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Housing market 'at three-year high', says RICS survey
Activity in the UK housing market has hit a three-year high, surveyors report, supporting hopes of a revival that would help the economic recovery.

Chartered surveyors handled an average of 17.4 home sales over the last three months, according to the latest monthly survey by industry body RICS. That was the highest number reported since March 2010 and meant sales rates have been rising for three consecutive months.

Surveyors also said demand improved, as a net balance of 11pc reported rises in enquiries from new buyers, compared with those who reported a fall. This marked the strongest reading since October, after a subdued start to the year. Researchers speculated this could be due to the improving affordability of mortgages.

Peter Bolton King, a director at RICS, said: “A buoyant, healthy property market is central to economic recovery and, while these are still very much early signs, it is encouraging that sales are beginning to pick up. The increase in potential buyers getting out there and viewing property is particularly encouraging.”

The Government’s Funding for Lending scheme, launched last August to give banks access to cheap finance, has been cited by lenders as a factor pushing down on bank funding costs and helping to reduce interest rates for customers.

House prices were more sluggish than sales, according to the RICS survey, with respondents reporting that prices were roughly flat in March. RICS said the survey pointed to house prices now having been relatively stable across the UK for the past six months.

Surveyors were confident that sales would rise further over the coming quarter, the report showed, however.

Mortgage rates are about to drop further over the next three months, according to a Bank of England survey released last week, while measures unveiled in the Budget are expected to offer further support for the market.

The are concerns in some quarters that the Chancellor risks supporting a "bubble" in prices through his Help to Buy push, which will massively expand the mortgage guarantee and shared equity schemes available to would-be buyers.

The surveyors polled for this monthly survey also act as estate agents, meaning they have more insight into the market.

The results came after a separate study showed total household wealth in the UK has passed the £7 trillion mark for the first time, despite the tough economy.

Net wealth, which includes the value of residential buildings and other assets, minus outstanding debts, was estimated at £7.05 trillion for the end of 2012, by Lloyds TSB Private Banking. That represented a £2.71 trillion increase over the past decade, or around £86,000 per household, most of that taking place during the "boom" years.

Within that, housing wealth - the value of housing less outstanding mortgages - increased by £1 trillion over the past decade as property values rose faster than mortgage debt ballooned.

The figures were not adjusted for inflation, but Lloyds said household wealth had grown at a faster rate (62pc over the period) than incomes (44pc) or headline price rises (29pc).

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