UK house prices
House price growth in the UK has slowed down markedlyReuters

Watchers of the housing market in the UK may have noticed a change recently.

The rampant house price growth of the recent past, amid talk of another property bubble, is slowing. Some measures even say prices are falling.

The latest survey from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) shows a balance of -18% in surveyors reporting higher new buyer demand across the UK. In short, fewer people are buying houses.

What's happening? Is it time to cash in and sell up? Should we start worrying?

Here's what the experts are saying.

Simon Rubinsohn, chief economist at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (Rics)

The flatter trend in the market is partly a reflection of potential buyers becoming a little more cautious about making a purchase as more stringent lending criteria has made it harder to access mortgage finance.

An increasing awareness of the approaching general election also appears to be contributing to the softer market if the responses to the latest survey are anything to go by. However, with new instructions still flat at a headline level, as has been the case for most of the last year, it seems implausible that the dip in demand will result in very much of a decline in house prices.

Matthew Pointon, property economist, Capital Economics

Housing market activity has cooled considerably over the past few months. A lack of homes available for sale, fears over future increases in interest rates, a drop in mortgage lending following the introduction of new regulations and buyers balking at the very high prices being asked have all weighed on demand, which is now contracting in many parts of the country.

The moderation in demand will lead to a further easing in house price inflation. It peaked at an annual rate of just over 10% in the middle of the year and we expect it to continue to trend down over the next few months.

A fall in prices is possible, particularly in London if a Mansion Tax is introduced. But given the strong economic backdrop and lack of homes on the market, our central view is for a rapid deceleration in growth, with prices growing broadly in line with earnings over the next couple of years.

House Prices

The Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors said its house price balance - the difference between surveyors reporting a rise in prices and a fall - fell to +20 in October from +30 in September, indicating the slowest pace of growth since May 2013.

Nationwide said the average UK house price was £189,333 in October, a rise of 0.5% over the month. Annually this represented 9% growth, a slowdown from September's annual rate of 9.5% and below its peak of 11.8% in June. Halifax put the average at £186,135 in October, a 0.4% fall on September.

Martin Ellis, housing economist, Halifax

While the chance of an imminent interest rate hike may have receded, a recent Halifax survey found many borrowers are concerned about the impact a rise could have on their monthly mortgage repayments over the next 12 months. This concern is likely to be curbing house buying intentions.

New regulatory changes may also be contributing to the slowdown. Importantly, the London market, which has been by far the strongest part of the UK market over the past 18-24 months, has also cooled since the summer as growing affordability pressures have reduced demand with a knock-on impact on the whole UK market.

Housing demand has weakened in the past few months, though this has brought supply and demand into better balance. As result house price growth has moderated – for first time buyers this will be welcome news.

The economy is, however, continuing to grow at a healthy pace and employment is still rising. Average earnings also appear set to rise more quickly than inflation over the coming months for the first time for a while. These factors together should support housing demand over the coming months.

Annual house price inflation may have peaked around 10% a few months' ago. A moderation in growth looks likely during the remainder of 2014 and into next year as supply and demand become increasingly better balanced. So far this year, average house price has grown by 7.2%, within the Halifax forecast range of 4% to 8% for 2014.

Richard Donnell, research and insight director, Hometrack

Local economies drive their local housing markets. Expectations that strong house price growth in the south of England would ripple out across the country were over-done. While house price growth has increased across all cities in the last year, the rate of growth in the majority of cities is below the UK average.

There is little evidence of a runaway surge in prices and the rate of growth appears to be moderating. On a national level, the overall rate of UK house price growth has been significantly enhanced by London, so we are starting to see a corresponding dip in the rate of growth in the national figures as the rate of growth slows in London.

Scott Corfe, head of macroeconomics, the Centre for Economics and Business Research

Our latest forecasts show that the UK's housing market is now at a turning point. After growing by 7.8% this year, average house prices across the UK are expected to dip by 0.8% in 2015. The reversal of fortunes in the property market will be even more dramatic in London, where the 17.1% growth seen this year will be followed by a 2.6% contraction for next year as a whole.

Higher Interest Rates?

