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English house builders report weakest demand since 2013

English house builders report weakest demand since 2013
FILE PHOTO - Construction work is seen amongst residential and commercial buildings in east London, Britain, February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville -
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Toby Melville(Reuters)
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LONDON (Reuters) – Demand for newly built houses in England has fallen to a six-year low as home buyers await more certainty over Brexit before going ahead with a major purchase, according to an annual survey of small construction companies.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB), a trade body, said its members considered land, finance and skilled workers easier to find than a year ago, but that demand from home buyers had slowed further to its lowest since 2013.

“Small house builders are starting to see the effects of Brexit uncertainty taking its toll on consumer confidence. Many prospective homeowners are clearly holding off buying until there is more political and economic certainty,” FMB chief executive Brian Berry said.

Britain is due to leave the European Union on Oct. 31 and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will do so without a transition deal if necessary, despite a parliamentary vote ordering him to delay Brexit if he cannot reach an agreement.

Other business surveys have also shown a downturn in recent months. September’s IHS Markit construction purchasing managers’ index (PMI), which focuses on larger construction companies, fell to its second-lowest reading since the financial crisis.

Small construction companies, which typically build fewer than 10 homes a year, account for about a quarter of house building in Britain, according to the FMB, with most construction dominated by a handful of larger firms.

A shortage of small plots of land with development permission remained the biggest barrier facing firms, followed by financing conditions.

The proportion of builders reporting constraints due to a lack of skilled workers fell especially sharply, dropping to 26% from 44% – in contrast to widespread reports of skill shortages in the sector – though firms expected worse shortages next year.

The survey was based on responses from 154 small construction companies, all operating in England.

(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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