Page last updated at 23:24 GMT, Monday, 13 October 2008 00:24 UK

House sales hit new 30-year low

For Sale signs in London
The level of sales is now at a 30-year low

The slump in the property market is becoming even worse, according to a survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics).

Estate agents sold on average under one property per week each in September.

The number of properties being sold across the UK was the lowest since the Rics survey started in 1978 and was 52% lower than in September last year.

London was the region with fewest sales per estate agent, at an average of just eight in the previous three months.

And nationwide 91% of estate agents saw prices fall over the preceding three months.

"As it stands, only those with significant finances are in a position to access the market," said Rics spokesman Jeremy Leaf.

"The housing market continues to hold its breath and unless mortgage liquidity improves, the market is likely to remain a dormant beast for some time to come."

Lenders such as the Halifax and the Nationwide have reported that prices have fallen by 12% in the past year.

Stamp duty

Despite this picture, Rics took some encouragement from a slight improvement in the number of new inquiries from would-be buyers, which it said was a "lead indicator" of activity.

The proportion of surveyors reporting a rise in inquiries was at its best for 16 months, though they were still outnumbered by those reporting a fall.

The balance between those reporting a fall compared with a rise in enquiries stood at 17%, smaller than the 27% gap seen in August.

"The market has still yet to experience significant numbers of forced sales but surveyors are surprisingly optimistic that sales will increase over the next three months," said Rics.

One reason for the improvement in inquiries might have been the clarification, at the start of September, of the government's plans temporarily to raise to 175,000 the starting point for stamp duty on property sales.

The uncertainty about this had been widely blamed for deterring even more potential buyers during the summer months.

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