NZ housing market improves in Feb; quake impact seen lasting -QV

WELLINGTON, March 8 Mon Mar 7, 2011 8:34pm EST

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WELLINGTON, March 8 (Reuters) - New Zealand house prices showed further signs of stabilisation in February, although the market is patchy and the city of Christchurch will be hit for months by February's devastating earthquake, property valuer Quotable Value (QV) said on Tuesday.

QV's residential house price index fell 1.7 percent in the year to February after a 1.5 percent decline in the year to January. However, the index improved slightly compared to the previous month.

"Overall the property market remains subdued with lower than normal numbers of listings and sales being the main signs of buyer and seller caution," said QV research director Jonno Ingerson.

"However, there are pockets of the market that remain active, particularly in the main centres," he said.

The housing market was in decline most of 2010 before flattening out in the latter part of the year and into early 2011. The market remains 5.6 percent below its peak in late 2007.

The average sale price over the three months to February rose 0.6 percent to NZ$411,712 ($302,729) compared to a month earlier.

Activity in Christchurch, New Zealand's second largest city, was expected to suffer in the coming months after a devastating earthquake on Feb 22 destroyed much of the city, just five month after a major quake had already done major damage.

"The much more widespread damage caused by the February quake will again cause sales activity to slow for several weeks or even months," Ingerson said, adding it was too early to say what the effect on the value of undamaged houses will be.

Official estimates suggest as many as 10,000 houses may have to be abandoned as the quake - which has an official death toll of 166 although that number is expected to rise - has damaged the land too severely to rebuild.

New Zealand households have been paying down debt and kept a tight rein on spending over the past year, which has resulted in weak retail sales and pressure on the housing market.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand is picked to lower interest rates when it meets on Thursday, with the economy struggling to gain momentum before the quake, which is expected to hit growth over the next five years. See and

House prices in Auckland, New Zealand's biggest city, were 0.4 percent lower than a year ago and have been stable for the past few months, while in the capital Wellington the sharp decline of last year has flattened with prices 2.7 percent lower.

New Zealand home lending rates have been low and stable over the past six months because of the uncertain central bank rate outlook. See

($1=NZ$1.36) (Reporting by Adrian Bathgate; Editing by Balazs Koranyi)

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