LONDON -- U.K. house prices rose to a fresh record high in the early weeks of April, as a lack of new property for sale in popular areas--mainly in southern England--pushed prices beyond the previous peak reached four years ago, figures released Monday by online estate agency Rightmove showed.
According to its latest index, the average asking price for newly marketed homes in mid-April rose 2.9% to GBP243,737, and were 3.4% higher than a year earlier.
But activity is now around 30% lower than at the time of the previous price peak, and there were 0.5% fewer new properties put up for sales this year compared with April 2011.
The previous house price peak of GBP242,500 was recorded in May 2008.
"From a national perspective, it has taken four years for new sellers to pitch their asking prices above their previous record," said Miles Shipside, director of Rightmove. "However, this is not a universal signal of a housing market recovery," Shipside said, adding that London and the south have led the increase while many other aspiring buyers continue to struggle to secure a mortgage.
The U.K. housing market has picked up in recent months, supported by first-time buyers rushing to purchase their home before the government's latest land tax stamp duty holiday ended in March 24.
While the Rightmove survey shows activity among more expensive properties has been buoyant this month and is contributing heavily to the price gains, a lower number of sales of less expensive properties favored by typical first-time buyers over the coming months will likely weigh on overall price changes.
Economists are expecting house prices to be little changed over the course of 2012, according to a Dow Jones Poll at the beginning of the year, as rising unemployment, still high inflation and ongoing strict lending criteria from banks amid the euro-zone debt crisis limit both confidence and ability to make such an expensive purchase.
The Rightmove survey shows that the length of time taken to sell a property fell a little to around 81 days in April from around 82 in March. And, while the number of new properties for sale per estate agency rose to 71 in March from 68 in February, that figure was below the 76 reported a year ago.
House prices rose in all ten regions covered by the survey in April from March. The largest gains were a 5.8% rise in south west England, followed by a 3.7% rise in the East Midlands. The lowest was a 1.5% monthly price rise in Wales.
-By Ilona Billington, Dow Jones Newswires; +44 7 842 9452; firstname.lastname@example.org