British house prices fell slightly more slowly than expected last month, and surveyors showed some optimism that recent government measures will boost home sales over the coming year, a monthly survey showed on Tuesday.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' (RICS) seasonally adjusted house price balance rose to -19 in August from an upwardly revised -23 in July, as the majority of surveyors reported stable prices and slightly fewer reported falls than in July. August's decline was the smallest since May.
"These series together point to a broadly flat trend in prices at a national level," RICS said. "However, this inevitably masks significant regional variations. The only part of the country where the RICS net price balance is in positive territory is London, and this has pretty much been the case since the beginning of last year."
British house prices fell by about a fifth at the start of the financial crisis, and after recovering around half of those losses they have been broadly steady for the past two years, with the number of transactions around half pre-crisis levels.
This is partly because of banks' reluctance to provide mortgages on the same terms as before, prompting the government last month to launch a scheme that offers banks cheaper finance if they lend more to businesses and households.
RICS said it was too early to see any concrete benefit from this Funding for Lending Scheme, but there were some positive signs.
"The forward-looking indicators for sales - over both a three- and 12-month period - suggest respondents to the survey are indeed hopeful that a combination of a more stable economy and an improvement in the funding climate will help support activity," it said.
The government has also announced measures to increase house building by easing planning restrictions and offering loan guarantees to builders.
A big fall in construction has been a major drag on the British economy since it re-entered recession late last year.
(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Susan Fenton)