of the severe winter weather in January and distortions caused by the end of the stamp duty holiday this year have led to a slowdown in the market.

Activity in the housing market has been subdued since the start of the year, due in part to the end of the stamp duty holiday and uncertainty caused by the General Election.

But some economists have warned the fall in activity cannot be attributed to these one-off factors alone, but rather indicates the market recovery is running out of steam.

Many commentators expect house prices to remain flat over 2010 as a whole.

Tax changes

Nationwide warned today that the new Government's plans to raise capital gains tax from its current level of 18% could lead to an increase in the number of properties being put up for sale, if there was a significant time lag between the announcement of the higher rate and it being introduced.

It says this might encourage investment landlords to sell properties to take advantage of the lower rate, which could shift the current supply and demand imbalance in favour of buyers and prevent price rises.

But Gahbauer adds: "If the new rate comes into effect immediately on June 22 (the date of the emergency Budget), then supply conditions are unlikely to be affected materially as any potential sellers would not have time to react."

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