The Bank of England has held interest rates down since early on in the financial crisis. This was to keep credit cheap and flowing into the struggling economy. Now the economy is recovering, the Bank wants to raise its base rate from the all-time low of 0.5%. When it will do this is unknown. Underlying problems with the UK labour market, such as poor wage growth, and ongoing economic turmoil abroad, such as the renewed eurozone slowdown, have delayed an interest rates hike. Mark Carney, Bank of England governor, has hinted the first increase – which would be small – could come as late as Autumn 2015.

In the capital, leading indicators already point to price declines, falling new buyer enquiries and properties staying on the market for longer before they sell. Affordability has become such an issue in London that prospective buyers are starting to baulk at high prices. Compounding this is a decline in overseas demand. London property prices are now above their pre-crisis peaks in US dollar and euro terms - making London housing less attractive for overseas investors.

UK property is increasingly looking like a less safe investment. The fallout from the Scottish independence referendum and concerns about future EU membership makes the UK look inherently more unstable than in the past, while Labour's proposed mansion tax raises the prospect of expropriation of wealth in the future – something which will deter overseas investment in the UK property market.

Price falls next year will be modest and we shouldn't be too worried about this – we are not anticipating a crash. The market is adjusting after getting ahead of itself in the first half of 2014.

Lucian Cook, director of residential research, Savills

It's undeniable that there's a general slowdown in the UK housing market. I think that it's most evident in London. But of course in London you've had a market that prior to this slowdown has been running quite hot for a long period, so it's little surprise that there it's most noticeable.

It's reflected in things like the Rics survey. One of the lead indicators there is the relationship between new buyer inquiries and new instructions coming to the market. It certainly looks like, on that measure, the lead balance has shifted towards new instructions rather than inquiries, which would suggest something of a move from a seller's to a buyer's market.

Certainly we think that prices next year, in relation to some of the factors across the UK, will only rise by 2%. Whereas this year they're likely to end up in the order of 8% up generally.

That is a reaction to a number of things. A general change in sentiment in London that actually that market's looking very fully priced, in part. If you have London having that change in sentiment that can quite quickly filter to other parts of the country, particularly within London's hinterland. We're forecasting no growth in the London market next year at all.

Mortgage Market Tightening.

Higher house prices mean bigger mortgages. Because interest rates are low, people have been able to take on larger mortgages as the monthly repayments are cheap. But when interest rates rise, so will the monthly repayments. And this means people will have less money to spend in the economy. A handful may even be pushed to default. To curb any risk, the Bank of England has capped mortgage lending. Just 15% of a bank's net new mortgage lending can comprise of loans worth 4.5 times or more the applicant's income. Following its Mortgage Market Review (MMR), the Financial Conduct Authority introduced stricter affordability tests for lenders to apply on borrowers. This is to make sure they can afford repayments in a number of different scenarios, such as a sudden drop in income or higher interest rates.

I also think it's a reaction to mortgage market regulation, in particular the imposition of the Mortgage Market Review. Everybody was looking for an initial short term reaction to that, but the MMR certainly has the capacity to limit the amount people can borrow and therefore the extent to which they can stretch themselves and prices can be pushed up.

Although it looks like a rise in interest rates is getting pushed slightly further out next year, the prospect of interest rate rises next year is beginning to feed into people's consciousness. And therefore they're beginning to be a bit more circumspect about the scale of a mortgage they can take on.

Robert Gardner, chief economist, Nationwide

There are definitely signs that the market has lost some momentum. So if you look at, for example house price movements, they've shown a bit of moderation in the last couple of months.

Also if you look at things like mortgage approvals, they're quite some way below the high points we had at the beginning of the year. We're running at about 20% below the level we got to in January. If you look at forward looking indicators, like the Rics survey, that again shows new buyer inquiries are fairly soft.

It's a bit surprising in some ways because the broader economic backdrop remains fairly positive. The labour market in particular has been strong, unemployment has fallen very sharply.

Given that the economy is expect to remain strong, the labour market is expected to strengthen further and interest rates are not expected to rise until well into next year, all those things would suggest that the market should pick up in the quarters ahead.

It's really hard to be sure what explains the slowdown. It may be that people perceive that credit has been less available thanks to the FPC announcements and so on, but if you look at the availability of credit it hasn't actually tightened that much. But that may not be the perception.