House prices and mortgages - the update

It's only about six weeks - but feels a lot longer - since we last had a look at where house prices and mortgages were going; down and up, respectively. In that time some key indicators have crept in to the picture which suggest that we might have got to the point where confidence at least is coming back into the market. It'll take a longer period of applying hindsight than we're using right now to tell if the housing market is actually on the way back up again or not, but let's have a look at some of the indicators.

Two leading lenders, Halifax and Nationwide both saw prices rise in May. As lenders tell us, you need to be careful about reading too much into any figures, and this is certainly the case here. Halifax recorded a rise which was over a 100% bigger than Nationwide's, at 2.6% and 1.2% respectively. Clearly there's a big margin for error in the figures, but there is some agreement on the underlying trend. Both lenders have in different months recorded rises in prices, which have looked like blips; this month looks different because for the first time since prices started falling both lenders record an increase in prices.

Over a year the trend is still downwards, but both lenders are seeing a flattening of that curve brought about by last month's upturn and the previous two months seeing smaller falls. Surveyors are also reporting a sharp turnaround in falling prices, with the position changing dramatically from 89% of surveyors reporting falls in November 2008 - with no rises at all in December 2008 - to only 36% of surveyors reporting falls in May. Just as importantly they are reporting that new enquiries are running at levels not seen since August 1999.

The third key area is what lenders are doing. Lenders managed to generate a lot of ill feeling in recent months by advertising attractive headline rates, only to come clean by admitting that these were only available if you had a hefty deposit, maybe as much as 40%. At last this is beginning to change with Nationwide getting rid of tiers of rates in both their capped and fixed rate deals from 10 June, allowing existing borrowers to borrow up to 95% at the same interest rate. What you do have to work through carefully is the balance between the reservation fee and the interest rate, and the amount borrowed (their calculator should take the pain out of doing the sums).

With interest rates thought to be likely to rise you could be saving money if you hunt out a new fixed rate now. Nationwide's higher lending against valuation might help you do that.

It'll be interesting to see just how much changes in the next six weeks or so.

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