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House prices now at the same level as September 2008

But it also says the high supply of rental property raises questions about durability of price recovery.

Commenting on the figures Martin Gahbauer, Nationwide’s Chief Economist, said: "The recent upward momentum in house prices has continued into September, with the price of a typical house increasing by 0.9% on a seasonally-adjusted basis.

"The three month on three month rate of change – generally a smoother indicator of the near term trend – rose from 3.3% in August to 3.8% in September, the highest level since August 2004. At £161,816, the average price of a typical UK property was
essentially unchanged from a year earlier, representing the first time since March 2008 that the year-on-year rate of change has not been negative.

"Over the first nine months of 2009, the seasonally-adjusted index of house prices has risen by 4.1%, though relative to the October 2007 peak it is still down by 13.5%.

"The further increase in house prices is very much consistent with improvements in a broad range of economic and financial indicators over the last few months, all of which suggest that the most intense phase of the recession and financial crisis has probably passed. However, given that the housing market still faces considerable headwinds in the form of high unemployment, restrictive credit conditions and an impending withdrawal of the stamp duty holiday, it would be surprising to see house prices continuing to increase at the very strong rate seen in recent months.

"One reason to remain cautious about the outlook for house prices is that turnover in the market is still well below normal levels. The housing turnover rate – measuring the percentage of the private sector housing stock changing hands on an annualised basis – fell to only 3% at the end of 2008. Although it has since recovered to nearly 4%, there is still quite some way to go before turnover reaches the predownturn level of between 7% and 8%. Lead indicators such as mortgage approvals for house purchase suggest that turnover should continue edging higher over the next few months, but at the current rate of increase it would take another 18 months for it to reach pre-downturn levels.

"There is usually a fairly strong correlation between housing turnover and house price inflation. Under normal circumstances, the current turnover rate would probably still be too low to be consistent with positive house price inflation.

"However, during periods when only a small proportion of the housing stock is available for sale, even a relatively low turnover rate can be consistent with increasing house prices. There is widespread evidence that this has been the case
so far this year, which explains much of the rebound in house prices since the February trough.

"One of the key questions facing the outlook for house prices is whether the supply of homes available for sale will remain at current lows. To shed light on this question, trends in the rental market are worth watching particularly closely at the current juncture. The downturn in housing turnover over the last two years has prompted many home movers to let their old properties out rather than sell. The option to let has enabled many to move home even without being able to sell their old properties at the desired price. The rationale behind the letting option is to use the rental income from the tenancy toward maintenance of the old property, until such time as the housing market recovers to a point where a sale at something
closer to the desired price is possible. Such an approach is most viable for outright owners or those with only small mortgages, as the rental income would in all likelihood cover the cost of running the property plus any mortgage repayments."

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