On the face of it the steady easing over the past three months in the monthly rate of decline in house prices measured by Nationwide is encouraging to those who want to see the market stabilise.
For the policy makers there is growing fear that more and more people will find themselves in the uneasy world of having negative equity within their homes. This has a dampening effect on the economy as well as causing distress.
Also policy makers want to see the bottom of the market so that mortgages become less risky to lenders who can then reduce the levels of deposits they currently feel they need to demand to protect their loans.
So there are plenty of reasons why those in Government are eager to see stability in house prices. Added to which falling house prices is hardly a vote winner.
But I suggest that they will, or at least should, extract little comfort from today’s figures.
The partial stamp duty holiday introduced on September 3 will have, in effect, made many homes valued below £175,000 cheaper.
So looked at from the buyers’ side house prices on average have fallen further than the Nationwide figures suggest. That is to say if you slapped the tax back on the average house price would adjust down.
How much is hard to say, as the tax is a lump sum and the ability to pay will vary from homebuyer to homebuyer. But clearly for some it will have made raising the deposit needed to back their mortgage that much easier.
What is more, the slow down in the rate of decline in house prices came during the autumn “selling season”. If you look back over the Nationwide figures since 1991 for September, October and November price movements have tended to see more of the big rises and fewer of the big falls than most other months.
We are now coming to the end of the current “selling season” and unsurprisingly December, January and February tend to be weaker months.
The surveyors’ body RICS seems to be of a similar mind with regards to interpreting the figures, when the chief economist, Simon Rubinsohn says of the Nationwide figures that it is “improbable that this marks a turning point in the cycle”.
For my money, house sellers should be prepared for a particularly bleak winter ahead.