House sales fall furthers trend: REINZ

A sharp fall in the number of house sales throughout New Zealand in April has deepened the underlying trend for easing volumes, Real Estate Institute of New Zealand chief executive Helen O'Sullivan says.

Figures released by the REINZ yesterday showed there were 5670 sales in the month, down 20.2% on April last year and down 22.5% compared with March this year.

The national median price was $432,250, an increase of $41,750 compared with April last year, but a fall of $7750 from March.

While April was generally a softer month for sales, coming off the back of a generally strong March and with the added complication of school holidays and Easter, those factors could not explain the entire drop between April last year and this year, Ms O'Sullivan said.

The volume had retreated to 2012 levels and was the seventh-lowest April volume recorded by the REINZ in the 23 years it has published sales data.

The decline had affected all regions, including Auckland and Christchurch, where much of the price pressure had been in recent times.

The number of sales in the under-$400,000 category continued to fall faster than the market overall, suggesting the loan-to-value ratio restrictions were continuing to have an effect on buyer intentions at the lower price points, while the rise in the official cash rate also was likely to have had an effect, she said.

Southland recorded the largest fall compared with March, of 28.7%, while Manawatu-Wanganui recorded the largest fall compared with April last year, of 29.4%, followed by Otago with a drop of 24.3%.

First-home buyers in Otago remained cautious and investors were also taking a ''wait-and-see approach''. Vendors were being realistic about their price expectations, although the number of listings was lower than expected for this time of year, she said.

Westpac senior economist Michael Gordon warned the data needed to be treated with caution, citing the potential effect of Easter and Anzac Day having fallen in the same week.

Some people treated it as a week-long break, which might have temporarily depressed the level of activity.

The drop in sales might prove to be an exception, but judgement would be withheld until the May figures were available, Mr Gordon said.

In contrast, house prices - which would not have been affected by the Easter timing - continued to hold up.

The stratified price index rose 0.6% in April, on top of a combined 2.8% increase in February and March, Mr Gordon said.

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