The buy-to-let housing boom may be about to stall, according to a survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics).
Surveyors say it is becoming harder for landlords to borrow
Its survey of residential lettings says the number of new instructions from landlords fell towards the end of 2007, for the first time since 1998.
Rics blamed recent restrictions on mortgage lending to would-be landlords.
But this contradicted recent figures from mortgage lenders, which suggested the buy-to-let market was thriving.
"Access to the buy-to-let market became harder for would-be landlords as mortgage products became scarce," said Rics.
"One per cent more chartered surveyors reported a fall than a rise in landlord instructions [in the last three months of 2007] compared to the previous quarter.
"The credit crunch has restricted the number of buy-to-let mortgages approved, as well as the number of mortgages available to investors," Rics said.
Last month the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) reported that in fact the number of buy-to-let loans went up by nearly a quarter last year, taking the number of such mortgages in existence to 1,038,000.
The CML also said lending had picked up in the second half of the year, despite the credit crunch reflected in the near-collapse of the Northern Rock bank.
"Our figures are based on just the last quarter of the year, by which time we believe mortgage lenders had started to tighten their lending criteria," said a Rics spokesman.
Whatever the current difficulty of borrowing to become a landlord, there is no shortage of tenants.
The Rics survey found that demand from tenants was still buoyant, though not quite as strong as before.
"While banks remain cautious about offering loans, demand for rental property will continue to increase, with many would-be-buyers unable to make the jump to home ownership," said Rics.
"Established investors continue to reap the benefits of the current uncertainty in the housing market and have been enjoying the fruits of rising rents," it added.