Reserve Bank mortgage lending restrictions are cooling the housing market, a top economist says, because national sales volumes have fallen 13.4 per cent since October.

Westpac economist Dominick Stephens said seasonally adjusted sales dropped 2.4 per cent from January to February alone, based on Real Estate Institute (Reinz) data out yesterday, which showed 6300 houses were sold in January but that fell to 6147 by last month.

The total decline in national house sale volumes since the restrictions came in late last year was 13.4 per cent - "as sure an indication of a swing market as any", Stephens said.

Reinz said house prices rose last month, reversing the falls of December and January with record median prices being recorded in Waikato/Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay and Canterbury/Westland and that in Auckland, the stratified house price index hit an all-time high.


The median price increased 8.6 per cent to $415,000 from the year earlier, possibly reflecting an increase in the sale of higher-priced properties as the number of sales worth $600,000 to $1 million rose 9.2 per cent, the institute said. Sales below $400,000 tumbled almost 18 per cent.

Auction numbers grew by more than 28 per cent in the 12 months to February but the proportion of sales by auctions in Auckland fell from 37.1 per cent of sales last February to 31.9 per cent in February this year.

Sales volumes fell in all regions except Northland and Central Otago, Reinz said.

Stephens said some mixed signals had emerged, for example, the time taken to sell a house shortened by two days. This is usually an indication of a rising market.

"But running one's eye across the general trend in this more volatile data does yield a consistent story, the housing market unambiguously took a hard slap immediately after the high-LVR mortgage restrictions came into force last October," he said.

ASB economist Daniel Smith also said LVRs were taking their toll because sales had slowed

However, pressure from the supply-demand imbalance was still pushing up prices, he said.

- additional reporting BusinessDesk