The decline was less severe than the 29 per cent decrease recorded in January and was against a backdrop of strong activity in the second half of 2020.
The data was also collected before the announcement of the stamp duty holiday extension, suggesting enquiries were tailing off as people realised they would not meet the original deadline.
New valuation instructions fell in February too, with a decline of 29 per cent. Again, this was the second month in a row a negative reading was recorded but was less of a fall than the 40 per cent reduction seen in January.
Meanwhile, new sales agreed showed signs of recovery with a one per cent increase, up from a 17 per cent decrease the month before.
Looking ahead, six per cent of surveyors expect sales to remain positive. While this is a modest outlook, it is the strongest sentiment towards future sales recorded by the RICS survey since October.
Some 52 per cent of surveyors saw house prices go up in February, relatively stable compared to the 49 per cent who said so in January.
Although this was below the most recent high of 66 per cent of respondents reporting house price rises in October, it showed strong momentum for house prices, RICS said.
For the next 12 months, 46 per cent of respondents expect prices to continue to increase compared to 30 per cent who felt the same in January.
Addressing supply shortages
Simon Rubinsohn, RICS chief economist, said: “The measures announced last week by the chancellor should help support the housing market over the coming months with concerns around a cliff edge end to the stamp duty break eased.
“However, a very clear message emanating from the latest survey is that more needs to be done to address the shortfall in supply with price and rent expectations very evidently continuing to accelerate.”
Rubinsohn added: “Planning reform, which the government is addressing, alongside supporting a sustainable and inclusive recovery in the economy are key elements in encouraging the private sector to increase the pipeline of new build but it is clear that this is only part of the answer, particularly given the impact of low interest rates on demand.
“It is critical that a holistic approach is taken to the housing market ensuring that policy is designed to deliver across tenures and indeed to improve the environmental quality of the existing stock through a retrofit programme.”