Page last updated at 09:00 GMT, Friday, 3 April 2009 10:00 UK

House prices 'drop 1.9% in March'

For sale signs
The figures come the day after Nationwide reported a rise in prices

UK house prices fell by 1.9% in March compared with the previous month, according to the Halifax.

The lender - now part of Lloyds Banking Group - said that conditions in the housing market would remain tough for the rest of the year.

The average UK home now costs £157,226, at least £30,000 less than a year ago.

The figures failed to echo the slight rise in prices in March reported by the Nationwide, with the Halifax saying that consumer confidence was still low.

The annual rate of decline eased slightly, with prices down 17.5% in March compared with a record drop of 17.7% in February.

This annual figure is based on a three-month by three-month comparison. When comparing the average price from March compared with March 2008, the drop was 17.6%.

'Downward pressure'

"Conditions in the housing market are likely to be tough during the remainder of 2009 despite the improvements in affordability," said Halifax housing economist Martin Ellis.

Graph showing annual change in UK house prices

He said that rising unemployment, low consumer confidence and the squeeze on mortgage finance were all likely to exert "downward pressure" on the market over the coming months.

The month-on-month change is in contrast to the "surprise bounce" of 0.9% in March reported by the Nationwide Building Society.

But, on Thursday, the Nationwide warned against reading too much into its short-term price rise figure, saying that it was too early to suggest the bottom of the market had been reached.

Stability?

The less volatile three-month on three-month measure by the Nationwide showed that the average UK property price dropped by 4.2% in the first three months of 2009 compared with the last quarter of 2008.

There is an inherent volatility to house prices right now
David Smith, Dreweatt Neate estate agents

This was actually more gloomy for homeowners than the Halifax's view, which suggested prices had fallen by 2.7% over the same period, a much smaller decrease than the 5% to 6% falls it recorded in each of the three previous quarters.

Mr Ellis said that, based on more mortgages being approved by banks and building societies recently, there were "tentative signs that activity may be beginning to stabilise".

Homes were more affordable now that at any time since early 2003, having been at its toughest in July 2007, and existing mortgage-holders were benefitting from falling interest rates.

The amount that the average existing mortgage borrower was devoting to home loan repayments fell from a peak of 26.9% of household income in October 2008 to 22.6% in February 2009, he said.

David Smith, senior partner at Dreweatt Neate estate agents, said: "The March Halifax figures are proof positive that you can't get carried away by a single set of figures from a single source.

"There is an inherent volatility to house prices right now and because of this a sideways-moving market, with the odd spike up or down, remains the most likely course for the rest of 2009."



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