April 9 (Bloomberg) -- An index of U.K. house prices rose in March as transactions picked up and the outlook improved, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said.
The gauge increased to minus 1 from minus 7 in February, London-based RICS said in an e-mailed report today, citing a monthly poll of property surveyors. Measures of average sales per surveyor and newly agreed sales both showed growth. Separately, the British Retail Consortium said its measure of retail sales rose in March.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has pledged help for people unable to afford a home as the property-market recovery struggles to take hold, adding to aid from the Funding for Lending Scheme. The Bank of England maintained its policy settings last week as officials assess strains from Europe against inflation risks in the economy.
“While these are still very much early signs, it is encouraging that sales are beginning to pick up,” RICS director Peter Bolton King said in a statement. “Thanks to initiatives such as Funding for Lending, mortgages are becoming more accessible to buyers, which is gently easing the pressure on the market.”
RICS’s index of new buyer enquiries rose to 11 from 3 in February, and a gauge of newly agreed sales slipped to 11 from 16. Average sales per real-estate agents’ branch rose to 17.4 from 16.8.
A non-seasonally adjusted measure of price expectations in the coming year rose to 26 from 25, and a measure for sales prospects was 52, down from 53 the previous month.
In a separate report, KPMG LLP and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation said growth of staff placements continued in March, though at a slower rate than in the previous month. Their index of hiring of full-time staff dropped to 50.8 from 52.7 in February. Readings above 50 indicate expansion.
Same-store retail sales values rose 1.9 percent in March from a year earlier, the BRC said in a separate statement. On a three-month basis, sales were up 2.2 percent. Food sales increased 2.5 percent and non-food sales gained 1.9 percent.
Osborne pledged 3.5 billion pounds ($5.4 billion) in his budget last month to help Britons purchase newly built property. He also announced a plan to guarantee as 130 billion pounds of new mortgages to help reduce the deposit needed to purchases existing and newly built homes. The program begins in 2014 and will run for three years.
The central bank said last week the availability of mortgages improved in the first quarter and may increase further in the current period after the FLS gave banks access to cheaper credit. Policy makers held their bond-purchase plan at 375 billion pounds last week, and the benchmark interest rate at a record low of 0.5 percent.
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