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Rising interest rates are the single biggest risk facing the housing market in 2014, the Building Societies Association (BSA) has said.

Its warning came days before publication of the latest official unemployment figures on Wednesday, which are expected to show a sharp drop in the number of people out of work.

City economists predict that unemployment, as measured by the Labour Force Survey, could fall by as much as 50,000.

This could take the headline figure to 7.5%, closer to Bank of England Mark Carney's 7% trigger point for considering an interest rate hike.

Although Mr Carney has insisted rates won't automatically rise at that point, speculation about a hike will inevitably increase as that target looms closer.

The BSA's latest Property Tracker showed that nearly three out of 10 people say rising interest rates are now their biggest concern for 2014.

Consumers are also far more worried about the affordability of monthly mortgage repayments today than three months ago, with 46% naming rates as the biggest barrier to property purchase.

This is up 11% since September, reflecting concern about the rising cost of living and an increase in energy bills.

Paul Broadhead, head of mortgage policy at the BSA, played down the danger of a rate hike. “It is understandable that consumers are wary about a rise in interest rates in 2014, but unless the pace of economic recovery picks up considerably, it is unlikely we will see the bank base rate rise over the coming 12 months, and when interest rates do rise, it is likely to be gradual.

“There remain plenty of options for a homebuyer to get greater certainty over their mortgage repayments with 69% of mortgage products now at fixed rates."

Many City forecasters still expect rates to rise in late 2014, but Howard Archer, chief economist at consultancy IHS Global Insight, said the economic recovery may slow next year.

He predicted the first base rate hike wouldn't come until 2015.

But that is still more than one year earlier than Mr Carney suggested when he first published his forward guidance in September.

Other key data published this week will include the consumer prices index, which is expected to show a 2.2% rise in prices.

Mr Carney will be grilled by a Lords Committee this week on the state of the economy and the contradiction between the Treasury's expansion of the Help to Buy Scheme and the Bank's decision to scrap the Funding for Lending Scheme for residential property.


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