Lower turnover, higher prices in April median housing figures

By Anne Gibson

House sales volumes fell by a quarter last month but the median house price continued to rise, hitting a record high of $305,000.

Real Estate Institute figures released yesterday showed the median rose 1 per cent from $302,000 in March to $305,000 last month and was 11 per cent up within a year. Last April's median was $272,000.

But in line with widespread comment about reducing activity, sales dropped 25 per cent, from 10,094 in March to 7576 last month.

Economists yesterday noted further signs of the slowdown, pointing to the decreasing number of sales as one of the hallmarks of a less robust market. They believe the market has further to fall and the robust prices will be dropping by the end of this year.

Howard Morley, the institute's president, blamed a series of public holidays for the slowdown. Easter and Anzac Day made April a difficult month for agents, he said, but he was encouraged by the price rise.

"With just 17 working days in April, one of which was sandwiched between two holidays, it's no wonder turnovers were down," Mr Morley said.

Auckland's largest agency, Barfoot & Thompson, said the same earlier this month when its agents suffered a 76 per cent drop in the number of Auckland houses listed for sale.

They found Auckland house sellers staying away in droves last month, preferring to take a break rather than list their houses. The agency recorded a dive in new listings from 2039 houses coming on to the market in March to 1156 houses last month.

Houses are taking 34 days to sell, up on the 28 days it took to sell in April last year.

Most areas of Auckland saw price increases, although Papakura's median was down 10 per cent but that was from just 89 sales, down on the 122 properties sold there in March.

Of the 12 regions surveyed nationally, prices rose in eight and fell in four.

Goldman Sachs JBWere economist Shamubeel Eaqub said the Reserve Bank would be pleased to see moderation. Slowing income growth, higher debt servicing and rising fuel prices would cool the sector further, he said.

BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander said the latest figures showed prices trending up but at a considerably slower rate.

"Prices rose at their slowest rate since late 2002," he said.

He predicted prices would stop rising soon and flatten out later this year.

"At the moment, price rises are just matching inflation."

Westpac chief economist Brendon O'Donovan said the sector was still slowing but at a modest pace. He disagreed with holidays being cited as a major factor for volume drops, saying people still bought houses when they were on a break.

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