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House sales still in soft patch

House sales are still in a "soft patch" as the usual strong month of March edged up from February, according to the latest Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) figures.

By Paul McBeth

Seasonally adjusted turnover rose 0.9% last month from February, though it was down 8% from March 2009. In actual terms, total residential house sales climbed 23% to 6,161 last month from February, though they were down 8% compared to March 2009, according to REINZ figures released today.

"The soft patch for housing turnover continues, with the latest REINZ turnover figures showing little recovery after falling sharply at the start of the year," said Chris Tennent-Brown, economist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

That "remains well below average, and well down on year-ago levels when super-low interest rates were providing a spur for the housing market as the economy came out of recession".

Still, prices were resilient, as were the number of days taken to sell, Tennent-Brown said.

The average time to sell down to 35 days, compared to 46 days in February and 44 days in the same month a year earlier. Seasonally adjusted, the days to sell shortened to 38 March from 39 in February.

The national average median price rose to $360,500 in March from $350,000 in February, and $335,000 the same month a year ago.

"The latest figures do not suggest a strong autumn bounce back and instead show a market that still looks positioned slightly in favour of buyers," Tennent-Brown said.

The property market has been subdued this year as banks approve fewer mortgages and demand for new housing eases from last year's peak. House values have been flat for the past few months and rose 6.1% in the 12 months through March, according to QV Valuations.

The REINZ monthly housing price index, which was constructed with the Reserve Bank to provide a more accurate reading of house prices, rose 1.7% to 3,268.6 in March. Prices have increased 6.8% from March 2009, and are 3.3% below their peak in November 2007. Still, over the three months to March, prices fell 1.3%, according to the index.

Auckland house prices jumped to $475,500 in March from $453,500 in February, while sales rose to 2,187 from 1,578 a month earlier. Prices in Wellington increased to $409,000 from $392,000 in February, while sales increased to 763 from 607.

Prices in Christchurch dropped to $320,000 in March from $329,000 a month earlier, though the number of sales increased to 595 from 519. Dunedin prices rose to $249,000 last month from $235,000 in February, with sales up to 213 from 175. 





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