UK house price growth cools for 3rd month running - Nationwide

LONDON, April 2 Wed Apr 2, 2014 2:00am EDT

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LONDON, April 2 (Reuters) - Growth in British house prices cooled for the third straight month in March, despite recording their biggest annual rise in almost four years, data from mortgage lender Nationwide showed on Wednesday.

House prices rose 0.4 percent last month, the slowest pace of monthly growth since June last year, slowing from an upwardly revised 0.7 percent increase in February, Nationwide said.

But in year-on-year terms, house prices in March were 9.5 percent higher, stronger than a rise of 9.4 percent in the 12 months to February and the biggest annual jump since May 2010.

The average price of a house in Britain now stands at 180,264 pounds ($300,000), about 3 percent below the 2007 peak unadjusted for inflation, Nationwide said.

"There is little doubt that the recovery in the housing market is now firmly established, with activity levels picking up and house prices recording their 15th successive monthly increase in March," said Robert Gardner, chief economist at Nationwide. "(But) there are some tentative signs of moderation."

Data from the Bank of England on Monday showed mortgage approvals slowed more than expected in February, possibly reflecting bad weather during the month.

Gardner said low mortgage rates, easier credit and a brighter outlook for the economy were all boosting demand for housing although the supply of houses continues to lag far behind.

"The number of new homes being built in England is still around 40 percent below pre-crisis levels, and this was already insufficient to keep up with the increase in the number of households being formed," he said.

Finance minister George Osborne last month said the government will extend its Help to Buy scheme of providing equity loans to buyers of newly built homes to the end of the decade.

The government is seeking to boost construction of homes to help address a shortage that is helping to push up prices.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and other officials have played down suggestions that the housing market is overheating. But the Bank refocused its Funding for Lending Scheme away from mortgage lending and dedicated it exclusively to business lending at the start of this year. ($1 = 0.6011 British Pounds) (Reporting by Andy Bruce; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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